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While the term drug abuse is still commonly used in a number of contexts to imply both the misuse of and addiction to substances that have psychoactive properties, it is no longer used in the formal diagnostic terminology of clinicians in the United States. The current term used to designate the presence of substance abuse or addiction is substance use disorder. This clinical term describes both drug/substance abuse and formal addictive behaviors. The severity, as measured by the number of symptoms the individual displays, determines whether or not an individual is on the abuse end of the spectrum or qualifies more for an addiction type of diagnosis.
Because individuals with addictions will almost always display elements of substance abuse, this term is thought to more adequately describe the individual problem compared to older terms like substance abuse, addiction, substance dependence, and so forth.
This is a very difficult question to adequately address, as there is no one particular pathway to developing a substance use disorder. In some cases, individuals develop a substance use disorder at a relatively young age; in other cases, individuals may develop the issue later on in adulthood. Typically, many people start using certain drugs, such as tobacco or alcohol, at some point in their adolescence.
There are a number of different sources that have investigated the notion of “gateway drugs,” such as marijuana, in the development of substance use disorders in children and adolescents; however, perhaps the true gateway drugs are substances that are much more readily available, such as tobacco and alcohol. Even if young people do not have direct access to these substances, it is not hard for them to procure them. In addition, young people are exposed to them through the media and within their own environments (e.g., parental use, peer use, etc.).
There are a number of identified risk factors that are associated with a greater probability for the development of a substance use disorder. The more risk factors an individual has, the greater the probability that a substance use disorder may develop. According to Substance Abuse and Dependence in Adolescence, these risk factors include:
A number of causal explanations are proposed; however, no single causal explanation can describe the overall problem of substance use disorders. The risk factors above are not the direct causes leading to the development of a substance use disorder but instead indicate behaviors or situations that increase the risk that a person will develop a substance use disorder. Substance use disorders will typically begin to develop when individuals start using drugs or illicit substances in order to experience their psychoactive effects (e.g., to experience the “high” or euphoria associated with use, to avoid stress, to avoid responsibilities, to avoid feeling certain emotions, to fit in with the crowd, etc.).
Even though there is quite a bit of variability in the behaviors that individuals with substance use disorders display, there are some general signs and symptoms that may indicate that someone has such a disorder. A person does not have to exhibit all of these signs; in fact, someone who exhibits three or four of these together may be displaying symptoms of a substance use disorder. However, substance use disorders can only be formally diagnosed by professionally trained and licensed mental health professionals.
The information that follows is designed to be used in an educational format. Anyone suspecting a substance use disorder should seek out a consultation with a licensed mental health professional who is trained and qualified in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of these disorders.
Some of the signs that an individual has a substance use disorder include the following:
According to the American Psychiatric Association, the formal symptoms of a substance use disorder include:
It is extremely important to choose the appropriate treatment program for the individual. Per the National Institute on Drug Abuse, treatment should be tailored to the individual. While there may be overall treatment protocols to follow, the specific plan must be individualized. Any treatment facility that offers a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment should be avoided.
Appropriate treatment for a substance use disorder consists of a program that delivers empirically validated treatment protocols (treatment approaches that have been supported in research literature), offers a variety of treatment services to address the whole individual, and utilizes licensed mental health professionals who have specific training in treating substance use disorders. The best approach to treating a substance use disorder is an approach that can address the issue from a number of different angles and offer various related interventions to assist the individual in recovery.
There are number of different treatment options that a comprehensive treatment program should offer. Treatment options may include the following:
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