Substance abuse disorders, commonly known as “addiction,” are complex and serious diseases in the brain. People with these disorders compulsively use mind-altering substances, even when they know it will cause harm. Addiction can be an isolating experience, but you’re not alone. An estimated 19.7 million people in the United States battle substance abuse disorders. For people in the midst of addiction, it can feel like a never-ending cycle. No matter how hopeless it may feel: help is here.

We believe that people with addictions are not “bad” people. They are people struggling with a life-altering disorder. As mental health care providers, we strive to help people go into recovery and live happier, more fulfilled lives. That process starts with learning about substance abuse disorder and treatment options.

What Substances Can People Become Addicted To?

Substance abuse disorders can involve the use or abuse of many different mind-altering substances, both legal and illegal. The list of possibly abused substances includes:

  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • Tobacco
  • Hallucinogens (LSD, PCP, etc.)
  • Stimulants (methamphetamine, cocaine, etc.)
  • Inhalants (paint and glue)
  • Sedatives, anxiolytics, and hypnotics
  • Prescriptions medications taken outside of the prescribed dosage
  • Opioids (codeine and oxycodone)

The term “addiction” can apply to behaviors as well, such as gambling or risky sexual behaviors. However, substance abuse disorders specifically involve inhaling, injecting, drinking, or otherwise consuming a substance.

What Causes Substance Abuse Disorders?

Unfortunately, many people believe that character flaws cause substance abuse disorders. This is simply not true. Substance abuse disorders are brain diseases that are caused by factors such as:

  • Genetics: A person’s genetics make up about 40 to 60 percent of their risk of developing substance abuse disorders.
  • Environment: People who have chaotic or unstable home environments are more likely to develop these disorders. Other environmental factors include peer influence, low academic achievement, and the surrounding community’s views on drugs.
  • Comorbid Disorders: People with certain mental health disorders are more likely to develop substance abuse disorders.

What’s the Difference Between Substance Use and Substance Abuse?

Using one of these substances sparingly does not mean someone has a substance abuse disorder. For example, someone can have a drink or two on the weekend without being dependent on alcohol.

Someone has a substance abuse disorder when their compulsive use of the substance seriously impacts their lives. They may lose their job, jeopardize their meaningful relationships, or engage in risky behaviors just to get more of the substance they want.

What Treatment Options are Available for Substance Abuse Disorders?

A variety of mental health treatments can help people recover from substance abuse disorders, such as:

  • In-patient rehabilitation
  • Intensive outpatient services
  • Individual counseling
  • Group therapy

Because so many people with substance abuse disorder also live with other mental health disorders, it’s important to address those concerns as well. In some cases, providers may prescribe medications for those comorbid conditions. However, they will consider the possibility of addiction when prescribing.