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 a substance use disorder.

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 (APA), 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.

Common substance use disorders

Common substance use disorders include:

  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Tobacco use disorder
  • Cannabis use disorder
  • Stimulant use disorder
  • Hallucinogen use disorder
  • Opioid use disorder

Substance use and mental health disorders often co-occur. In other words, individuals with substance use conditions often have a mental health condition at the same time, and vice versa.

Treatment works and recovery is possible

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has long supported individuals living with a substance use disorder manage their symptoms and experience the life they envisioned. The Division of Care and Treatment Services is responsible for allocating state and federal funding for substance abuse services, in addition to high-level planning, management, and oversight of these services in the state. These services range from intensive inpatient hospitalization to less intensive outpatient care, backed by supportive programs to help individuals live and work more independently in their community.

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Last Revised: September 28, 2020