June 15, 2023

What is Substance Use Disorder?

A woman lays her head on her crossed arms to represent bipolar and drinking

Substance use disorder (SUD) is a multifaceted and challenging condition, but not insurmountable. With the right treatment and support, individuals can regain control over their lives and embark on a transformative journey toward lasting recovery.

This guide addresses the following key issues to help you further your understanding of addiction:

  • What is a substance use disorder?
  • Is substance use disorder a psychiatric disorder?
  • What is the clinical substance use disorder definition?
  • What are the causes of substance use disorder?
  • Substance use disorder vs. substance abuse: what’s the difference?

Substance Use Disorder

For those wondering, “What is SUD?”, it is a complex medical condition characterized by the inability to control the use of a particular substance, even in the face of adverse consequences. Substance use disorder manifests as compulsive drug or alcohol misuse, with individuals persisting in their substance abuse despite the detrimental impact it has on many aspects of their lives.

The severity of SUD can vary, ranging from mild to severe, depending on the number of diagnostic criteria met. Mild SUD is characterized by the presence of two to three symptoms, moderate SUD by four to five symptoms, and severe SUD by six or more symptoms.

To diagnose SUD, APA (American Psychiatric Association) has established eleven criteria outlined in DSM-5-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, revised fifth edition). These substance use disorder symptoms provide a framework for understanding and assessing the presence of a substance use disorder. They include:

  1. Taking the substance for extended periods or in larger quantities than intended.
  2. Struggling to cut down or control substance use.
  3. Devoting excessive time to obtaining, using, and recovering from the substance’s effects.
  4. Experiencing intense cravings or urges to use the substance.
  5. Failing to meet obligations at home, work, or school due to substance use.
  6. Experiencing interpersonal or social problems caused or worsened by substance use.
  7. Sacrificing social, recreational, or occupational activities due to substance use.
  8. Engaging in risky or hazardous behaviors while under the influence.
  9. Persisting with substance use despite physical or mental health issues related to its use.
  10. Developing tolerance, requiring higher amounts of the substance to achieve previous effects.
  11. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop using the substance.

These criteria serve as valuable guidelines for healthcare professionals to accurately diagnose and evaluate the severity of SUD. Understanding the diagnostic criteria is crucial for effective treatment planning and intervention strategies, helping individuals overcome the challenges associated with SUD and regain control over their lives. By recognizing the signs and symptoms of a substance use disorder, individuals and their support networks can take the necessary steps to seek professional help, access appropriate treatment, and embark on a journey of recovery and well-being.

Substance Use Disorder Statistics

The following statistics on SUD disorder are sourced from NDSUH 2021, the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health published by SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration).

  • In 2021, approximately 1.1 million U.S. adults reported using heroin, with over 1 million of them developing a heroin addiction, which accounted for 91% of past-year users.
  • The number of U.S. adults who reported using prescription painkillers in 2021 was 8.7 million. Among these individuals, 6.8 million developed a prescription painkiller addiction, representing 78% of past-year users.
  • In 2021, around 2.5 million U.S. adults reported using meth, and 1.6 million of them developed a meth addiction, which constituted 64% of past-year users.
  • The usage of opioids was reported by 9.2 million U.S. adults in 2021. Out of these individuals, 5.3 million developed an opioid addiction, accounting for 58% of past-year users.
  • Benzodiazepines were used by 3.9 million U.S. adults in 2021, and 2 million of them developed a benzodiazepine addiction, representing 51% of past-year users.
  • The number of U.S. adults who reported using prescription stimulants in 2021 was 3.7 million. Among these individuals, 1.2 million developed a prescription stimulant addiction, which constituted 32% of past-year users.
  • Cocaine usage was reported by 4.8 million U.S. adults in 2021. Out of these individuals, 1.4 million developed a cocaine addiction, accounting for 29% of past-year users.
  • In 2021, 52.4 million U.S. adults reported using marijuana, and 15 million of them developed a marijuana addiction, representing 29% of past-year users.
  • Approximately 213 million U.S. adults reported using alcohol in 2021. Among these individuals, 29.5 million developed an alcohol addiction, which accounted for 14% of past-year users.
  • The usage of inhalants was reported by 2.2 million U.S. adults in 2021, and 251,000 of them developed an inhalant addiction, representing 11% of past-year users.
  • Hallucinogens like PCP, Ecstasy, and LSD were used by 7.4 million U.S. adults in 2021. Out of these individuals, 445,000 developed a hallucinogen addiction, which constituted 6% of past-year users.


