A substance use disorder, also diagnosed as a substance-driven addiction is a brain disorder. Through the misuse and abuse of addictive substances, such as alcohol or drugs, the inability to control consumption can soon become a reality.

Addictive substances, such as the legal use of alcohol, medical use of prescription drugs, or illicit use of Class A drugs are highly influential. Whilst initial use is a conscious decision, whether for recreational purposes, to self-medicate or to relax, consumption can develop into an automatic habit. Such a response can remain even though negative consequences, side effects or harm.

Habits are taught behaviours. They are ingrained in our subconscious and can become an automatic response to a trigger or set routine. A substance use disorder can develop as a habit, unintentionally normalised and accepted by a user. Habits can also be accepted in the brain, which will adapt over time in structure and stability through substance abuse.

A substance use disorder is much more than a choice, found to overpower decisions, emotions, behaviours, wellbeing, outlooks, and actions. Being aware of how unruly drugs and alcohol can be, especially through abuse, is very important.

Substance-driven disorders will materialise differently, will trigger for a multitude of reasons, and will result in various consequences. Awareness of signs, symptoms and triggers are therefore important. Here are 4 signs of a substance use disorder, along with how to rehabilitate here at Ocean Recovery.


What is a substance use disorder?

A substance use disorder is a clinically diagnosed disease that attacks the brain. Due to the addictive traits and rewarding effects of drugs and alcohol, any form of vulnerability can increase the risks of use, abuse, and addiction.

For some people, alcohol and drug exposure can be controlled. Whether that’s due to nature or nurture, susceptibilities of addiction are low. Yet for others, such addictive substances and their presence cannot be overlooked, increasing the risks of addiction.

A wide range of stimuli can trigger and fuel a substance use disorder. Anything from previous trauma and mental health crises to drug-fuelled environments can motivate the use and escape of legal and illegal substances. Even prescription medications can be addictive, rewarding the body and brain through comfort and pain-free episodes.

Once drugs or alcohol engage with the brain, and once a vulnerability is present, the reward system can activate, longing for further engagement. Enabled over time, an automatic habit can develop, turning consumption into a routine-like behaviour.

Although consumption or exposure may feel good whilst battling the lows, the withdrawal symptoms or the health problems, addiction is a negative and serious disorder. Whilst treatable and manageable, a substance use disorder can be life-changing to experience.

Here’s 4 signs of a substance use disorder to look out for, act upon and work to change, in order to recover from addiction.


4 signs of a substance use disorder to look out for

Signs and symptoms of addiction are categorised into 4 groups, recognised as physical, emotional, behavioural, and social. The diagnosis process of a substance use disorder will consider each category and the degree of change that’s occurred through exposure.


1. Physical signs

Over time, drugs and alcohol will change how the body operates. Their consumption will also increase the risks of physical health problems, poor hygiene, and malnourishment. Physical signs of a substance use disorder include:

  • Withdrawal symptoms in between consumption
  • Physical hangover-like symptoms, such as bloodshot eyes and fatigue
  • Weight loss or weight gain problems
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Neglected appearance and hygiene
  • High tolerance to drugs or alcohol
  • Physical cravings and urges


2. Emotional signs

Alcohol and drugs can also disrupt how the brain communicates with the rest of the body. Many substances are prone to slowing down the central nervous system and causing delayed cognitive responses. Long-term abuse of drugs or alcohol can result in mental health issues, memory problems, long-term neurological damages, and high risks of dual diagnosis. Emotional signs of drug and alcohol addiction include:

  • Poor mental health, showing symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • The inability to regulate emotions
  • Blurred outlooks and perceptions
  • Chronic changes in mood
  • Using drugs as self-help
  • Irrational thinking patterns


3. Behavioural signs

Behavioural changes are one of the 4 signs of a substance use disorder to look out for. As drugs and alcohol can adapt brain structures, their balance, and their ability to produce vital chemicals, behavioural changes are expected. Personality changes are noticeable, as are physical actions. Here are some behavioural signs and symptoms of addiction:

  • A noticeable change in personality, attitude, and outlook
  • A change in commitments, responsibilities, and associations
  • Prioritising drug and alcohol exposure
  • Risky behaviour
  • Doing whatever it takes to consume drugs or alcohol
  • Failing to stop through physical or psychological consequences
  • Social isolation and withdrawal from loved ones
  • Poor workplace performance
  • A lack of motivation and drive
  • Changes to legal and financial responsibilities


4. Social signs

As drugs and alcohol become a priority, free time, engagements, and relationships are expected to change. Social signs of a substance use disorder include:

  • Associating with other users
  • Neglecting old relationships
  • Opting for drug-fuelled activities
  • Heavy consumption in social situations
  • The need to consume drugs and alcohol through social situations
  • Prioritising consumption
  • Anti-social actions


Treatments for substance abuse

A substance use disorder will display differently across addicts. Yet over time, change is indefinite, requiring intervention support.

Treating substance abuse and addiction will involve various treatments, therapies, and outlets of support. A drug and alcohol detox will be essential, self-help will be required, therapy will be encouraged, and relapse prevention planning will be imperative.

Depending on the drug of choice, method of choice, symptoms and the extent of a problem, treatment plans and sessions will vary. Yet most will promote withdrawal, rehabilitation, and long-term management.

At Ocean Recovery, we’re equipped to support you or a loved one through a substance use disorder, delivering a leading drug and alcohol rehab clinic. If you’re spotting one or more of the 4 signs of a substance use disorder, reaching out will be encouraged.

An addiction can be overcome, yet only with dedicated support. Overcome addiction with our guidance.

    Ocean Recovery - Author - Last updated: January 14, 2022