Different Types of Substance Use Disorder (SUD)

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If your loved one has recently been diagnosed with substance use disorder (SUD), you may worry about their future. As you support them on their journey to recovery, you will benefit from learning about the different types of SUD. The type and severity of SUD your loved one is experiencing can help you determine the best route for their treatment and recovery.

What Is Substance Use Disorder (SUD)?

According to the National Insitute of Mental Health (NIMH), “Substance use disorder (SUD) is a treatable mental disorder that affects a person’s brain and behavior, leading to their inability to control their use of substances like legal or illegal drugs, alcohol, or medications.”

Your loved one may have been diagnosed with SUD because they can no longer control their substance use, despite the consequences that their use is causing in their life. This can be incredibly frustrating to watch. Fortunately, as NIMH highlights, SUD is treatable.

Addiction recovery will present a number of complex challenges for your loved one. It is hard work to pursue treatment and work to establish sobriety. Your loved one will benefit greatly from your understanding and support.

Addiction: A Chronic Disorder of Brain and Behavior

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines addiction as “a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences.” Addiction is often considered to be a brain disorder. This is due to the lasting effects that chronic alcohol and drug use have on brain structure and associated functioning.

Despite addiction being the most severe form of SUD, addiction is still treatable. According to NIDA, “Research on the science of addiction and the treatment of substance use disorders has led to the development of research-based methods that help people to stop using drugs and resume productive lives, also known as being in recovery.” Whether your loved one is experiencing moderate SUD or addiction, it is important to understand that recovery is a lifelong journey. 

One of the main reasons for this is that, due to the effects of substance use on the brain, addiction is a relapsing disorder. If your loved one returns to alcohol and drug use after they attempt to stop, it is considered a relapse. Unfortunately, like many others, relapse can be a part of your loved one's recovery process. Moreover, relapse prevention plays a large part in the effectiveness of treatment. 

Symptoms of SUD range in severity from moderate to severe. The most severe form of SUD is addiction. Understanding the severity of your loved one's SUD symptoms may be beneficial. It can help you recognize the severity of challenges that treatment and recovery may pose.

Types of Substance Use Disorder (SUD)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlights the following list of substances that may be involved in SUD. Additionally, there are specific types of SUD associated with each substance.

  • Alcohol: Alcohol use disorder (AUD)
  • Cannabis: Marijuana use disorder or cannabis use disorder (CUD)
  • Hallucinogens: Hallucinogen use disorder
  • Inhalants: Inhalant use disorder
  • Nicotine: Nicotine use disorder
  • Opioids: Opioid use disorder (OUD)
  • Sedatives: Sedative use disorder
  • Stimulants: Stimulant use disorder
  • Tobacco: Tobacco use disorder

Warning Signs and Symptoms of SUD

There are a variety of warning signs that your loved one may exhibit that can indicate the presence of SUD. Likely, they are already diagnosed. Still, becoming familiar with these general signs and symptoms can help you become more aware of potentially problematic behaviors throughout your loved one's recovery journey.

The following list of warning signs and symptoms may indicate the presence of SUD in your loved one:

  • They're consuming substances in larger amounts or for longer durations than intended.
  • Their substance use is interfering with their ability to fulfill major responsibilities at work, school, or home.
  • They have experienced unsuccessful attempts to cut down or regulate their substance use.
  • They're partaking in substance use in physically unsafe environments.
  • They experience substance use cravings and withdrawal symptoms that are motivating them to use over and over again.

DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria

There are 11 diagnostic criteria for SUD by The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). As explained by Johns Hopkins University, the DSM-5 states, “SUDs are classified as mild, moderate, or severe based on how many of the 11 criteria are fulfilled: mild, any 2 or 3 criteria; moderate, any 4 or 5 criteria; severe, any 6 or more criteria.”

These signs and symptoms can be altered to fit any of the substances mentioned previously. Additionally, if your loved one engages in polysubstance use, they may be struggling with more than one type of SUD.

Treating Different Types of SUD

Depending on the type and severity of your loved one's SUD, they will likely need to undergo professional detox. This is often the first step before participating in a treatment program.

Detoxing at home can present life-threatening dangers. This is especially true for OUD and AUD. Professional detox is a medically assisted option that will help your loved one safely withdraw from their substance use.

Following detox, an inpatient rehabilitation program will give your loved one the best chance at lasting success and sobriety. Treatment can be tailored to meet your loved one's unique needs and goals. Additionally, residential treatment offers intense and highly-structured care. This can help your loved one not only cease their substance use but also overcome the underlying effects of their use, such as trauma or co-occurring mental health disorders.

Watching a loved one struggle with the damaging effects of substance abuse and substance use disorder (SUD) can be overwhelming. Fortunately, SUD, including its most severe form, addiction, is treatable. After your loved one participates in treatment, they will have to work diligently to maintain recovery for the rest of their life. At Pathways Recovery Center, we offer detox and residential inpatient programs that can help your loved one achieve peace from their symptoms of SUD. We offer a wide range of therapeutic approaches and interventions to help individualize our client care. Treatment can be tailored to your loved one's unique needs and goals for recovery. To learn more, call (888) 771-0966.

Clinically reviewed by 

Moses Nasser
Dr. Moses Nasser, a double board-certified physician in Family Medicine and Addiction Medicine, with expertise in holistic healing, addiction medicine, and psychiatric care, holds an X-waiver to prescribe buprenorphine and has extensive experience in mindfulness-based customer service and medication-assisted treatment.

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