Complete Guide: Types of Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is the repeated and overuse of substances that can develop into an addiction. Learn more here.

Table of Contents

What Is Substance Abuse?

Substance abuse is considered excessive or uncontrolled use of substances such as alcohol, pain medications, or other illegal drugs. A substance use disorder diagnosis may be made if there continues to be uncontrolled substance abuse, dependence, and tolerance. This disorder occurs when an individual continues to use drugs or alcohol in an excessive or uncontrolled way despite experiencing negative consequences due to the substance misuse. 1

Substance Abuse

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Substance Abuse vs. Substance Use Disorder

Substance abuse is different from a substance use disorder. Substance abuse is defined as the over usage or misuse of a substance, but it generally is not causing pervasive problems in one’s life. With substance abuse, individuals may usually find it fairly easy to stop using, but this can quickly turn into the inability to stop if one isn’t mindful. On the other hand, a substance use disorder is an official diagnosis given to someone who displays signs of persistent addiction and is unable to stop using. 2

What is Addiction?

Addiction is considered a chronic disease that is incredibly difficult to control. There really is no difference between substance use disorder vs addiction. Substance use disorder is the medical term referring to addiction. However, there is some difference between the terms addiction and dependence.
Dependence only refers to the experience of tolerance and withdrawal symptoms, while addiction, or substance use disorder, is marked by changes in behavior that occur after continued substance use. Substance use disorder also encompasses dependence and is now the preferred term used in the medical community.

Understanding Addiction

How Might Substance Use Disorder Affect Me?

If you or a loved one have a substance use disorder, you may experience changes in thinking and brain structure. A substance use disorder causes mental, behavioral, and physical changes. Those who have a diagnosis of a substance-related disorder experience symptoms such as behavioral, mental, and physical changes. 3

Behavioral or Mental Health Changes

Some common mental health changes include:
  • Unexplained changes in behavior or personality
  • Lack of motivation
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Engaging in risky behaviors despite knowledge of the negative consequences
  • Difficulty completing tasks at work, school, or home
  • Extreme cravings for the substance
  • Sudden mood swings, irritability, or agitation
  • Experiencing periods of depression, anxiety, hyperactivity, or paranoia
  • Financial issues

Physical Changes

Some physical side effects of substance abuse include:
  • Bloodshot or tired eyes, and abnormally sized pupils
  • Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Tremors or slurred speech
  • Impaired coordination
  • Deterioration of physical appearance

What Are the Different Types of Substance Abuse?

There are many different types of substance abuse. Some of the most common types of substance use disorders will be detailed below.


Alcohol is one of the most commonly abused substances. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, alcohol substance-related disorders affect about fourteen million people in the United States. There is also a difference in the definition of heavy drinking for men and women.
For men, drinking four or more drinks in one day and drinking more than fourteen in one week is considered heavy drinking. For women, drinking three or more drinks in one day and seven or more in one week is considered to be heavy drinking. Alcohol is the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States.4

Alcohol Addiction

Tobacco or Nicotine

Many people do not consider tobacco or nicotine a drug. However, it is highly addictive and, when used, can provide a rush of pleasure and energy. In 2020, it was reported that about almost twenty-five million people had nicotine dependence.5


Opioids can include prescription pain medication, such as Percocet, as well as drugs like heroin and fentanyl. In 2019, almost two million people met criteria for a substance use disorder for opioids. This statistic includes both prescription pain medication and other opioids like heroin.


Types of substance addictions to stimulants can include cocaine, methamphetamine, and amphetamines. About one million people meet cocaine use disorder criteria, and almost two million people meet criteria for a methamphetamine use disorder. Some stimulant use disorder symptoms may include heart problems, increased anxiety and depression, paranoia, or psychosis.6


Hallucinogens are mind- or perception-altering drugs, such as LSD and ecstasy. About seven million people reported hallucinogen use in 2020, with about four hundred thousand meeting criteria for a substance abuse diagnosis.7


According to the CDC, cannabis is the most commonly abused substance that is still federally illegal. It is reported that an estimated 30% of people who use cannabis also meet cannabis substance use disorder criteria.8

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse?

