The Different Types of Substance Use Disorder (SUD)

Is your loved one exhibiting problematic warning signs of substance abuse or substance use disorder (SUD)? If this is the case, you may feel overwhelmed by your lack of knowledge or personal experience with SUD. Even if this is true, you don’t need to worry. Above all, understand that SUD is a treatable mental health condition. While your loved one will experience a number of challenges on their road to recovery, they can recover from SUD. 

SUD is a broad term that encompasses many disorders related to substance use and abuse. As you learn about SUD in general, it is also vital to become familiar with the different types of SUD. Moreover, after understanding the type of SUD your loved one is struggling with, you can work with them to develop a plan for treatment and recovery. 

Understanding Substance Use Disorder (SUD)

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines SUD as a “treatable mental disorder that affects a person’s brain and behavior, leading to their inability to control their use of substances like legal or illegal drugs, alcohol, or medications.” It is important to understand that SUD exists on a spectrum. Therefore, symptoms of SUD can be moderate to severe.

Defining Addiction

If you’ve sought help here in this article, your loved one may have an addiction, also known as SUD. For this reason, it is also important to understand what addiction is and how it is defined. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines addiction as “a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences.” Addiction is considered a brain disorder. This is because chronic alcohol and drug use can cause lasting impairments to brain structure and associated functioning. 

Types of SUD

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the term SUD can apply to the following types of drugs:

  • Alcohol: Alcohol use disorder (AUD)
  • Cannabis: Marijuana use disorder or cannabis use disorder (CUD)
  • Hallucinogens: Hallucinogen use disorder
  • Inhalants: Inhalant use disorder
  • Opioids: Opioid use disorder (OUD)
  • Sedatives, hypnotics, or anxiolytics: Sedative use disorder
  • Stimulants: Stimulant use disorder
  • Tobacco (nicotine): Tobacco use disorder or nicotine use disorder

The SUD associated with each type of drug is defined by The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5). Moreover, each type of SUD is characterized by the continued use of a drug despite harmful consequences. Your loved one may have one of these specific types of SUD if they continue to take a certain drug despite the negative effects this action has on their life. 

Understanding DSM-5 Criteria for SUD

To further understand the severity of your loved one’s SUD, get familiar with the diagnostic criteria for SUD provided by the DSM-5. A summary of the 11 criteria for SUD, provided by Johns Hopkins University, is as follows:

  • Impaired control over substance use:
    • Consuming a drug in larger quantities or for longer durations than intended
    • Persistent desire to cut down or regulate use though previous attempts to do so may have been unsuccessful
    • Dedicating a large amount of time to obtaining or using substances, or recovering from the effects of drug use
    • Experiencing substance-use cravings
  • Social impairment:
    • Drug use interferes with abilities to fulfill responsibilities at work, school, or home
    • Continued use of a substance despite adverse consequences, like continuing drug use despite social or interpersonal problems resulting from use
    • Reduction or discontinuation of activities once enjoyed to instead engage in substance use
  • Risky use:
    • Continued drug use in physically unsafe environments
    • Persistent drug use despite awareness of potential physical and psychological consequences
  • Pharmacologic:
    • Tolerance: Consuming more of a drug to achieve the desired effect, or a typical dose has a reduced effect
    • Withdrawal: A collection of uncomfortable symptoms that occur when not using a drug, often motivating a person to use again

The DSM-5 diagnostic criteria highlight that SUD ranges in severity based on how many criteria are met. It puts it this way: “[M]ild, any 2 or 3 criteria; moderate, any 4 or 5 criteria; severe, any 6 or more criteria.”

Why Professional Treatment Is Necessary for Recovery

Regardless of the severity or type of your loved one’s SUD, they likely require professional treatment to effectively establish sobriety and begin recovery. This is because, as mentioned previously, alcohol and drug use changes how the brain functions. As a result of these changes, your loved one may not be able to control their use, even despite a strong desire to get sober. Nonetheless, leaving SUD untreated will only put your loved one at risk of experiencing worsening mental and behavioral health consequences. 

As a result of SUD, your loved one experiences a greater risk of developing co-occurring mental health problems. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) explains, “People with substance use disorders are at particular risk for developing one or more primary conditions or chronic diseases.” When SUD and mental health disorders exist together, they are known as co-occurring disorders or dual diagnoses. 

Overall, professional treatment is required to help your loved one establish sobriety and to address and treat the root causes of their substance use. Your loved one may find refuge in an individualized treatment program. Through this avenue, treatment can be tailored to fit their unique needs and recovery goals. Throughout recovery, your loved one needs medical and psychological support not only to get clean, but also to tackle the emotional, behavioral, and mental problems that have driven their substance abuse. 

Substance use disorder (SUD) is a treatable mental health condition characterized by continued drug use despite the adverse consequences such use causes to your life. If you or a loved one has SUD, it can help to focus on the specific type of SUD you are struggling with. Individualized treatment programs can help you establish sobriety and achieve lasting recovery from SUD, no matter where you are on your healing journey. 12 South Recovery offers client-centered addiction and mental health treatment. We provide a wide range of therapeutic options to individualize our client care. To learn more about our outpatient programs and how we can help, call us today at (888) 830-8374.

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