According to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 1-in-7 Americans are currently struggling with a substance use disorder (SUD).1 Additionally, while underage substance misuse has dropped in recent years, close to 1 in 3 high-schoolers report having used drugs or alcohol.2 This means that chances are you personally know several people who have problems controlling their intake of drugs or alcohol, some of whom might even be in your family.
While most instances are relatively mild, moderate and severe cases of SUD are not uncommon, and these have the potential to seriously impact the mental health of other people in a household, particularly children. 1,3,4 Thankfully, identifying signs of a possible SUD early on improves the chance of a successful intervention.4,5,6
Substance use disorder is a term used in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) that covers what was previously described as substance addiction, abuse, and dependency, as well as alcoholism.5 SUDs related to specific substances are named according to the substance or substance type e.g. cannabis use disorder, fentanyl use disorder, opioid use disorder, alcohol use disorder, and so on.
The rationale for the changes in terminology comes to a better understanding of the mechanisms in substance-seeking behavior as well as the negative cultural association with the older terms.5 Since the introduction of the DSM-5 in 2013 substance use disorder and SUD have been the preferred terms in the context of drug and alcohol treatment in the United States. Older terms continue to be used by laypeople as well as some mental health professionals communicating with a more general audience.
However, because words like “addict”, “alcoholic”, and “abuse” have a stigma attached to them, the use of the older terms is now discouraged. Not only do they not accurately match the current medical understanding of SUD, but their use may also shame affected individuals and ultimately prevent them from seeking treatment.5 For the same reasons, you may want to avoid using the older terms when discussing a loved one’s probable or diagnosed SUD.
If you suspect that a member of your household has an SUD, The National Institute on Drug Abuse and DSM-5 recommend checking the signs below.5,6 If the other person is willing, they can also be part of the discussion for a more accurate assessment. Please note that only a qualified psychiatrist can make an official diagnosis of substance use disorder and other mental health conditions.5
If more than one of these questions could be answered with a “yes”, please seek help from a psychiatrist for more comprehensive diagnostics.
If it’s apparent that you or a family member has SUD, it’s important to seek professional help immediately, even if there are no obvious signs of a problem Reasons for early intervention include the following:7
Finding an evidence-based treatment program that specializes in the specific type of SUD your loved one has can be the best way you can help them. Programs that are designed for your loved one’s gender, beliefs, and age group may also help improve their odds of a good outcome.8 Additionally, actively participating in family therapy and workshops during their rehabilitation and treatment may significantly improve their emotional stability, resilience, and ability to avoid relapses.4,7,9
If you’re in North Texas, call Dallas Drug Treatment Centers at +1(214) 935-2287 to find programs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that meet your loved one’s unique recovery needs.