Substance Abuse Disorders

Substance-related disorders are disorders of intoxication, dependence, abuse, and substance withdrawal caused by various substances, both legal and illegal. Substances frequently abused include, but are not limited to, the following: Alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, prescription drugs, such as pain pills, stimulants, or anxiety pills, methamphetamine, cocaine, opiates, anabolic steroids, hallucinogens and inhalants.

Substance dependence

Substance dependence is the medical term used to describe abuse of drugs or alcohol that continues, even when significant problems related to their use have developed. Signs of dependence include:

  • Tolerance to or need for increased amounts of the drug to get an effect
  • Withdrawal symptoms that happen if you decrease or stop using the drug that you find difficult to cut down or quit
  • Spending a lot of time to obtain, use, and recover from the effects of using drugs
  • Withdrawal from social and recreational activities 
  • Continued use of the drug even though you are aware of the physical, psychological, and family or social problems that are caused by your ongoing drug abuse

The following are the most common behaviors that indicate an individual is having a problem with drug or alcohol abuse. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Getting high on drugs or getting intoxicated (drunk) on a regular basis
  • Lying, especially about how much they are using or drinking
  • Avoiding friends and family members
  • Giving up activities they used to enjoy, such as sports or spending time with non-using friends 
  • Talking a lot about using drugs or alcohol
  • Believing they need to use or drink in order to have fun
  • Pressuring others to use or drink
  • Getting in trouble with the law
  • Taking risks, such as sexual risks or driving under the influence of a substance
  • Work performance suffers due to substance abuse before, after, or during working or business hours
  • Missing work due to substance use
  • Depressed, hopeless, or suicidal feelings

The symptoms of drug or alcohol abuse may resemble other medical problems or psychiatric conditions. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

How is drug abuse or dependence diagnosed?

A family doctor, psychiatrist, or qualified mental health professional usually diagnoses substance abuse. Clinical findings often depend on the substance abused, the frequency of use, and the length of time since last used, and may include the following:

  • Weight loss
  • Constant fatigue
  • Red eyes
  • Little concern for hygiene 
  • Laboratory abnormalities
  • Unexpected abnormalities in heart rate or blood pressure 
  •  Depression, anxiety, or sleep problems

Treatment for Drug Abuse or Dependence

Specific treatment for drug abuse or dependence will be determined by your doctor based on: 

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history
  • Extent of the symptoms
  • Extent of the dependence
  • Type of substance abused
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies 
  • Expectations for the course of the condition
  • Your opinion or preference

Substance Abuse Treatment at Sentara

Sentara Behavioral Health Services does not treat substance abuse alone. Disorders related to substance abuse often play a role the conditions our patients face and impact their mental health. Sometimes patients struggling with mental health issues, such as depression and bipolar disorder, often “self medicate” with substances.

Other times, the effects of substance abuse may resemble and be confused for symptoms for other mental health illnesses and conditions. A variety of treatment (or recovery) programs for substance abuse are available on an inpatient or outpatient basis.

Programs considered are usually based on the type of substance abused. Detoxification (if needed, based on the substance abused) and long-term follow-up management or recovery-oriented systems of care are important features of successful treatment. Long-term follow-up management usually includes formalized group meetings and psychosocial support systems, as well as continued medical supervision. Individual and family psychotherapy are often recommended to address the issues that may have contributed to and resulted from the development of a substance abuse disorder.

Our experts work with you to determine the true causes of your substance abuse issues, working as a team to treat the underlying conditions and helping you seek the appropriate treatment and/or detox program for any unhealthy use of substances you may face.

Community Resources for Substance Abuse

There are resources and support for substance abuse in your community. If you or someone you know struggles with this illness, please seek immediate help from the program available to you.