The Road to Sobriety: Understanding Substance Use Disorders

Health & Fitness

  • Author Naresh Kumar
  • Published May 5, 2024
  • Word count 865

According to NSDUH’s survey 2022, 48.7 million people aged 12 or older were suffering from substance use disorders (SUD) in the USA. Alcohol, tobacco-related products, and marijuana are the most common substances in SUDs.

The disturbing part is the stigma and myths associated with SUD.

A popular myth is that SUD doesn't have a treatment. So many people go on losing their lives, families, and relationships with SUD. However, with effective guidance, it is possible to overcome SUD. That's why understanding substance use disorders, causes, symptoms, and treatment methods is extremely important, for both awareness and guidance.

Substance Use Disorder: What is it?

Substance use disorder (SUD) is recognized as a mental condition where a person exhibits a problematic pattern of use of substances such as alcohol, caffeine, cannabis, LSD, sedatives, opioids, and other drugs, that is oriented towards the damage of their life. It can affect people of all ages, genders, races, and socio-economic statuses.

A substance use disorder can be mild, moderate, or severe. Such people experience an overpowering desire to consume substances, develop an increased tolerance, and exhibit severe withdrawal symptoms when forced to stop the consumption.

It is possible to have SUD for more than one substance. While over consumption seriously impairs one’s life, it also affects relationships, career, and family dynamics. Death is not uncommon, either because of consumption or suicide.

Fortunately, many methods to treat SUD have come up. Family members of the person suffering from SUD or the person themselves must seek professional help to come out of the problem and resume their normal life.

Causes and Symptoms of SUD

Just like physiological medical conditions have a cause, various situations mentioned below can also cause SUD.

• Genetic factors (family history of addiction).

• Environmental factors (peer pressure, stressful life events, trauma).

• Mental health disorders (depression, anxiety, ADHD).

• Early exposure to addictive substances.

• Lack of family support or involvement.


The most common symptoms of SUD are given below. In extreme cases, people with SUD may also develop suicidal behavior.

• Inability to control or cut down on substance use.

• Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, or recovering from the substance.

• Cravings or strong urges to use the substance.

• Continuing to use despite negative consequences (health, social, legal).

• Neglecting responsibilities at work, school, or home.

• Developing tolerance (needing more of the substance to achieve the desired effect).

• Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping or reducing use.

• Engaging in risky or illegal behavior to obtain the substance.

• Continuing use despite interpersonal problems caused by the substance.

• Abandoning hobbies or activities once enjoyed.

Substance Use vs Substance Use Disorder vs Addiction

Not every person who uses substances can develop substance use disorder. Occasional or few episodes of alcohol or drug intake may not lead to a chronic habit of taking them. Then it is just substance misuse. A substance use disorder refers to a chronic problem in people.

However, the development of SUD also depends on the type of substance. For example, tobacco, heroin, cocaine, and cannabis can easily pull one into dependency with just a few intakes.

On the other hand, addiction is the extreme phase of SUD, where a person continues to use alcohol or drugs despite being aware of negative consequences. Such people are helpless on their own to come out of the problem. Treatment can also take more time depending on the inner strength and support.

SUD Treatment Methods

Depending on the complexity of the SUD, various treatment methods, individually or in combination, are applied to treat the problem for a person. Some of them are given below.

Behavioural Therapies: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), contingency management, motivational interviewing, and other therapies aimed at modifying behaviors and thought patterns related to substance use.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT): The use of medications like methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone, in combination with behavioural therapies, to manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

Inpatient or Residential Treatment (Rehab): Intensive, short-term treatment programs that provide 24-hour care and support in a residential setting.

Outpatient Treatment: Various therapy and counseling sessions allow individuals to continue living at home while receiving treatment.

Support Groups: Peer support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and SMART Recovery, which provide a community and accountability.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment: Treatment that addresses both substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety.

Detoxification: Medical supervision and support during the initial withdrawal process to manage symptoms and prevent complications.

Holistic Therapies: Complementary approaches like yoga, meditation, acupuncture, and massage, are often used in conjunction with other treatments.

Aftercare and Relapse Prevention: Ongoing support and resources to help individuals maintain sobriety and prevent relapse after completing an initial treatment program.


Substance use disorder as a medical condition is not so popular in the world. Many people think there's no way to come out of the SUD without the will of the person themselves. However, many medical interventions follow proven methods like AA’s 12 steps to de-addiction, etc., to successfully rehabilitate patients to normal lives.

Sometimes, a combination of techniques is used based on the individual condition. In any case, the biggest responsibility is bringing awareness to the people. We must always know that life is a precious gift once and for all.

Written By: Naresh Kumar

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