what is a substance abuse disorder

There are several signs and symptoms relating to substance abuse disorders. If you suspect someone you care about may be struggling with a substance abuse disorder, it’s important to learn more about substance abuse and provide support.

In this article, we’re taking a closer look at a common question we hear from people – what is substance abuse disorder?

What is a Substance Abuse Disorder?

Simply put, a substance is any type of matter which possesses a unique chemical composition, and which causes it to behave in a specific way. When two or more substances are combined at the molecular level, a compound substance is created. How a compound substance behaves is different than how the individual substances behaved, on their own.

When discussing substance abuse, what is commonly being referred to as a type of substance which alters the brain and body of a human being when such substance is introduced into the nervous system. This introduction of a substance into the bodily system can occur through inhalation, injection, consumption, and absorption. The medications which are prescribed by a doctor are substances, as are the products you buy over the counter to alleviate certain discomforts. When you take an aspirin to reduce a headache, you are consuming a substance. Substances that are used by humans and animals are also referred to as drugs.

Defining Substance Abuse

When substances are consumed according to their regulatory and socially approved uses – such as with taking medications as prescribed or occasionally using them to address specific needs – it is not considered abuse. Substance abuse occurs when a person decides to use more of the substance than is recommended, or when the substance is being used in a way that was not approved by a prescribing doctor or by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA).

As you can deduce, compound substances which are created by individuals and then distributed around the neighborhood are not FDA or physician-approved, and don’t come with any recommendations for proper consumption. Alcohol is another substance that is left up to the individual to determine acceptable usage levels. Similarly, dosages of naturally grown substances – such as marijuana or magic mushrooms – are not regulated by the government. Determining whether a person is using too much of these substances, or using them too frequently, can be tricky. Identifying abuse of these non-regulated substances becomes a matter of societal interpretation and personal evaluation.

Abuse of substances is often a precursor to addiction. While abuse refers to inappropriate or excessive usage, addiction occurs once the body or brain becomes dependent upon using the substance in order to achieve a state of equilibrium. It is rare that a person will become addicted after one exposure to a drug, but repeated exposure to a mentally or physically addictive substance creates the conditions for a full-blown addiction.

Defining Substance Abuse Disorders

The definition of disorder implies that the natural or ascribed order of things is disrupted. In psychological terms, a disorder is identified by a person behaving, thinking, acting, or feeling in a way that is not considered culturally conforming or normative. What may be considered normal behavior in one society may be considered disordered in another. In essence, a disorder is something that disrupts the quality of life for the individual, or for those surrounding.

How do you know whether the substance abuse of yourself or a loved one has crossed over into a disorder? While it is possible to abuse a substance without experiencing any noticeable disruptions in your personal or social life, the chances of suffering consequences related to misuse of substances are high. These consequences can come in forms such as health problems, damage to relationships, financial loss, vocational and educational impediment, and legal troubles. If problems such as these are occurring as a result of your repeated use of a substance, you are in substance abuse disorder territory.

Signs of Substance Abuse Disorder

It is sometimes possible to realize that one has a substance abuse disorder before the personal and social consequences get out of hand. Paying attention to your own behaviors, emotions, and mental status can be the first step in realizing that you have set yourself up for a problem. The following are some of the more common indicators that you will benefit from some form of intervention in regard to your current substance-related habits.

Experiencing Urgency to Use

People who truly use substances in a recreational manner – such as having a glass of wine at dinner time – rarely experience the sense of urgency which accompanies substance abuse. A person who is in abuse will begin to spend an increasing amount of time planning for and anticipating that next dose. There will often be a feeling of anxiety if access to the substance is impeded. Other plans may be dismissed or set aside in order to indulge.

Ignoring Small Consequences

Failure to heed small problems is often a precursor to experiencing big problems. Occasionally calling sick into work due to a hangover can turn into chronic absenteeism. Running out of medications early due to taking one or two extra doses can result in emotional and chemical disruptions during the final days of the month. Being rude to a friend while under the influence can leave scars that will permanently mar the relationship.

Taking Risks

One common feature of substances that are prone to be abused is that they impair our ability to think rationally and plan for the long term. We might be very conscientious people while sober, but throw caution to the wind while intoxicated. A conscious decision to not drive yourself home from the bar can seem like too much of an inconvenience once the alcohol has settled in. Having unprotected sex with a stranger might not seem so dangerous while high. Dipping into your savings to score that next bag can be justified while the addiction to the substance is in the driver’s seat.

Lying About Your Use

It is characteristic of a substance abuse problem to begin, at some point, to lie about it. Chances are good that there is someone in your life who is concerned about your usage, and has expressed his or her disapproval. Rather than continuing to argue your case about your substance use not being a problem, it can be decidedly easier to just start fibbing about it.