Substance use disorder
When you hear the phrase “substance use disorder,” you might also think of substance abuse, addiction or dependence. While each term is similar, they have some differences. You see, many who may misuse substances may not have a substance use disorder. That said, 21 million Americans do struggle with a substance use disorder in some capacity.1 Their condition may not be controlling their life, but it’s a health risk, nonetheless, and may be a reason to warrant getting help.2 It’s important to understand what substance use disorder is so you can recognize it and try to get people help as soon as possible.
What is a substance use disorder?
You might be wondering what’s considered a substance. A substance is anything that has mood and mind-altering effects. Things like, alcohol, pain medications and illegal drugs. A substance use disorder is a medical condition that may affect the brain and body. 3 Someone with a substance use disorder has to meet certain criteria in order to get a formal diagnosis. Some of those criteria may include the regular use of substances even though it might negatively impact that person’s quality of life (like failure to meet major responsibilities or poor health).4
Remember, substance use disorder is a disease – not a failure of will or weakness of character. 3 It can be serious and life-threatening. The good news? It may be treatable. In fact, many people can recover if they seek the proper counseling right away. Call the 24-hour Substance Use Helpline at 1-855-780-5955 / TTY 711 to speak with a licensed clinician.5
It can be hard to recognize signs of substance use. After all, you might not think twice about some of the subtle signs that seem innocent. Pay attention to your intuition. If you notice some of the signs below, you may be dealing with a loved one who has an unhealthy relationship with substances. Or, perhaps you recognize some of these habits in your own life. Some possible signs include:6
- Problems at school or work. Frequent absences, a sudden disinterest in school activities or work, or a drop in performance.
- Physical health issues. Lack of energy and motivation, weight loss or gain, or red eyes.
- Neglected appearance or overall health. Lack of interest in clothing, grooming or looks, as well as their physical well-being.
- Changes in behavior. Drastic changes in behavior or in relationships with family and friends. Things like, exaggerated efforts to keep family members out of their room and being secretive about where they go with friends.
- Money issues. Sudden requests for money without a reasonable explanation, discovering that money may be missing or stolen, or that items may have disappeared from your home that may be sold to support drug use.
- Substance use patterns. Using more of a substance to get the same effect, using substances more frequently than before, feeling physical symptoms of withdrawal when unable to use a substance or spending more time trying to get the substance.
Many can be at risk of falling into unhealthy habits with substances. Struggling with mental health, coping with a traumatic event, or becoming physically dependent on medications post-surgery are all possible examples of how someone may find themselves with a dependency. It takes courage to admit when we have a problem, right? That’s the first (and sometimes the hardest) step. Use the questions below to help get a better understanding of your (or a loved one’s) relationship with substance use.6
- Do I keep my use a secret from others?
- Are friends, family or co-workers concerned?
- Do I find any excuse to drink or use?
- Do I use substances to change the way I’m feeling?
- Is my substance use increasing?
- Do I make promises to stop or cut back, but never follow through?
- Do I tell myself my problem isn’t that bad?
- Have I ever had a blackout (memory lapse) after using?
- Do I feel regret or shame after using?
- Do I spend more money than I can afford on alcohol or drugs?
- Am I at risk of physical danger or financial loss?
- Do I look forward to using alcohol or drugs?
When it comes to substance use disorder treatments, there’s no "one-size-fits-all" solution because many people may have different needs. An individualized treatment strategy starts with an assessment by a licensed clinician. They may take into account a person’s substance use, mental and physical health needs, social supports and social determinants of health. Treatment may include one or more of the following:7
- Detoxification (for some substances)
- Local, short-term, intensive residential treatment
- Medication-assisted treatment
- Intensive outpatient treatment
- Individual substance use disorder counseling
- Group therapy
- Outpatient therapy
- Community recovery services (like peer support services and self-help groups)
You can speak to a licensed clinician right now by calling 1-855-780-5955 / TTY 711. They can help evaluate your situation and arrange for a face-to-face evaluation with one of our network professionals who can help create a care strategy that may be what you need — usually within 24 hours. You can also check into telehealth services for a mental health care visit, by signing into your health plan account.
When should I call the Substance Use Helpline?
Concerned about yourself or a loved one? We’ve got resources for you. Call the 24-hour Substance Use Helpline at 1-855-780-5955 / TTY 711 to talk to a specialized substance use recovery advocate. You’ll get confidential support, guidance on recommended treatment options, help finding a network provider and answers to many of your questions — including concerns about your personal health or care for a family member, coverage, cost of care and more. Even if you’re not 100% sure it’s time to take next steps, talking with a recovery advocate may help you decide what might be best for you or your loved one.
Substance abuse support and resources
If you believe you need help right away — for yourself or a loved one — call 911 or use the emergency numbers below.
If you feel that you or a loved one are experiencing signs of addiction, call the confidential helpline to get support, guidance on treatment options, help finding a network provider and answers to your questions.
Get help with crisis intervention, information and referrals to local services for victims of domestic violence and those calling on their behalf.
If you or someone you know is in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, get emergency help right away. Contact the lifeline for 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress and prevention and crisis resources for you or loved ones. You can also find 24/7 support through an online chat called Lifeline Chat.
The Crisis Text Line — Text “Home” to 741741
The Crisis Text Line is a free resource available 24/7 to help you connect with a crisis counselor.
Employee Assistance Program (EAP) — 1-888-887-4114 / TTY 711
If your health plan includes EAP, you can call our coordinators 24/7 for a no-cost, confidential assessment of your situation and a referral to licensed professionals and services. Not sure if EAP is included in your health plan? Call the number on your health plan ID card to find out.
- Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health addiction.surgeongeneral.gov, 2016.
- Addiction vs. Dependence: Differences in Drug Abuse Terms addictioncenter.com, 2021.
- Drug addiction (substance use disorder) - Symptoms and causes mayoclinic.org, 2017.
- Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders | SAMHSA samhsa.gov, 2020.
- Live and Work Well Substance Use Disorders liveandworkwell.com 2021.
- Drug addiction: Risk factors mayoclinic.org, 2019.
- Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction DrugFacts | National Institute on Drug Abuse drugabuse.gov, 2019.