Substance Abuse
Alcohol and drug abuse can be difficult to spot until it is too late. It is important to be able to spot signs and symptoms of a substance use disorder so you can be able to help yourself or a loved one.
Some symptoms of substance use disorder include:
  • Continued use despite knowing the disorder is causing negative consequences to your life
  • Taking the substance for longer than intended
  • Craving the substance or behavior
  • Regular overconsumption
  • Worrying about overuse but being unable to stop 
  • Using in situations that may not be safe, such as driving under the influence
  • Giving up previously enjoyed activities due to use
  • Spending a lot of time using or trying to use and recovering
  • Neglecting responsibilities at home, work, or school
  • Building up a tolerance and needing to use more over time
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit

How Is Substance Abuse Diagnosed?

For substance abuse disorder criteria to be met, the substance use would need to cause significant impairment to one’s life. The severity of the substance use disorder is determined by the number of symptoms one meets. For example, of the eleven signs and symptoms, a severe substance use disorder may be made if the individual meets six or more of the characteristics of substance use disorder.

Causes of Substance Abuse

The causes of substance use disorders can be varied from person to person and can also depend on what substance one is reliant upon or has built up a tolerance to. Many substances affect the body in varying ways, and our family history can play a part as well. These risks can include a combination of environmental, physical, and genetic factors.

Environmental Factors

The environmental factors that may be related to alcohol or drug use disorder include:
  • Tense home environment, or an environment where parents also used substances
  • Financial difficulties
  • Lack of parental attachment in childhood
  • Relationship issues
  • Divorce or loss of a loved one
  • Exposure to a peer group or environment that uses

Genetic or Physical Factors

Severe substance use disorders can also be influenced by genetics or physical issues, such as:
  • Family history of addiction
  • Sleep problems
  • Chronic pain
  • Long-term tobacco habit

Risks of Substance Misuse

People of any age, gender, race, or socioeconomic status can be at risk for an alcohol or drug use disorder. The characteristics of substance use disorder are not something you can determine at birth. There are many factors that increase the risk of substance misuse.

Risk Factors

Some of these risk factors may include:
  • Physical Health Problems: People with chronic pain, physical issues, or sleep problems may be at risk of misusing substances in order to alleviate suffering.
  • Mental Health Problems: Mental health and substance misuse are very often co-occurring. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, of the forty-two million adults with mental health issues, 18.2% of those had a substance use disorder diagnosis. 9
  • Risky or Dangerous Behavior: Engaging in risky or dangerous behavior can be a risk factor for substance-related disorders. Those who engage in risky behaviors are more likely to also associate with individuals who misuse drugs or alcohol.
  • Legal Risks: Legal risks can cause a massive amount of stress, which can increase the rate of drug or alcohol misuse in order to deal with difficult situations or emotions.

Effects of Substance Abuse

Substance Abuse
Substance abuse or misuse can cause a number of complications and consequences in one’s life. Drug and alcohol use can also have significant short-term and long-term effects. Some examples of these are:

Treatment Options For Substance Use Disorder

There is no single cure for addiction or substance use disorder. However, there are many types of treatment options available for substance use disorders. Substance use disorder treatment usually involves a combination of detox, individual therapy, group therapy, and engagement in self-help programs like AA or NA.

Withdrawal or Detox

Detox treatment is typically a short-term program to help individuals safely wean off of the substance in a safe environment. Most detox programs involve residing in a medical facility between three to ten days, depending on the type and amount of substance. Most detox programs provide medication management to help manage and alleviate withdrawal symptoms and also provide constant medical support staff.

Inpatient Rehab

Substance use disorder treatment may also include inpatient rehab. Inpatient rehab requires the individual to check into a controlled and stable environment to help manage their substance use. Typically, inpatient rehab programs last anywhere from one to three months, and some programs may even last up to one year.

During this time, individuals are required to attend individual therapy, group therapy, and self-help meetings to learn coping skills and understand their substance use. While in inpatient therapy, they will also have access to 24-hour support from staff.

