The term “substance use disorder” is frequently used to describe misuse, dependence, and addiction to alcohol and/or legal or illegal drugs. While the substances may vary, the signs and symptoms of a substance use disorder are the same. Do you know what they are?
First a few definitions: Signs are the outwardly observable behaviors or consequences related to the use of the substance. Symptoms are the personal, subjective experiences related to the use of the substance. A substance use disorder (or SUD) is a clustering of two or more signs and symptoms related to the use of a substance.
- Problems controlling alcohol use, drinking larger amounts, at higher frequency, or for longer than one intended.
- Problems controlling alcohol use despite:
- The desire to cut-down or quit
- The knowledge that continued alcohol use is causing problems such as:
- Persistent or reoccurring physical or psychological problems
- Persistent or reoccurring interpersonal problems or harm to relationships
- The inability to carry out major obligations at home, work, or school
- The development of:
- Cravings: A powerful & strong psychological desire to consume alcohol or engage in an activity; a symptom of the abnormal brain adaptions (neuroadaptations) that result from addiction. The brain becomes accustomed to the presence of a substance, which when absent, produces a manifest psychological desire to obtain and consume it.
- Tolerance: A normal neurobiological adaptation process characterized by the brain’s attempt to accommodate abnormally high exposure to alcohol. Tolerance results in a need to increase the dosage of alcohol overtime to obtain the same original effect obtained at a lower dose. A state in which alcohol produces a diminishing biological or behavioral response (e.g. an increasingly higher dosage is needed to produce the same euphoric effect experienced initially).
- Withdrawal symptoms: Physical, cognitive, and affective symptoms that occur after chronic use of alcohol is reduced abruptly or stopped among individuals who have developed tolerance to alcohol.
- Alcohol use that leads to risky or physically hazardous situations (e.g. driving under the influence)
- Spending large amounts of time obtaining alcohol
- Reducing or stopping important social/occupational/recreational activities due to alcohol use