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What Are the Most Common Substance Use Disorders?

The phrase “substance use disorder” describes the use of alcohol, drugs or other chemical compounds for the purpose of altering the central nervous system in order to experience intoxication or to prevent withdrawal symptoms.

Substance Use Occurs Among All Demographics

Addictive disorders aren’t restricted by age, gender, race or financial background. However, the availability and types of substances abused may occur more frequently in some groups compared to others. Addiction specialists strive to understand the demographic differences in an effort to better diagnose and treat those affected by substance use disorders.

Adolescents through the young adults category includes anyone aged 12 to 25. Regarding this group, researchers have determined that those using substances before the age of 15 have an increased likelihood of developing an addiction in later years. The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse reports that teens and young adults use alcohol and tobacco products more frequently than other substances. When surveyed, nine percent of people between the ages of 12 and 17 along with 42 percent of those aged 18 to 25 admitted to binge drinking or engaging in heavy alcohol use. The survey was conducted on more than 72,500 teens aged 12 to 17, and included white, Native American, Hispanic and teens having multiple ethnicity. Of all the groups participating in the survey, 47.5 percent of Native American youths admitted to using alcohol. Of this group, 15 percent met the criteria for having substance abuse disorders.

When questioned about marijuana use, more than 16 percent of 12- to 17-year olds and nearly 52 percent of 18- to 25-year olds admitted to trying the drug. More than 45 percent of adults over the age of 25 also admitted to experimenting with marijuana. Daily use was reported by more than 10 percent of teens. The highest prevalence of marijuana use was in the Native American community where more than 20 percent admitted to regularly using the substance.

The number of teens admitting to using both alcohol and drugs was 31.5 percent for Native American youths, 25.2 percent in kids having multiple ethnicity and 22.9 percent in white adolescents. Hispanic teens followed with 21 percent. Only 8.3 percent of African-American teens reported that they regularly used more than one substance. Teens having Asian or Pacific Islander descent also demonstrated lower percentages of substance abuse.

When surveyed, more than six percent of adults aged 50 to 59 admitted to abusing prescription drugs. This equates to greater than five million older U.S. citizens. The statistics also indicate that men are twice as likely as women to suffer from the disorder.

In U.S. residents aged 65 and older, an estimated 2.5 million have an alcohol or drug problem. Up to 11 percent of elderly people are admitted into hospitals, 14 percent enter emergency rooms and 20 percent of psychiatric admissions occur secondary to substance abuse disorders. In mature or older adults, pain, anxiety and depression often plague daily lives. Some may turn to alcohol for relief. Others acquire legitimate prescription medications that may lead to addiction.

Key Characteristics of Substance Use Disorders

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders mental health professionals use describes substance abuse disorder as a problem stemming from the need to trigger the reward system within the brain. This action is accomplished by getting high on alcohol or drugs. The reward users experience is deemed so significant that they eventually turn away from former activities of daily life in preference to getting and using the substance of choice. Though the means by which alcohol and drugs act on the central nervous system differ, all create a sensation of euphoria. Substance abuse also characteristically produces similar behaviors.

* The user consumes more of the substance or continues the habit longer than anticipated.
* Addicts desire to decrease usage or stop the habit, but have no control over the need to abuse the substance.
* Individuals spend the majority of their time acquiring the substance, consuming alcohol or the drug, and recovering from the effects.
* Substance abusers commonly suffer from cravings or strong urges to repeat usage.
* The addiction interferes with responsibilities at home, school or work.
* Individuals continue using the substance despite the fact that the habit contributes to fractured relationships.
* Users suffer from self-imposed isolation.
* Regardless of the potential for harm secondary to the substance or the behaviors experienced while under the influence, addicts continue using.
* Over time, the user requires larger doses of the substance or must get high more frequently.
* The individual suffers from withdrawal symptoms when deprived of the substance. Symptoms are immediately alleviated by using alcohol or the drug of choice.

Clinicians also use the DSM-5 to gauge the severity of the substance abuse disorder according to the number of symptoms and behaviors identified. Three or fewer symptoms generally indicates a mild abuse problem. Four or five symptoms is associated with a moderate disorder, and more than five symptoms typifies someone suffering from severe addiction.

A Look at the Most Common Substance Use Disorders

According to statistical surveys, alcohol, nicotine, marijuana, stimulants, hallucinogens and opioid drugs are the most common compounds used by individuals diagnosed with substance abuse disorders.

* Besides behavior related to intoxication and the potential for enduring life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, alcohol abuse increases the risk of serious health conditions when consumed over the course of years. Data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that alcoholism contributes to 88,000 deaths every year. More than 135 people in the United States admit to using alcohol on a regular basis. Of these, approximately 18 million are estimated to be suffering from addiction.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services defines moderate drinking in women as consuming one alcoholic beverage daily. For men, moderation means up to two drinks per day. Binge drinking involves consuming four, five or more drinks consecutively. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism advises that binge drinking typically elevates blood alcohol levels beyond 0.08 g/dL. Heavy drinking is defined as someone having four, five or more alcoholic drinks consecutively and repeating the event five or more days in a month.

