Substance Use Disorder

Some people who are suffering from drug addiction feel their life has become a never-ending cycle of chaos in which the drug is the central cause. What does it mean to be a person who is addicted to alcohol and/or drugs? The word “addiction” comes from the Latin word “a giving over, surrender.  The sheer amount of time spent finding, getting, and using the drug is exhausting. They can sometimes feel like the biggest loser on earth, but they just do it over and over and over again.

The essential feature of a substance use disorder is a cluster of cognitive, behavioural, and physiological symptoms indicating that an individual continues using a substance despite substance-related problems.

A list of six possible defining characteristics of a substance use disorder includes

  • Work problems, a strain on social relationships, family interactions negatively affected directly by a persons substance abuse
  • substance abuse increases and frequency of use over extended periods
  • increased time obtaining, using and recovering from using
  • painfull emotional, physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawals when the drug of choice is stopped or decreased. PAWS painfull acute withdrawal symptoms.
  • obsession and craving during withdrawal or reduction
  • increased tolerance to the drugs desired effects (the need or more frequent and higher doses)


People with two to three of these characteristics would be considered to have a mild substance disorder, while those with four to five of them would be in the moderate category. Neither of these categories would be considered to be an addiction. A person who meets six of the criteria, however, would be considered to have a severe substance use disorder or what most people would term an addiction.

It is important to note, however, that tolerance to and withdrawal from some medication- such as certain painkiller, antidepressants, and antianxiety medications- can occur even when these medications are taken at appropriately prescribed doses, without the person having a substance use disorder. Many individuals use these drugs without any evidence of misuse or aberrant behaviour.

Alcohol and drugs produce their pleasurable, euphoric effects by directly or indirectly targeting what is known as the brain’s reward system, flooding it with dopamine and motivating use again and again. With repeated use, dopamine’s impact on the reward system in the brain can become abnormally lowered, so that even heavier and more frequent use results in less pleasure or “high”. Other brain systems such as stress response system become overactive and result in unpleasant feelings such as anxiety and depression. As addictions get worse, afflicted people are driven to repeated use more in order to relieve these unpleasant feelings than to seek pleasure. In other words, they use to feel “normal” or “not sick” more than to get high.


Certainly, some people are more prone to addictions than others, depending on their genetic background. Genetic factors are believed to account or between 40 and 60 per cent of a person’s vulnerability to addictions. Use of drugs and alcohol at an early age also increases the odds of addiction, as does having a history of childhood trauma. Plus living, working, or going to school in places where alcohol and drug use is common increases the likelihood of addictions. The bottom line is that there’s a biological as well as an environmental component to becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol, and the role that each play varies from person to person.

If you are concerned that you or someone you care about is suffering from an addiction, help is at hand. Detoxplusuk can give you help and advice about all substance addictions including alcohol, drugs. Please get in touch.



Addiction faq

What is Addiction?

Addictive substances like alcohol and drugs cause the brain to release high levels of chemicals that are associated with pleasure or reward. Over time, continued release of these chemicals causes changes in the brain systems involved in reward, motivation and memory. Because of this, a person may need the substance to feel normal. These changes in the brain can remain for a long time, even after the person stops using the substance and leave the individual vulnerable to an increased risk of relapse.

What is the Definition of Drug Abuse?

Drug abuse is the recurrent use of illegal drugs or the misuse of prescription or over-the-counter drugs with negative consequences.

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