Substance use often starts as a fun and seemingly harmless way to cope with life’s stressors or have a good time with friends. For some people, however, it can quickly spiral out of control and develop into a hard-to-break habit.
Soon enough, it becomes more than just a social activity or a way to relieve stress—it starts to take over your life. You may find that you’re thinking about it all the time and making it a priority over other activities and responsibilities. When this happens, you may have a substance use disorder (SUD).
What is a Substance Use Disorder?
Substance use disorder (SUD) is a problematic pattern of using alcohol or drugs – both legal and illegal, which leads to significant impairment or distress. There are many different substances that people can develop a SUD from, but some of the most common include:
- Prescription drugs (painkillers, sedatives, etc.)
SUD can result in a wide range of consequences, including job loss, financial difficulties, relationship problems, and legal issues. Common causes of substance use disorder are genetic predisposition, peer pressure, stress, depression and anxiety, early use, and traumatic life experiences.
Stages of Substance Use Disorder
Substance use disorder often develops in stages as outlined below:
Experimentation: In this stage, you may try a drug or alcohol once or twice out of curiosity or peer pressure. Since you’re not yet a regular user, the substance use may not impact your life in a significant way.
Regular Use: This is when you start using a substance on a regular basis. It may be once or twice a week or every few days. At this point, it may begin to interfere with your life, but you may still be able to stick to your responsibilities for a large part.
Risky Use: In this stage, you’re using the substance more often and in larger quantities. It may start to have a negative impact on your life. You may miss work or school, neglect your responsibilities, and take risks while under the influence (e.g., drunk driving). There is a very thin line between regular and risky use, and it’s not always easy to tell when you’ve crossed over.
Addiction: This is the most severe stage of substance use. In this stage, you’re dependent on substance use and have no control over your cravings. Your life revolves around using and getting more of the substance. You may even take extreme measures to get a quick “fix.”
Substance Use Disorder In Numbers – Just How Common Is It?
In the past few decades, alcohol and drug abuse has become a major public health concern in the United States, and so has the number of alcohol and drug-related deaths. According to a National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS) report, more than 20 million Americans aged 12 years and above have a substance use disorder.
The NCDAS report also revealed that more than 70,000 people die from drug overdose yearly in the United States. This number has been on the rise in recent years, with opioids and fentanyl being the leading cause of death by overdose. In fact, opioid abuse has become so prevalent and problematic that it was recently declared a national public health emergency.
These statistics make it clear that substance use disorder is a major problem in the United States, costing not only lives but also hundreds of billions of dollars yearly in terms of healthcare and productivity costs.
Treating Substance Use Disorder
Substance use disorders can be challenging to overcome, but it is possible with the right help. If you or someone you know is struggling with a SUD, one of the most important things you can do is reach out for help.
Many organizations offer support and treatment for substance use disorders, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
These organizations can help you find the resources and support you need to overcome addiction. Additionally, there are many proven treatments available for substance use disorders, such as therapy, detoxification, and rehabilitation.
The best course of treatment will depend on your individual situation and needs. Overall, with the right treatment and support, it is possible to overcome a substance use disorder and live a happy and productive life.