Outpatient Rehab

Unlike inpatient rehab, outpatient rehab does not require individuals to live full-time in a facility. Outpatient programs allow individuals to continue to work, attend school, and return home while engaging in treatment. While Profound Treatment doesn’t have outpatient treatment anymore, there are still many benefits for those who utilize it.

Types of Outpatient Programs

There are several different types of outpatient rehab programs. These can include:10
  • Standard Outpatient Program: A standard outpatient program typically involves attending individual or group therapy sessions one to two times per week.
  • Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP): IOP is more intense and involves attending sessions anywhere from three to five days a week, with each session lasting three or four hours. Services during IOP may include a combination of individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, and medication management.
  • Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP): PHP is the highest level of outpatient program and typically involves attending treatment for four to six hours per day for three to five days per week. PHP is often used as a step-down after an inpatient treatment program.

Psychological Therapies

Substance Abuse
Psychological therapies are forms of treatment that have been shown to have a positive impact on individuals with substance use disorders. Some of the psychological therapies include:
  • Motivational Interviewing (MI): MI is an evidenced-based approach that involves collaborative and goal-setting communication. It is designed to help strengthen a person’s motivation for and commitment to overall change by exploring reasons for change. 11
  • Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET): MET is a short-term technique that is aimed at helping people improve their motivation to change harmful and destructive behaviors. This can be done by helping people view behaviors more objectively and empowering them to change.
  • Prize-Based Contingency Therapy: Prize-based contingency management is a form of treatment that involves providing individuals with rewards for drug and alcohol-free behaviors. This means reinforcing positive behaviors, like providing a negative drug test, with prizes that are often monetary such as vouchers or cash.
  • Seeking Safety: Seeking Safety is a therapeutic program aimed at treating individuals with trauma, PTSD, or substance abuse by focusing on safe coping skills.
  • Guided Self-Change: This therapy integrates cognitive-behavioral therapy, MI, and relapse prevention to help individuals develop their own plans for change.

Behavioral Therapies

Behavioral therapies of substance abuse are those treatments that are aimed at making changes to how individuals think, feel, and act. These therapies look to identify and change unhealthy thinking and behavior patterns.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is an extremely popular, evidenced-based therapy that combines the focus on patterns of behavior with patterns of thought. The main focus of CBT is on how your thoughts influence your emotions and behaviors. The goal for treatment is to identify and change negative thinking patterns and replace them with more positive, adaptive patterns to improve feelings and behaviors.

Dialectical-Behavior Therapy (DBT)

DBT is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy that focuses on regulating difficult and uncomfortable emotions. The four core elements of DBT involve teaching mindfulness, creating interpersonal effectiveness to improve relationships, learning emotion regulation, and utilizing distress tolerance skills.

Understanding DBT

Assertive Community Treatment (ACT)

Assertive Community Treatment is an evidence-based practice that provides treatment and case management services for those with severe mental health and/or substance abuse conditions. ACT uses a multidisciplinary team to provide health care and support to individuals in their homes and communities in order to decrease hospitalization and involvement in the criminal justice system.

Therapeutic Communities (TC)

Therapeutic communities are long-term residential programs, typically with an average stay of up to twelve months, in which community members progress through various roles and responsibilities in their recovery and work collectively to ensure the functioning of the community. The communities are often made up of peers and staff who are in recovery themselves.

Can I Prevent Substance Use Disorder?

Substance Abuse
There is no one guaranteed way to prevent the development of a substance use disorder. However, there are some tips that may help prevent or improve the outlook for someone with a substance use disorder. These include:

Get Treatment For Substance Use Disorder at Profound Treatment

If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse, Profound Treatment can help. Profound Treatment offers detox and inpatient treatment services using a wide range of evidence-based therapies to fit individual needs. We aim to improve your physical and mental health while decreasing your risk of relapse in a safe, comfortable, and healing environment.

For more information about Profound Treatment’s program or to learn more about substance abuse, contact us today. We will be with you and support you every step of the way through recovery.