As the name suggests, substance use disorder (SUD) is a clinical term used to describe addiction. SUD can be diagnosed for different substances, such as illegal drugs, prescription medication, and others. Any SUD will heavily affect all aspects of life: social, economic, psychological, and physical well-being.
Substance use disorder is a condition characterized by dependency on an addictive substance.
If you have a close one suffering from SUD, you must also focus on your personal needs and well-being.
Family and friend support during the treatment process is very important.
A clinical practitioner diagnoses SUD. Given the range of negative implications on various domains of an individual’s life, the doctor will take into account physical and psychological state as well as any history of drinking, family/friends/significant other reports, and/or concerns.
For an individual to be diagnosed with SUD, they need to exhibit a combination of behaviors:
This means that an individual will repeatedly seek out a particular substance, in this example — alcohol.
An individual with SUD will have difficulty controlling the use of alcohol (or any other substance) by either overusing it or not in an appropriate setting. For example, an individual is intoxicated regardless of social or occupational obligations, misses deadlines, or drinks to the point of losing consciousness.
Impaired social interactions
An individual with SUD will prioritize alcohol use above everything else. For example, they will cancel or avoid social interactions where they can’t drink or try to drink secretly. They often try to avoid or “cut out” an individual from their life if confronted.
Taking unnecessary risks to satisfy their addiction. For example, driving while intoxicated to buy more alcohol. Drinking to the point of loss of memory or consciousness. In the case of other medical conditions, drinking, regardless of doctors’ orders, or drinking without considering hazardous or lethal consequences.
An individual with SUD will exhibit withdrawal symptoms when they can’t drink.
What is withdrawal?
Withdrawal syndrome is a range of psychological and physical symptoms evoked when an individual stops drinking (or using other addictive substances). These symptoms can vary in intensity based on how long and how much an individual has been drinking.
The withdrawal symptoms can appear as early as six hours after the last drink. These can include headaches, nausea, shaking of the hands, anxiety, sweating, and insomnia.
The person’s withdrawal symptoms worsen incrementally since their last drink — within 12 hours, symptoms can include hallucinations and seizures.
In rare cases, after 48 hours of abstinence, a condition called delirium tremens (DTs) can occur. However, this happens in less than 5% of cases. Symptoms include worsening hallucinations, fever, an increase in heart and blood pressure, and extensive sweating.
In most cases, the withdrawal symptoms pass without needing medical intervention. However, creating a safe and nurturing environment for those suffering from withdrawals can help. Furthermore, limiting noise, bright lights, and interruptions offers additional relief. Personal support and positivity during times of the withdrawal are also very beneficial.
If you’re tending to someone going through withdrawal, make sure that the person has access to healthy and nutritious food and plenty of fluids. However, call emergency health care services in case of seizures, high fever/blood pressure, or intense hallucinations.
What is it like to live with SUD?
SUD severely affects many areas of a person’s life. Even though it may not appear so at the beginning, alcohol dependence will likely grow, and the negative effects on one’s life will also increase.
Alcohol has many adverse effects on physical health. Long-term effects include liver disease, stroke, cardiovascular diseases, cognitive problems, and weakening of the immune system. Mental health risks include dementia, depression, and anxiety. In addition, individuals with SUD often find it difficult to maintain employment or educational programs, leading to severe financial troubles — even to the point of becoming homeless.
Living with someone who suffers from alcohol dependence can be extremely difficult and can trigger feelings of self-blame. It is important to understand that you are not the cause of the dependence. It can be difficult to face the fact that you can’t “cure” or control your close one’s harmful behaviors. Unfortunately, many people enable loved ones suffering from alcoholism. For example, making excuses or justifications for their behavior. It can be difficult to learn to say “No” and set boundaries to such behaviors, which with time, become psychologically taxing.
What help is available?
There are many treatment options for SUD. It is important to understand that what works for one person might not work for another. In severe cases, inpatient treatment is the most suitable. For example, rehabilitation centers that have physicians and therapists readily available often offer better success rates. However, outpatient treatment and individual therapy are the most common treatments. In some cases, medication is used together with therapy.
If you have a loved one whom you believe is suffering from alcohol dependence, the first step is to try to talk to them and express your concerns. A supportive and positive approach is most helpful. It’s always best to try to avoid confrontational or judgmental approaches. Most often, the earlier an individual receives help, the more positive the treatment outcome.
The treatment for SUD is very individual; for example, it addresses many aspects of life, like family, school, and work. Treatment intensity and duration vary for different individuals. Overcoming SUD is difficult and often involves setbacks. Support from family and friends goes a long way during the recovery process.
If you have a close friend or loved one suffering from SUD, it is equally important to also focus on yourself — even if that might seem counterintuitive. You need to pay attention to your emotions, needs, and self-care. There are support groups for friends and families of people with SUD. If you exhibit symptoms of anxiety or depression, contact your primary physician.