Types of Substance Use Disorders

Types of Substance Use Disorder

It can be difficult to witness a loved one struggle with a substance use disorder. Learn about intercession methods below.

Overview of Substance Use Disorders

Substance use disorders of various types touch the lives of millions of Americans and their loved ones every year. Without help, hundreds of thousands of people will experience harmful consequences associated with drug or alcohol addiction. Unfortunately, very few who could benefit from therapy at this specialized addiction treatment program will ever seek or receive the help they need to get well.

What is a Substance Use Disorder (SUD)?

Substance use disorders are complex conditions characterized by the uncontrollable and overwhelming urge to use substances, despite knowing the harmful consequences of their use.

Someone with a substance-related disorder has an intense focus on obtaining and using alcohol, tobacco, or illicit drugs. In time, this focus becomes so powerful that all other daily activities and obligations are placed on the backburner in favor of using.

Impact of COVID-19 and Substance Use Disorders

The effects of the pandemic and other national issues have also led to a dramatic increase in the number of Americans with substance use disorders. Statistics provided by the National Center for Drug Abuse show more than 37 million people over the age of 12 were current users of illicit drugs at the end of 2020. Also, nearly 30 million youth and adults have an alcohol use disorder.1Substance use and abuse, whether related to drugs or alcohol, negatively impact the lives of millions of people and their loved ones each year without help from a substance use disorder treatment program.

Substance Use Disorder vs. Substance Abuse

It is not uncommon for the terms substance use disorder and substance abuse to be used interchangeably. Although they are similar and refer to the same concerns, it is important to identify the differences. The easiest way to explain substance use disorder vs. addiction is that substance abuse is overindulging in a substance.2When someone frequently engages in substance abuse, their tolerance for and dependency on the substance grows. In time, severe substance use disorder (addiction) develops, and the person is unable to stop using the substance.

Commonly Abused Drugs

When people think of the types of substance addictions, several commonly abused substances often come to mind. Alcohol and drug abuse disorders take several forms. The most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicates alcohol, prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) Medicine, heroin, cocaine, marijuana, cigarettes, and other tobacco products are among the most common types of substance addictions.3

Different Types of Substance Use Disorders

When people think about types of substance addictions, two substance types that quickly come to mind are opioids and alcohol. Although severe substance use disorders can evolve from ongoing opioid or alcohol abuse, people with several different types of substance use disorders can benefit from seeking help at a specialized addiction treatment program.

Opioid Use Disorder

Abuse of and addiction to opioids has led to hundreds of thousands of deaths, making it one of the most dangerous drug addiction types. Recent data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show more than 10 million people misused opioid drugs (including prescription and illicit opioids) in 2019.4Drug use disorders involving opioids have led to the deaths of nearly 800,000 people since 1999.

Marijuana Use Disorder

Because marijuanna is legal (in many states) for many, it is a drug that many people do not consider dangerous. Most do not realize that substance misuse disorders and addiction can develop out of marijuana abuse. Approximately 1 in 10 people who use marijuana will become addicted. If you begin using it before the age of 18, the addiction rate becomes 1 in 6.5

Nicotine Use Disorder

Survey data from 2020 shows that 9% of the U.S. population over age 12 has a nicotine use disorder.6

Stimulant Use Disorder

Stimulant drugs include prescription drugs like Adderall and illicit drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy, and Methamphetamine. Some statistics suggest as many as 17.2 million people experience stimulant use disorder symptoms, and of those, nearly 5 million people likely meet cocaine use disorder criteria.7

Sedative Use Disorder

Sedatives or tranquilizers are widely prescribed drugs. However, their use can lead to abuse and addiction, with about 1% of people over age 12 suffering from symptoms of substance use disorders linked to sedative drugs.

Hallucinogen Use Disorder

Studies suggest the rate of hallucinogenic drug use disorders mimics that of sedatives.

Alcohol Use Disorder

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states more than 15 million American youth and adults met substance use disorder criteria based on their relationship with alcohol.8

Causes of Substance Use Disorders

Substance use disorder causes vary almost as widely as the list of substance use disorders.Several factors contribute to one’s risk for developing a substance use disorder. The most common of these factors include chronic pain, financial challenges, a family history of addiction, a complex home environment (such as divorce, loss of a loved one, abuse, or neglect), lack of parental attachment during childhood, relationship problems, difficulty sleeping (common with sedative addictions) and long-term use of tobacco or alcohol.

Risk Factors for Substance Use Disorders

Like substance use disorder causes, substance use disorder risks are equally as varied. Research has yet to discover one known cause or risk factor that suggests someone will develop a substance misuse disorder. The most common risk factors attributed to two substance-related disorders and subsequent addiction are genetics, a co-occurring mental health diagnosis, a history of abuse or neglect, experimenting with substances at an early age, and heavy exposure to advertising of drugs or alcohol.

Treatment Options For Substance Use Disorder

If you or a loved one experiences symptoms of a substance use disorder, the safest and most effective way to heal and overcome addiction is to seek help at a rehab that addresses addictions to all substance types. Because addiction is an illness unique to the individual, the characteristics of a substance use disorder will also look different from person to person. Therefore, finding a treatment program that addresses all substance types and specializes in addressing any underlying physical and mental health conditions that may inhibit your recovery from a substance use disorder is crucial.

Help From a Treatment Program or Medical Professional

When you are ready to begin rehab, you will work with your primary care provider or a treatment team member at a drug or alcohol rehab to assess your relationship with substances. The diagnostic criteria for substance use disorders also vary widely.There are many factors treatment professionals must consider when making a substance abuse diagnosis. The best treatment for substance use disorders will depend on your specific treatment needs, including the type of substance used, how long you have been using, the severity of your addiction, and your history with addiction treatment.


Most addiction treatment programs begin with comprehensive detox regardless of the substance disorder type. Detox is a vital step towards healing because it allows your body the opportunity to cleanse itself from the effects of drugs or alcohol.

Once your system is free from the impact of these substances and withdrawal symptoms have passed, it is possible to fully engage in behavioral therapies for substance abuse designed to help you put addiction in the past once and for all.

Types of Rehab

Depending on your chosen program, therapy may consist of inpatient rehab, outpatient rehab, or a combination.

  • Inpatient Drug Rehab: Inpatient drug rehab programs are an excellent choice for those who experience severe addiction symptoms or those who have completed an addiction program previously and experienced a relapse.
  • Outpatient Rehab: Outpatient care may be preferable for mild substance use disorders or for those who cannot leave behind family responsibilities to spend time in an inpatient rehab setting.

What to Expect from Rehab

During rehab, you will participate in a wide range of behavioral therapies designed to help you better understand the roots of your addiction and how to manage relapse triggers once treatment ends.Evidence-based therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and motivational interviewing are popular and effective treatment models used in addiction treatment programs.

Comprehensive Treatment

Most programs use a combination of individual therapy, group therapy, family therapies, and peer support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous to develop a well-rounded, comprehensive treatment program designed to help you heal.

Alta Centers Can Help You Reach Long-lasting Sobriety

If you or a loved one is ready to take the first step toward overcoming a substance use disorder, let us help you. Contact a member of our admissions team today to learn more about getting treatment for substance use disorder at Alta Centers.


Questions About Treatment?

Our knowledgeable team is ready to discuss your situation and options. Your call is confidential with no obligation required.

Call Us 24/7