Different Types and Causes of Substance Abuse

Doctors discussing substance abuse

Impaired coordination, sudden weight loss, legal trouble, neglected responsibilities. These are just a few of the many signs a loved one could be struggling with a substance use disorder. Substance abuse occurs when the recurrent use of alcohol and/or drugs causes clinically and functionally significant impairment. While substance use disorders are serious, they’re also treatable.

Types of Substance Use Disorders

There are two main types of substance use disorders: alcohol use disorder and drug use disorder. Some people abuse both substances, while others are addicted to one or the other. 

Alcohol use disorder

Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance in America. More than 17 million people, one in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse and its debilitating effects. People with alcohol use disorder, or alcoholism, exhibit compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over how much alcohol they consume, and experience withdrawal symptoms when they are not drinking. Binge drinking (consuming a high amount of alcohol in a single day) and heavy drinking (consuming high amounts of alcohol several times per month) are two types of problem drinking that often lead to alcohol addiction. Signs of alcohol use disorder include:

  • Irritability and extreme mood swings
  • Making excuses for drinking, such as to relax or deal with stress
  • Becoming isolated from friends and family
  • Lying about how much alcohol is consumed
  • Neglecting responsibilities at work, home, or school
  • Drinking alone or in secrecy
  • Experiencing black-outs or short-term memory loss

Drug use disorder

Also referred to as a drug addiction, drug use disorder can include illegal drugs, prescription medications, or a combination. Cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, benzodiazepines, steroids, and inhalants are all highly addictive and can lead to a substance use disorder very quickly. Because drugs change how the brain is wired and interfere with its natural reward system, people with a drug use disorder continue using despite the harm caused to their health, relationships, and careers. Signs of a drug use disorder include:

  • Missing money or valuables
  • Drastic changes in behavior 
  • Frequently absent from school or work
  • Lack of energy and motivation
  • Sudden weight loss 
  • Difficulty speaking 
  • Neglected hygiene and appearance

Causes of Substance Use Disorders

The cause of substance use disorders is still unknown, though genetics are thought to account for 40% to 60% of a person’s risk. Substance use often starts as a way to feel good or out of curiosity in childhood or early adolescence. Repeated use of the substance and increased tolerance pave the way to substance use disorder and addiction. Some adults who develop a substance use disorder have a co-occurring mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, or bi-polar disorder, and begin using drugs or alcohol to cope with their symptoms. Other risk factors that may lead to a substance use disorder include:

  • Family history of addiction
  • Sleep problems
  • Chronic pain
  • Financial difficulties
  • Divorce or the loss of a loved one 
  • Long-term tobacco habit
  • Tense home environment 
  • Lack of parental attachment in childhood 
  • Relationship issues

Of course, none of these risk factors guarantees that a person will develop a substance abuse disorder, but a combination of factors plus repeated substance use significantly increase the likelihood of addiction. 
Is your loved one struggling with substance abuse? Help is available.

More than 20 million Americans suffer from a chemical dependency on drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately, only a small fraction of those who need treatment actually seek help. At Alvarado Parkway Institute, we understand the challenges and stigma associated with substance use disorders and work diligently to provide effective, evidence-based treatment to the patients who entrust us with their care. 

Whether your loved one requires the safe, controlled environment of inpatient drug treatment or the flexibility of an outpatient program, all patients in our care receive the counseling, education, and recovery support services they need to lead a happy, healthy life. For more information on our alcohol and drug treatment programs, please call our 24-hour crisis line at (619) 667-6125.