Substance use disorder has a drastic and often devastating effect on those suffering from the disorder themselves and the friends and families of those who love them. While no single origin or path leads to someone developing a substance use disorder, studies have pointed to gene-environment interactions, underlying mental health comorbidities, social pressures, and socioeconomic factors as key contributors.
Although these studies may provide insight into substance use disorder, they are not comprehensive. Substance use disorder reaches all walks of life – and does not discriminate by race, gender, age, or socioeconomic status. The fight to combat substance use disorder is an ongoing and evolving fight that is waged at the local, state, and federal levels. Although many strides have been made to treat the symptoms of this disorder – the multipronged fight to treat all those suffering from it fully will likely continue through our lifetime.
This article addresses substance use disorder and what can lead someone toward it. This article also provides important data to help individuals better understand its impact.
What is Substance Use Disorder
When discussing substance use disorder, it is important to correctly define and distinguish it from other forms of substance use, including recreational and medicinal use. The National Institute of Health defines substance use disorder as a mental disorder that affects a person’s ability to control their substance consumption, whether the substance is legal or illegal. The most common substances abused in the United States include alcohol, nicotine, marijuana, prescription pills, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. While it is difficult to determine how many in the U.S. suffer from substance use disorder, a 2022 report from All Points North reported that an estimated 15.4% of American adults struggle with the disorder each year, with the majority struggling primarily with alcohol.
4% of Americans struggle with substance use disorder each year. Of those with substance use disorder, 10.2% reportedly battle with alcohol use disorder – a majority.
What leads to Substance Use Disorder?
There is no one cause of substance use disorder. However, many struggling with it report having an underlying or co-occurring mental health disorder, including unresolved trauma or grief. The presence of an underlying, co-occurring mental health disorder can often lead to self-medication through legal or illegal drugs. Common co-occurring disorders reported by All Points North point-to depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, and personality disorders as leading mental health disorders with the highest association to substance abuse disorder. It is important to remember that not everyone who struggles with these mental health disorders is or will end up developing the disorder. Advances in clinical mental health and prescription medications help millions of people each year manage the symptoms of co-occurring mental disorders and help lead happy and fulfilling lives.
All Points North estimates that of those who struggle with substance use disorder, 37.9% have a co-occurring mental illness such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Another leading cause of substance use disorder, especially among adolescents, teens, and young adults, is environmental factors, such as unhealthy parenting, social pressures, and peer pressures. Although not all adolescents who experience peer pressure will suffer from substance use disorder, those with underlying co-occurring mental health conditions and specific personality traits are likelier to develop substance use disorder. A study found that characteristics such as high sensitivity to rejection and having lower levels of resistance to peer pressure can lead to increased use of substances and future dependency. Furthermore, studies show that one caring person can make a difference and be a protective factor for an individual facing a crisis who may otherwise turn toward self-medication.
Environmental factors such as home life with unhealthy role models also has an impact. A study from Addictions and Recovery found that children of a parent or parents with and existing substance use disorder are eight times more likely to develop substance use disorder as they age.
Rates of Alcohol and Drug Abuse & Usage
Not all individuals who use drugs recreationally or medicinally will develop a substance use disorder. However, those who use drugs may be at a higher risk of developing a dependency. It is estimated that of the current population, over half have tried an illegal substance at least once in their lifetime – with one in five having used an illegal substance between 2021 and 2022.
While Americans’ use of illicit drugs has increased, so have the rates of substance use disorder, and overdoses. Rates of overdose among users have seen a steady increase since 1999, growing to over 100,000 people each year dying due to drug overdose. Between March 2021 and March 2022 – the Centers for Disease Control reported 109,000 deaths related to a drug overdose. Many overdose deaths over the last 3 – 5 years can be attributed to the emergence of synthetic drugs such as fentanyl – a potent and deadly opiate that can be found laced with drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and heroin.
Treatment for Substance Use Disorder
Recovery from substance use disorders is a prolonged process that can require a combination of physical and mental health support teams to mitigate withdrawal symptoms and address the underlying mental health component. Unlike a cut or scrape, which will heal on its own, substance use disorder will progress until it results in the death of the user directly or as a symptom of the disorder over time. In many cases, it is up to the substance user to recognize that they need treatment and must seek it out.
Some avenues of treatment include extended-stay in-patient programs, 30-day programs, detox centers, outpatient centers, and individual or group therapy. Religious or faith-based rehabilitation programs and anonymous programs such as alcoholics anonymous or narcotics anonymous function as support groups to establish sober support systems for people struggling with substance use disorder.
Despite the availability of treatment programs, All Points North reports that stigmas and barriers to treatment keep those struggling with substance use disorder from receiving the treatment they need. In many cases, despite knowing they need help, those with substance use disorder are reluctant to or unable to seek treatment or support due to a variety of factors:
Of those between 2021 and 2022 who admitted they needed help treating their substance use disorder, over a quarter revealed they either were not ready to stop using their substance of choice or reported they were unable to afford treatment costs due to insufficient or a lack of health insurance to cover the expenses necessary for treatment.
Of those between 2021 and 2022 who admitted they needed help treating their substance use disorder, 13% reported fearing how others, such as friends and family, would view them or that they would lose their jobs as the reason for them not pursuing substance use disorder treatment.
Educational Programs Addressing Addiction & Rehabilitation Counseling at the University of Providence
The University of Providence offers a variety of programs that prepare future addiction and rehabilitation counselors to address substance use disorder among teens and adults. Programs are offered across the academic spectrum, including an Associate of Science degree in Addictions Counseling, a Post-Bachelor Certificate in Addictions Counseling, and concentrations in Addiction Counseling and Rehabilitation Counseling for our Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program, which offers a comprehensive educational path to treat both addiction and related comorbidities. Explore our programs today and start your journey today.