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A substance use disorder is commonly called drug abuse or alcohol abuse.  It is generally a pattern of alcohol or drug use  in amounts or methods that interferes with activities, harms the individual or others.

Substance use is the continued use of illegal, prescription or over-the-counter drugs for purposes other than they were intended. Abuse may substantially injure the user and interfere with social, physical, emotional and job-related functioning.

Although initial alcohol or drug use may be voluntary, they have been shown to alter brain chemistry, which interferes with an individual's ability to make decisions and can lead to compulsive craving, seeking and use. This then becomes a substance dependency.

Substance dependence is defined as physical or psychological dependence. For example, if a person has a physical dependence, s/he may experience tolerance or withdrawal.

  • Tolerance means a person needs more of the substance to get high than when s/he first began using it. Natural tolerance can run in families and may be a sign that a person has an increased risk for developing dependence. If tolerance is present, a person can take large amounts of a substance without appearing intoxicated or high.
  • Withdrawal means that a person gets sick if s/he cuts down or stops using the substance. Often, this is why a person continues to use the substance, so s/he can avoid the unpleasant effects of physical withdrawal.. Symptoms may include shaking hands, racing pulse, agitation, nausea, or hallucinations. Sudden withdrawal from some substances, such as alcohol or sedatives, is dangerous.
  • Psychological dependence means that a person has lost control over his/her drug use. A pattern of compulsive use is present, and moderation is no longer possible. Often, denial plays a strong role: People think they can control the habit, while in fact they are using more energy and focus in obtaining the substance and recovering from its effect.

Substance abuse is a pattern of continued use despite negative consequences to be considered an "abuser," a person's drug use must cause significant problems and have a negative impact on his/her life. The effects of abuse may affect school, work, legal, family, and social relationships. While less severe than dependence, substance abuse can wreak havoc. . If substance use impacts a persons life  in any of the following ways, they would qualify for a diagnosis of substance abuse:

Drug use when it's physically dangerous, such as driving while intoxicated, engaging in risky sports, unprotected sex,

  • Criminal behavior or juvenile delinquency, such as stealing to get money for drugs, disorderly public conduct, or violence
  • Problems functioning at home, school, or work;  for an adolescent  signs include spending excessive time behind closed doors, avoiding chores, a change in academic performance, suspension from school, for an adult it may mean  missing work , not completing daily activities
  • Problems with social relationships, for    an adolescents signs include  arguments with authority figures (teachers, coaches, or parents) or a pattern of defiant or secretive behavior that may be out of character. For adults there are often   family arguments .

Substance-induced disorder is diagnosed when someone experiences symptoms that are solely related to substance use or withdrawal. For example, depression, anxiety, sleep problems, and hallucinations may occur. But it's important to distinguish these substance-induced symptoms from a preexisting condition. Further, any symptoms should disappear within a month or so after substance use has stopped.