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What is substance use disorder?

Substance use disorder, sometimes called drug addiction, is a chronic disease when your regular use of drugs or alcohol hurts your health and is hard to control. It’s very common. About 8 out of every 100 people in the U.S. have problems with drug or alcohol use in a year, and about 16 out of 100 people smoke tobacco.

What substances are most overused?

  • Alcohol –  a very commonly overused legal substance.
  • Tobacco — this includes smoking cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and chewable products.
  • Cannabis – also known as marijuana or weed, the most used drug in the U.S. after alcohol and tobacco.
  • Stimulants – this includes drugs like cocaine, amphetamines, and methamphetamine (AKA meth).
  • Opioids – these are pain killing drugs like heroin, morphine, codeine, methadone, fentanyl, and oxycodone.

What are the signs of substance use disorder?

There are lots of different signs of substance use disorder depending on which drug(s) you’re using, how much, and how often. Some signs of substance use disorder include:

  • Not being able to cut down or control how much you’re using the drug
  • Having health problems because of drug use
  • Having problems with work, school, or home life because of using the drug
  • Feeling sick when you’re not using the drug
  • Craving the drug

These signs can vary depending on the drug, how much you’re using, and how often you’re using it.

How do I know if I have substance use disorder?

Substance use disorder can be diagnosed by a doctor or nurse or a mental health professional. They’ll ask you questions about the drug(s) you’re using and how it’s affecting your body and your day-to-day life.

Some Planned Parenthood health centers may be able to help you figure out if you have substance use disorder.

How is substance use disorder treated?

There are different ways substance use disorder can be treated. The kind of treatment you get depends on things like your symptoms, the drug(s) you use, and your health. It may involve things like:

  • Individual and group counseling

  • Residential treatment (where you live at a treatment center for a while)

  • Outpatient treatment (where you regularly visit a treatment center)

  • Medicine (for tobacco, alcohol, or opioids)

  • Peer support programs (like 12-step programs)

  • Social support (help with things like housing or jobs)

A nurse or doctor can help you figure out the best treatment for you.

Treatment for substance use disorder can be hard and can take a long time, but it’s totally possible to be successful with help. Using drugs over time can cause changes to your body and brain that make it hard to stop on your own. Relapse (using a drug again after quitting) is really common. It doesn’t say anything about who you are as a person, and you can still get back on a treatment plan. Getting help from friends or family and being open and honest with your nurse or doctor or mental health professional can help you stay on track.

Some drugs can cause problems with your health and even kill you if you suddenly stop taking them, like alcohol and benzodiazepines (a drug that helps with anxiety). So if you’re struggling with using drugs, talk with a doctor or nurse or other mental health professional. They can help you stop using drugs in a healthy and safe way.

Overdosing from opioids is possible, and can be life-threatening. There is a drug that can save people who are overdosing, called naloxone. If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid use, talk with a doctor or nurse, or a pharmacist, about getting naloxone to have in case you need it.

Some Planned Parenthood health centers may be able to help you figure out if you have substance use disorder and help connect you to somewhere that can help. You can also find local support at SAMHSA.

What do I need to know about substance use disorder during pregnancy?

Dealing with substance use disorder during pregnancy can be really hard, but help is available. Being open and honest with your doctor or nurse about any drugs or substances you use can help them give you the best care possible. There are things you can do to help keep yourself and your fetus healthy and safe. You can find treatment and other support in your area at SAMHSA.

How can I quit smoking tobacco?

The first step to quitting smoking is making the decision to quit. Quitting can be really hard. Having a plan and a support system can help. Your nurse or doctor can help you figure out the best way for you to quit smoking. They may suggest things like nicotine replacement therapy (like nicotine patches or gum), therapy, support groups, and medicines. Using more than one of these may be even more helpful.

Some people use e-cigarettes as a way to help quit smoking cigarettes. While e-cigarettes are less bad for you than cigarettes, they’re not totally safe. If you’re using e-cigarettes, a doctor or nurse can help you figure out a good plan to help you quit so you can stay healthy and safe.

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