Substance Use Disorders

When a person's use of alcohol or drugs leads to health issues, problems at work, school, or home and they use the substance despite the negative effects, it is known as a substance use disorder, commonly called substance abuse.
The common substances abused include:

  • Opiates like heroin, opium, codeine, and narcotic pain medicines which cause drowsiness and in cases intense feelings of well-being, elation, happiness, excitement, and joy.
  • Stimulants like cocaine, amphetamines, and ADHD medication which causes a boost of energy and focus.
  • Depressants like alcohol, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, chloral hydrate and paraldehyde which cause drowsiness and reduce anxiety.
  • Hallucinogens like LSD, mescaline, psilocybin ("mushrooms"), and phencyclidine (PCP, or "angel dust") can cause hallucinations and feelings of euphoria.
  • Marijuana

When individuals use or abuse these substances to a point where they cannot face daily life without them, it is known as substance use disorder, and professional help may be needed for treatment and rehabilitation.

What are the related symptoms?

Substance use disorder or substance abuse includes the following behavioural symptoms:

  • Needing to use the substance regularly even several times a day
  • Intense urges for the substance that interferes with your ability to focus on anything else
  • Increased tolerance to the substance
  • Using more and more of the substance
  • Always ensuring you have enough/supply of the substance
  • Continuing to use the substance although you know it causes physical or psychological harm
  • Participating in risky activities when under the influence
  • Failing to stop using the substance and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when trying

What can cause a substance use disorder?

While the cause of these disorders is unknown, genetics, peer pressure, anxiety, depression, environmental factors and emotional distress can all play a role.

When the use of the substance is repeated, it can change the way the neurotransmitters in your brain work and feel pleasure. Without the drug, these feelings aren't experienced, and you crave the substance more, leading it to become a physical addiction. These changes made in the brain by the substance can remain long after and may cause Substance/Medication-Induced Mental Disorders. Because substance use disorders often mean the person is unable to stop using the substance it may require the help of a health professional like Dr Chawane to facilitate an intervention and help treated and rehabilitate those with substance use disorders.

What are the possible treatment options?

If you think you or a loved one may have a substance use disorder, it is essential to seek help before lasting health, legal, financial and emotional consequences develop as a result. Untreated substance use disorders can be harmful to your health, your relationships, and all aspects of life. A medical professional like a psychiatrist or psychologist can make a proper diagnosis and help refer you to the necessary rehabilitation centre and ensure that you receive the correct course of treatment.

While there is no cure for addiction, treatment of a substance use disorder may be focused on overcoming the addiction and preventing relapse. This may include detoxification, treatment programs and therapy to help you cope with cravings, address mental health condition and develop strategies to avoid relapse. Self-help support groups lead by a phycologist are also beneficial in helping reduce the feelings of shame and isolation that can lead to relapse.

In addition, Dr Chawane and her multidisciplinary team may help treat substance-induced disorders and related mental health issues that are complications of long term substance abuse such as seizures, paranoia, depression, anxiety, aggression and hallucinations.