What are 3 substance use disorders?

Alcohol use disorder, opioid use disorder, and marijuana use disorder are three of the most common types of substance use disorders.

What are examples of substance disorders?

Other examples of substance disorders include stimulant use disorder, sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder, hallucinogen use disorder, and inhalant use disorder.

What are the 4 categories of substance use disorder?

Substance use disorders can be grouped into four categories: CNS depressants (alcohol, benzos, sedatives), stimulants (cocaine, meth, prescription stimulants), hallucinogens (LSD, MDMA), and opioids (heroin, fentanyl, prescription painkillers).

Substance Use Disorder vs. Substance Abuse

The distinction between substance use disorder (SUD) and substance abuse is crucial, as they have distinct meanings and implications. SUD (also referred to as addiction) is a recognized medical condition with specific diagnostic criteria outlined in DSM-5-TR. To receive a diagnosis of SUD, an individual must meet at least two of the eleven criteria established by the DSM. On the other hand, substance abuse or substance misuse are terms used when a person engages in inappropriate or harmful substance use that negatively affects themselves and those around them. While substance abuse is not a diagnosable disorder itself, it is important to note that chronic substance abuse can potentially lead to the development of a substance use disorder.

A man sits in front of an open window to represent substance use disorder definition.

Treatment for Substance Use Disorder

When it comes to addressing substance use disorder, there are various treatment options available. The choice of treatment depends on several factors, including the severity of the addiction, individual needs, and personal circumstances. Here are some common treatment approaches for addiction disorder:

  • Detox: Detoxification is often the first step in the treatment process of SUD disease. It involves safely and effectively managing withdrawal symptoms as the body clears itself of the addictive substance. Detox can take place in an inpatient or outpatient setting and is typically followed by additional treatment interventions.
  • Inpatient or outpatient rehab: Treatment programs can be categorized as either inpatient or outpatient. Inpatient treatment involves residing at a specialized facility for a designated period, providing round-the-clock care, structure, and support. Outpatient treatment allows individuals to receive treatment while living at home and maintaining their daily routines.
  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment): MAT is an evidence-based approach used for opioid and alcohol addictions. It combines FDA-approved medications like methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone, with counseling and behavioral therapies. MAT helps alleviate cravings, manage withdrawal symptoms, and stabilize brain chemistry, supporting individuals in their recovery journey.
  • Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy plays a crucial role in SUD treatment. It involves individual counseling sessions with a trained therapist to explore the underlying factors contributing to addiction, develop coping strategies, and address mental health concerns. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), DBT (dialectical behavior therapy), and MI (motivational interviewing) are some commonly used psychotherapeutic approaches.
  • Individual and group therapy: Individual therapy provides a one-on-one therapeutic setting, allowing individuals to work closely with a therapist to address personal challenges and develop personalized treatment plans. Group therapy involves sessions with a small group of individuals facing similar issues, providing a supportive environment for sharing experiences, gaining insights, and building a sense of community.
  • Holistic therapies: Holistic therapies complement traditional treatment approaches and focus on the overall well-being of the individual. These therapies may include activities such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness exercises, art therapy, equine therapy, or nature-based therapy. Holistic approaches aim to address emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of recovery, promoting self-awareness, relaxation, and personal growth.
  • Aftercare and continuing support: After completing a formal treatment program, aftercare services and ongoing support play a vital role in maintaining long-term recovery. This may include participation in support groups like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or NA (Narcotics Anonymous), relapse prevention planning, ongoing therapy sessions, alumni programs, and access to community resources. Continued support helps individuals navigate the challenges of early recovery, reinforces learned skills, and provides a network of accountability.

Treatment for substance use issues should be individualized and tailored to meet each person’s unique needs. A comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach, incorporating various treatment modalities, offers the best chance of successful recovery. By addressing the physical, psychological, and social aspects of addiction, individuals can gain the tools and support necessary to achieve lasting sobriety and improve their overall well-being.

