Substance Use Disorders

Repeated use of alcohol or other drugs despite negative consequences on the individual’s personal and professional life is cause for concern. When someone is behaving in this way, it may be time for them to talk to a professional about whether they have a substance use disorder.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services works to prevent and treat substance use disorders and provide supports for people seeking or already in recovery.

April is Alcohol Awareness Month: Take a look at your drinking habits and how they may affect your health.

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What is a substance use disorder?

The fifth edition of "The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Disorders" (DSM-5), a manual used by clinicians that contains descriptions and symptoms of all mental disorders classified by the American Psychiatric Association, defines a substance use disorder as a problematic pattern of use of an intoxicating substance leading to significant impairment or distress.

Consultation with a professional is needed to diagnosis a substance use disorder. The professional will talk with the individual to determine if at least two of the following occurred within a 12-month period.

  • The substance is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
  • There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful effort to cut down or control use of the substance.
  • A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the substance, use the substance, or recover from its effects.
  • Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use the substance.
  • Recurrent use of the substance resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.
  • Continued use of the substance despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of its use.
  • Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of use of the substance.
  • Recurrent use of the substance in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
  • Use of the substance is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance.
  • Tolerance, as defined by either of the following:
    • A need for markedly increased amounts of the substance to achieve intoxication or desired effect.
    • A markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance.
  • Withdrawal, as expressed by either of the following:
    • Withdrawal syndrome for that substance.
    • The substance (or a closely related substance) is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Substance use disorders are defined as mild, moderate, or severe, with the level of severity determined by the individual's symptoms.

The coexistence of both a mental health and a substance use disorder is referred to as co-occurring disorders. The National Institute for Mental Health’s Mental Health Information page has information about specific conditions and disorders as well as their symptoms.

Individuals with a substance use disorder often have a mental health concern at the same time. 

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Last Revised: April 1, 2021