How to spot substance use disorder

substance use disorder spot Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Spotting an addiction in a loved one can be challenging emotionally. Substance use disorder (SUD) is easier to spot than some other addictions due to noticeable changes in behavior and personality. SUD is a form of addiction that can hurt more than just the person who has it and coming to terms with its existence can be hard for all. This National Recovery Month, we want to help you know what to look for so you can identify addictive behaviors quickly before it gets out of control.

A disease that affects everyone

Substance use disorder can negatively impact relationships between family members, significant others, and peers. This makes coping with it challenging for everyone. It’s a chronic disease that must be fed to prevent withdrawal. As a result, it overrides all emotions and responsibilities of those struggling to escape its grasp.

Evidence of addiction

The big difference between casual substance use and substance abuse is signs of addiction. If you’re worried about how substances affect you or a loved one, you can spot the possibility of SUD by looking out for some key traits.

Do you recognize these in yourself?

  • Regular and intense urges to use alcohol or drugs
  • Increased usage of substances over time
  • Excessive spending on drugs or alcohol
  • Trouble meeting expectations at work or at home
  • -Substances are necessary for showing emotion or vulnerability

Do you recognize these in a loved one?

  • A disinterest in work, school, or social activities resulting in frequent absences, lower grades, and/or extended periods of asocial behavior
  • Changes in behavior, energy, weight, grooming, and/or appearance
  • Money issues, including stealing or gambling
  • Excuses for usage including peer pressure, event enjoyment, fear of exclusion, and avoidance of emotions and/or traumatic experiences (e.g. “drinking the pain away” or “I’m only happy when I drink”)
  • Increased occurrence of late-night outings leading to unsafe and unhealthy decisions involving driving, sleeping, and eating
  • Changes in attitude and behavior sometimes leading to anger, violence, and abuse of any kind

Misconceptions and myths

There’s a stigma around substance use disorder. This breeds misinformation and makes conversation and intervention challenging. As a taboo subject, misconceptions can make living with SUD even more challenging for those who suffer from it. Harmful misrepresentations of SUD can feed into a vicious cycle of blame and self-loathing.

It’s not a choice

The biggest misconception around SUD is that it’s a choice or failure of will or morals. Substance use disorder is a disease and should be treated that way. There’s often the idea that people who go to parties or use recreational drugs have SUD. While that can be the case, partying and bar hopping are not always signs of the disease. Reckless use of drugs and/or alcohol can lead to SUD and many other dangerous conditions. But SUD is all about control, not fun. Substance use at parties and events can be safe if done in moderation. But those who show no signs of dependency and unhealthy usage shouldn’t automatically be assumed to be substance abusers.

Control as a coping mechanism

When someone suffers from substance use disorder, they use drugs or alcohol to control emotional turmoil in their lives. Trauma, abuse, mental illness, and stress are all factors that can lead to SUD if left untreated. The effects that substances have on the body are largely predictable and familiar. This can make drinking alcohol or using drugs feel like an escape from stressors and negative feelings in someone’s life.

Be prepared and empathetic

Some may feel like substances are the most effective way to control their emotional distress. But the addiction that follows can consume everything in its path. It’s important to watch out for the telltale signs of SUD if you think someone might be suffering from it. Knowing that they might be using substances to cope with something deeper and more distressing can help you be as empathetic as possible, even when it’s hard.

Treatment and recovery

If you’ve determined that someone may be struggling with substance use disorder. The next step is nudging them towards getting help. Legitimate, clinical treatment programs are the best way to combat addiction. But relapses may occur if the person doesn’t stick with the plan due to lack of motivation, depression, or triggering events. In-patient resources are not always available to those suffering from SUD. But community centers, support groups, counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and group therapy can be life-changing reinforcements to prevent isolation, self-sabotage, and dangerous habits. If the person suffering from SUD is a minor, there are state laws dictating who must enroll them into treatment. This varies by state.

Options through Premera

Recovery from SUD is possible through your behavioral healthcare options available through Premera. We’re here to support those suffering from addiction as they seek help on their healing journey. All Premera health plans include access to both virtual and in-person mental health care, which can include treatment for substance use disorder. Our SUD care options allow you or a dependent find a therapist, treatment facility, or enroll in out-patient care. If you don’t feel comfortable with in-person care, we also offer virtual care options provided by Boulder and Workit Health. These programs offer therapy, rehabilitation, counseling, and resources at no additional cost to members. The first step to ending substance use disorder is recognizing the signs and seeking help.

Premera is here to help

To find out if your plan offers Boulder or Workit Health, sign into your account on Or open the Premera mobile app and in Find care, check out Virtual care services.

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