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Get Treatment for Substance Use Disorder at Gratitude Lodge

If you’re seeking assistance in overcoming addictions and managing mental health conditions, Gratitude Lodge in Southern California is here to support you from detox to discharge and beyond. Our rehab centers, located in Newport Beach and Long Beach, CA, offer a holistic approach to recovery, and we even welcome pets.

At Gratitude Lodge, we prioritize your well-being from the start. Our supervised medical detox program ensures a safe and seamless transition as your body rids itself of addictive substances. Once detox is complete, you can seamlessly transition into one of our specialized treatment programs for substance use disorder:

Our comprehensive treatment programs encompass a range of evidence-based interventions, including:

Beyond this, we provide ongoing support through our aftercare services, which aim to help you maintain your recovery journey even after leaving our program. When it comes to your recovery, you can trust Gratitude Lodge. Take the first step by calling our admissions team at 800-994-2184. We’re here to guide you toward a life of gratitude and fulfillment.

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Joe Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
Jenni Bussi

Jenni Busse MS, LPCC

Jenni Busse MS, LPSS is the Clinical Director at Gratitude Lodge. Jenni oversees the clinical program and the clinical team at Gratitude Lodge as a whole. Jenni has worked in treatment for almost 14 years. Her background as a licensed therapist and her passion for helping others intersected with addiction recovery when she started working primarily in detox residential treatment.

Drug detox can vary according to the patient’s addiction factors, including the substance abused, how long the addiction has lasted, the patient’s medical condition, if any other disorders are present, and more. Our skilled and credentialed team at Gratitude Lodge work closely with every patient going through drug detox, facilitating the beginnings of a successful recovery at our rehab addiction centers in Orange County, CA.

Drug detox can vary according to the patient’s addiction factors, including the substance abused, how long the addiction has lasted, the patient’s medical condition, if any other disorders are present, and more. Our skilled and credentialed team at Gratitude Lodge work closely with every patient going through drug detox.

Many patients don’t realize the toxicity of prolonged alcohol abuse and how it affects the body. Alcohol detox at the luxurious rehab addiction centers at Gratitude Lodge leeches your body of these toxins in preparation for successful treatment for drugs and alcohol abuse. Alcohol detox may not take as long or produce severe withdrawal symptoms, but it is still an essential beginning to your recovery.

Many patients don’t realize the toxicity of prolonged alcohol abuse and how it affects the body. Alcohol detox at the luxurious rehab addiction centers at Gratitude Lodge leeches your body of these toxins in preparation for successful treatment for drugs and alcohol abuse.
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Holistic Therapy

Our holistic therapy treatments offer a full-scope approach to recovery, addressing your mind, body, and emotions as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. This therapy is designed to help address underlying issues and integrate alternative therapies to promote overall health and well-being.
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An essential part of your treatment experience, we offer individual (CBT and DBT talk therapy) and group addiction treatment counseling to help you explore and address the emotional component of addiction, providing you with the tools, self-awareness, and empowerment you need to maintain recovery.
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Dual Diagnosis

Dual Diagnosis is a highly effective addiction treatment that addresses substance use and mental health disorders simultaneously. Often co-occurring, these disorders are best managed when treated together with specific and targeted therapy.
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Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-Assisted Treatment provides you with FDA-approved medications to help ease the symptoms of withdrawal while you’re in treatment. This makes the detox process easier and safer, as well as increasing the chances of a successful recovery.
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Sober Living

Sober living provides a supportive and substance-free living environment for your ongoing recovery. We partner with a number of upscale and carefully vetted sober living homes that are available to our clients after inpatient alcohol and drug addiction treatment.
an image of clients at Gratitude Lodge's drug rehab program

Outpatient Treatment

Once detox and inpatient are complete, we provide an easy transition to outpatient care through our hand-selected partners. This program offers a more flexible approach, allowing you to ease back in to daily life while still receiving frequent & effective care.
An image of clients going through inpatient substance abuse treatment


Inpatient treatment provides an intensive and comprehensive addiction treatment program in a structured environment. You will receive 24/7 expert care, therapy, and support as you build your foundation for long-term recovery.
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Drug & Alcohol Detox

A crucial first step in the recovery process, our detox program provides a comfortable, medically supervised environment that addresses the physical aspect of addiction and eliminates substances from your body.

Use Our 24 Hour text line. You can ask questions about our program, the admissions process, and more.