What is SUD (Substance Use Disorder)?

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What is a substance use disorder? SUD (substance use disorder) is a complex condition that affected over 46 million U.S. adults in 2021. Substance use disorder can profoundly impact physical and mental health, relationships, and overall well-being. While incurable, SUD is treatable.

In this guide, you will discover:

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  • What is substance abuse? – substance abuse definition, SUD meaning.
  • Psychological dependence vs addiction: what’s the difference?
  • What is SUD?
  • What are the most common signs of addiction?
  • What is SUD treatment?

What Causes Substance Use Disorder?

The causes of substance use disorder are multifaceted, involving a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Understanding these underlying causes can help illuminate the development of addiction and inform prevention and treatment strategies. Here are some key factors that contribute to the onset of SUD:

  • Genetic predisposition: Genetics play a significant role in an individual’s vulnerability to developing substance use disorders. Certain genetic variations can increase the risk of addiction by influencing how the brain responds to substances. Family history of addiction can be a strong indicator of genetic predisposition, suggesting that there may be inherited traits that contribute to the likelihood of developing SUD.
  • Environmental influences: Environmental factors can significantly impact the development of substance use disorder. The people we associate with can have a powerful influence on our behavior, including substance use. If individuals are surrounded by peers who engage in substance abuse, they may be more likely to experiment with drugs or alcohol themselves.
  • Family dynamics: Growing up in an environment where substance abuse is prevalent can increase the risk of developing SUD. Family members who misuse substances may normalize drug or alcohol use, making it more likely for children to adopt similar behaviors.
  • Trauma and stress: Traumatic experiences like physical or emotional abuse, neglect, or witnessing violence, can contribute to the development of SUD. Substance use may become a way for individuals to cope with the distressing effects of trauma or ongoing stress.
  • Availability of substances: Easy access to drugs or alcohol can increase the likelihood of experimenting and subsequently developing an addiction. Factors such as the presence of illicit drug markets, excessive prescribing of medications, or cultural norms around substance use can all contribute to availability.
  • Co-occurring mental health conditions: Substance use disorder often co-occurs with other mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). This suggests that individuals may turn to substances as a way to self-medicate or alleviate distressing symptoms. The presence of these mental health conditions can complicate the treatment process and increase the risk of relapse if not addressed concurrently.
  • Neurobiological factors: The brain’s reward system plays a central role in addiction and addict behavior. When substances are consumed, they can activate the brain’s reward circuitry, triggering pleasurable sensations and reinforcing the behavior. Over time, the brain becomes increasingly tolerant to the substance, requiring larger amounts to achieve the same effect. This neuroadaptation can lead to compulsive drug-seeking behavior and the development of SUD.
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How is Substance Use Disorder Treated?

Treatment for substance use disorders is a multifaceted process that requires a comprehensive approach.

  • Detoxification: The initial step involves safely managing withdrawal symptoms under medical supervision.
  • Behavioral therapies: Evidence-based therapies like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), MI (motivational interviewing), and CM (contingency management) help individuals modify their behaviors, develop coping skills, and prevent relapse.
  • Medication-assisted treatment: Certain medications, when combined with therapy, can help manage cravings, reduce withdrawal symptoms, and support long-term recovery.
  • Support groups and aftercare: Participating in support groups like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or NA (Narcotics Anonymous) can provide ongoing peer support and guidance. Aftercare programs offer continued support and help individuals maintain their recovery.

How to Help a Loved One With SUD

  • Educate yourself: Learn about SUD, its causes, and available treatment options to better understand your loved one’s struggle.
  • Express concern and offer support: Approach your loved one with compassion, expressing your concerns about their well-being and offering help without judgment or criticism.
  • Encourage professional help: Suggest seeking professional guidance from a healthcare provider or addiction specialist who can assess their condition and recommend appropriate treatment.
  • Be a source of emotional support: Offer your understanding, patience, and encouragement throughout their journey to recovery.
  • Avoid enabling behaviors: Refrain from enabling substance use by setting clear boundaries, avoiding enabling behaviors, and promoting healthy alternatives.

Get Treatment for Substance Use Disorder at California Detox

If you need drug addiction treatment, we can help you fight back against addiction at California Detox in Laguna Beach, CA.

For the most seamless pathway to inpatient rehab, our supervised detox program provides access to medications and emotional care to reduce the intensity of drug or alcohol withdrawal. After detox, you can move directly into ongoing residential treatment. All programs at our beachside facility provide personalized treatment that uses both science-backed and holistic interventions like MAT, psychotherapy, and counseling.

Call the friendly team at 949.694.8305 for immediate assistance.


Having an SUD means that an individual experiences a problematic pattern of substance use that causes significant impairment or distress in their daily life.
SUD is a term used to describe the diagnosis of addiction, indicating that a person meets specific criteria outlined in DSM-5-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) related to substance abuse or dependence and diagnosed according to the number of substance use disorder DSM 5 symptoms that present within a one-year period.


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