* Tobacco abuse contributes to more than 480,000 fatalities annually according to the CDC. Smoking often leads to cardiovascular disease, respiratory disorders, lung cancer and other medical conditions. In 2013, more than 66 million people in the United States over the age of 12 admitted to using tobacco products routinely. Young adults aged 18 to 25 had the highest rate of usage at 37 percent. This group was followed by adults over the age of 25.

* Marijuana use occurs in 20 million Americans over the age of 12 every month. By the end of 2013, an estimated 4.2 million were considered as having an addiction to the substance. Extensive use in teens and young adults has been associated with an increased risk for developing mental illness and damaging cognitive ability. Immediate effects include distorted perception of reality, interference with problem-solving capabilities and physical coordination impairment. Long-term use may lead to irreversible respiratory disorders or cancer. Tolerance can develop, causing cravings for the drug and the onset of withdrawal symptoms, which include insomnia, restlessness, anger or depression.

* Stimulants heighten alertness, attention span and energy levels. However, the drugs also elevate vital signs to dangerous stages. The classification of drugs encompasses everything from crack, powdered cocaine and meth to prescription medications used for treating attention deficit disorders or obesity. The substances may be plant-based or synthetic in origin. By 2013, more than 850,000 youngsters 12 and older admitted to using cocaine. Nearly 600,000 individuals in this age group admitted to using meth. Another 469,000 were estimated as having an addiction to other stimulants. Withdrawal symptoms associated with stimulants include generalized fatigue, unusual dreams, disrupted sleep patterns and spastic movements. Long-term use can affect every system in the body negatively.

* Hallucinogens are found in mushrooms, peyote, LSD or other compounds that alter auditory and visual perception. Users may feel detached from the environment or from their bodies. In 2013, an estimated 280,000 people in the country met the criteria for having an addiction to hallucinogens.

* Opioids span the gamut from heroin to fentanyl, hydrocodone, morphine and oxycodone. The various formulations are highly addictive, and users often develop a tolerance, which can lead to accidental overdose. The unknown list of ingredients used in formulations bought on the street can also easily lead to overdose or death. In 2011, opioids caused nearly 17,000 fatalities. By 2013, an estimated 517,000 people were thought to have an addiction to heroin. Another 1.8 million were believed to suffer from dependency on prescription opioid medications. Withdrawal symptoms may include alterations in mood, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, fever, insomnia and painful muscle cramps.

Seeking Help From a Drug Recovery Center

As everyone is different when it comes to recovering from substance abuse, alcohol and drug rehabilitation centers individualize care according to the specific needs of each client. Some may suffer solely from alcoholism, while others suffer from addiction to a certain drug. Still other individuals may have developed dependencies on multiple substances. Studies advise that up to half of all addicted individuals also live with undiagnosed mental health issues.

Finding the ideal drug recovery center may seem like a daunting task. Increasing the chances of getting and staying sober involve meeting a client’s emotional, mental and physical needs in addition to the addiction. When someone makes the decision to get help for an alcohol or drug problem, there are various factors to take into consideration when choosing a treatment program or rehabilitation facility.

* Staff members at an alcohol or drug recovery center should be able to explain how the facility meets the needs of each individual through customized treatment plans.

* The program should also adapt to the changing needs of each client. Once sober and the healing begins, individuals change emotionally, physically and psychologically. Treatment modalities must also fluctuate during this process. When considering a facility, learn how addiction specialists work with patients to meet these changing needs.

* The duration of treatment should correlate with the type of addiction. Length of addiction, type of substance abused, number of relapses, possible health conditions and other factors often determine how long an addict requires current and ongoing help. Successful programs adapt as needed for these specifications.

* Program components vary from one facility to the next. Some offer detoxification care, while others may only offer 12-step programs. Certain rehabilitation centers combine traditional individual and group therapy with alternative treatment methods. Facilities might specialize in treating teens and young adults, where others focus on gender-based problems. Not all facilities treat individuals having dual-diagnoses.

* Detoxification isn’t automatically offered by every drug recovery center. Some refer clients to nearby medical facilities until this part of rehabilitation completes. Whether accomplished in a rehabilitation facility, a hospital or other medical institution, individuals should ensure that detox occurs under the watchful eye of medical personnel.

* Aftercare support in the form of halfway house accommodations, continued counseling, therapy or community programs are vital to the long-term recovery of an addict. Addiction professionals should work with clients to establish some type of ongoing help before the individual completes an initial treatment program.

Individuals and loved ones of people struggling with addiction can find help in any state across the country. If desiring assistance with determining treatment options or having questions pertaining to addiction, speak with a qualified counselor at the 844-806-6511 hotline today.


Our articles are written by individuals who have seen addiction up close. They may have watched addiction take a toll on someone they loved or had their own battles with substances, and they write for us to spare others some of that pain and confusion. If you find these writings useful and would like to speak to someone who gets addiction, call us at (844) 826-1700.

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