How do you know if you’re developing a substance use disorder?

How do you know if you’re developing a substance use disorder?

People all across the State of Texas and the United States deal with problems related to alcohol or drugs daily. The question often arises how do you know if you’re developing a substance use disorder? It’s important to understand that a substance use disorder is a medical condition that is caused by the repeated misuse of addictive substances.

Individuals that develop a substance-related disorder normally experience significant impairments in their health, social relationships, and the inability to control their usage of the addictive substance. The individual at some point in the substance use disorder will begin to struggle with cognitive, behavioral, and psychological problems and symptoms of addiction.

The symptoms of a substance use disorder can range from mild, and moderate to more severe problems and can fluctuate back and forth as substances are reduced or increased in frequency. Some problems can be temporary or more chronic as in the case of physical, psychological, or social disruptions.

Substance Use Disorders are Progressive

Many people begin to experience mild problems with their alcohol or drug problems in the beginning stages of the development of their substance use disorder. Eventually, problems begin to progressively increase as the use of alcohol or drugs increases.

The individual will over time notice that they are experiencing more negative consequences along with a gradual increase of disruptions as they experience a compulsive desire to use or habitual use of the addictive substances. An individual may even begin to attempt to control their usage and find it difficult to remain abstinent despite experiencing negative consequences.

When an individual is experiencing a more severe state of an addiction, they may find themselves chronically relapsing repeatedly even though they want to stop drinking alcohol or using the addictive substances. They may find themselves compulsively drug-seeking or ingesting the substances repeatedly. Substance use disorder will become more progressive without treatment services.

Substance Use Disorder Severity

We traditionally call a substance use disorder an addiction when someone develops a severe problem with alcohol or drugs. The repeated misuse of addictive substances can begin to change how the brain functions when the substance is entered into the body. People will notice cravings and more obsessive thoughts as the substance use disorder progresses over time.

When an individual is not using or recovering from their last usage of the addictive substance, they may experience withdrawal syndrome. The individual may stop the withdrawal process by ingesting more of the addictive substance to avoid the uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal.

The withdrawal syndrome can be dangerous, so it is recommended that if you are experiencing the withdrawal syndrome you seek help at a medical detox facility. Sometimes the withdrawal symptoms are subtle and at other times they are more overt symptoms.

The more the addictive substance is used over time, along with the frequency of use will determine if an individual experiences substance-related cues that will trigger the desire to seek more of the addictive substance. Eventually, the individual will become driven by the reward of seeking the high associated with alcohol or drug use.

The individual may experience elevated stress or withdrawals when the substance is not in their body which contributes to physical cravings as well as psychological cravings. When this progression begins the individual may experience more problems with thinking, decisions, and self-control.

Substance Use Disorders

Substance use disorders are different than most other disorders because they appear in a broad range of severity. Some people exhibit mild or moderate symptoms while others can experience severe symptoms. To complicate matters even more no one factor can predict if a person can or will become addicted to alcohol or drugs.

There is some promising research that is indicating that we will be able to administer DNA testing in the future to help identify the genetic factors of people that have the gene for an alcohol use disorder and other addictive substances, but it is still being researched and developed at this time.

So, in the meantime, we will have to work with an individual’s self-report of the symptoms that they are experiencing to determine which level of addiction they are experiencing. There is often a combination of factors or symptoms that will influence the risk of developing a substance use disorder.

The number of factors or symptoms an individual experiences behind using an addictive substance will often determine the greater chance of developing a substance use disorder. Another problem that some people are faced with is being able to self-identify with the symptoms. Most people struggle with the acceptance that they are experiencing certain symptoms because of a delusional state called denial.

What is denial with a substance use disorder?

Denial is a psychological defense mechanism that is commonly experienced when people are dealing with a substance use disorder. This defense mechanism helps at blocking or minimize the impact of unpleasant internal and external truths or realities.

The mind tries to protect the individual from experiencing stress to prevent anxious feelings or anxiety from being experienced. The problem is that over time the denial reverses on the individual with the substance use disorder and becomes a part of the enabling process and they justify their continued use.

The individual may fail to see the truth about their situation and deny how bad their alcohol or drug problem has become when they experience consequences. They can even minimize how alcohol or drugs is affecting their body, mind, and relationships.

To complicate matters the individual may begin to progress to more severe problems and difficulties with their alcohol or drug use. Developing problems that are physical, psychological, emotional, social, financial, and legal problems are ignored for the desire to ingest more of the addictive substance.

We often refer to this process as experiencing denial of the problem. Substance use disorder or addiction will often progress further out of control creating a wide range of negative consequences. An individual at this point is often referred to either medical detoxification or substance use disorder treatment.


Addiction is a complex but treatable chronic disorder that does affect the brain and its ability to function normally. The individual does display behavior changes that reinforce the desire to seek more alcohol, prescription drugs, or other addictive substances.

The most severe form of a substance use disorder is often referred to as an addiction. An individual can change severity levels from mild, to moderate to severe and then reverse backward from severe, to moderate to mild, and continue back through the severity levels.

This will all depend on the reductions of substances versus the increased usage of the substances and is often changed by frequency or increased dosage of the addictive substance. The determination of levels of severity is from self-report, collaborative reports from others, and biological testing.

It is important to keep in mind that people progress through a substance use disorder at different rates, levels, and frequencies. Some addictive substances that are used by people with an addiction are pharmacological and known to create a dependency or can easily create withdrawal symptoms.

How do you deal with substance use disorders?

The best addiction treatment option is to seek help from an addiction treatment program that offers access to a medical detoxification program. This is helpful to the individual suffering from addiction because the individual will be able to utilize the detoxification process.

Detoxification is critical to helping a person deal with the associated withdrawal symptoms that emerge once a person stops using an addictive substance. Once detox & stabilization is completed then the individual can transition to other inpatient treatment programs or residential treatment services.

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