What is substance use disorder?

Substance use disorder (or addiction) is a psychiatric disorder in humans. In the disorder, people uncontrollably consume a substance (drugs or legal or illegal drugs) despite adverse consequences.

Substance use disorder (or addiction) is a psychiatric disorder in humans. In this condition, people uncontrollably consume a substance (legal or illegal drugs or medicines) despite adverse consequences. Excessive use of the substance by a person interferes with their normal functioning at school, at home or at work. These addictive substances include recreational or illegal drugs, tobacco, alcohol, and even some prescription drugs.

Initially, a person may start using a particular substance for pleasure, such as experiencing something for the first time or to manage symptoms, such as pain (as seen in opioid abuse). Over time, the use of the substance can increase so much that they become dependent on it.

Not everyone who participates in activities such as drinking or smoking develops a substance use disorder. The exact cause of substance use disorders remains unknown. However, studies show that people who have peers and family members with attitudes or behaviors that encourage substance use and who inherit related genes from their parents are more likely to develop the disease.

Many of those who develop substance abuse disorder already suffer from depression, attention deficit disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, or some other psychiatric problem.

A stressful lifestyle and low self-esteem can also lead to addiction.

How do you recognize someone with a substance use disorder?

If someone close to you has a substance use disorder, you may notice one or more of the signs and symptoms, including

  • Have a strong desire to use the substance several times a day
  • Ensure there is an adequate supply of the substance
  • Get agitated if they can’t find the substance when the urge is felt
  • Need more medicine to produce the same effect
  • Suffering from withdrawal symptoms after stopping the substance
  • Be prepared to do anything (even criminal activity) to get the drug in case there is no money to buy it
  • Engaging in risky behavior while under the influence of the substance
  • Adopting secret behavior to hide drug use
  • Feeling powerless in multiple attempts to stop using substances
  • Show episodes of violence
  • Continue to use the substance even when they know it affects their daily life and responsibilities
  • Neglect their appearance
  • Avoiding social gatherings and other recreational activities due to substance use
  • Lack of energy or motivation
  • Show confusion
  • Losing weight or looking emaciated

Besides these symptoms, you may also notice other signs in the person depending on the substance. For example, marijuana and hashish can cause red eyes, slow reaction, and paranoid thoughts.

Which substances can cause substance use disorders?

Most people diagnosed with a substance use disorder are considered to be dependent on one or more of the following substances:

  • Alcohol
  • the tobacco
  • Stimulants
  • Opioids include illegal substances, such as heroin and prescription drugs, including
  • Cannabis (commonly known as marijuana)
  • Hallucinogens are substances that cause hallucinations, which are distorted perceptions of reality.
    • MDMA (also called Ecstasy)
    • Phencyclidine (PCP)
    • Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)

The risk and speed of addiction depend on the drug. Some drugs, such as opioids, have a higher risk and potential to become addictive faster than others.


What opioids are used to treat?
See the answer

Medical examination on 07/21/2021

The references

Mayo Clinic: “Drug addiction (substance use disorder)”.



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