Different Types Of Substance Use Disorder And How To Get Help

Updated March 8, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Substance use disorder is the term used to describe the excessive and chronic use of an addictive or mind-altering substance, such as alcohol, marijuana, or cocaine. Usage of these drugs often leads to impaired judgment, loss of physical and emotional control, and altered thinking and perceptions. If an addiction becomes severe, the consequences can be life-threatening.

Previously, the term drug abuse was used in reference to the excessive use of illegal drugs. However, over the years, psychologists added legal drugs, such as cannabis in states where it is legal, prescription drugs, alcohol, and tobacco to the list of substances that cause problems in people’s lives.

According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS):

  • Approximately 50 % of people over 12 have used an illegal drug at least one time.
  • Since 2000, nearly one million people have died from a drug overdose.
  • Opioids are responsible for 7 out of 10 drug overdose deaths.
  • There were an estimated 42,700 fentanyl deaths in 2020.
  • Over 26 % of all arrests in the U.S. are for drug-related crimes. 

Based on these statistics, drug abuse is a significant problem in our society. So, let's take a closer look at the different types of substance use disorders and how a person can get help.

Is Drug Use A Problem In Your Life?

Substance Use Disorder Drugs And Their Effects

Almost any kind of substance, both legal and illegal, can be abused when used recklessly. These drugs include:

Cocaine: This stimulant drug is also known as coke. While cocaine does have some medical uses, it is primarily used recreationally either by snorting, smoking, or injecting it. The effects can last up to an hour and a half and are almost immediate. Effects include loss of touch with reality and feeling extreme euphoria. Cocaine is highly addictive, and can be even more harmful if mixed with other substances, such as local anesthetics. With prolonged abuse, cocaine can lead to hallucinations, paranoia, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and even death.

Fentanyl: This drug is one of the newer ones now seen in the U.S. It is a powerful and highly addictive opioid that is frequently mixed into other street drugs without the user knowing. Fentanyl depresses the respiratory system, which can quickly lead to death unless the person receives the antidote naloxone. Fentanyl is used as a legal medication for pain relief, but it has become increasingly popular as an illegal recreational drug. 

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Administrator Anne Milgram has said:

“Fentanyl is the single deadliest drug threat our nation has ever encountered. Fentanyl is everywhere. From large metropolitan areas to rural America, no community is safe from this poison. We must take every opportunity to spread the word to prevent fentanyl-related overdose death and poisonings from claiming scores of American lives every day.”

Crack: When cocaine is processed, it turns into crack, a drug that can be smoked. Because it is one of the cheaper drugs on the market, crack is more readily available for purchase and abuse. Crack is extremely addictive and can lead to various health problems.

Alcohol: Alcohol is a flammable liquid made from fruits and grains through fermentation. The end result is a drink, which can decrease anxiety, making the individual feel more relaxed while also impairing judgment. When abused, it can be detrimental to the individual's health and lead to alcoholism. The suicide rate is higher in people who abuse alcohol, and they are more prone to violent and reckless behavior. Alcohol abuse is one of the leading global causes of death.

If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 988 and is available 24/7.

Heroin: Also known as smack, heroin is an opioid drug that is injected. As the body gets accustomed to shots of heroin, a person needs larger amounts to feel the effects, potentially leading to an overdose. Heroin use is increasing, and every year approximately 2.1 million Americans abuse opioids like heroin.

LSD: Lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD, is a drug with psychological, physical, and sensory effects, including, hallucinations, losing touch with reality, and a sense of disconnect between body and mind. Hallucinations can last from six to fourteen hours. While LSD is not physically addictive, it is a powerful drug and can lead to panic attacks, psychosis, neurological damage, and physical harm. The drug can be taken orally or injected.

Marijuana: Also known as pot, weed, and cannabis, this is the most frequently used drug in the United States. It is taken for its euphoric effects and altering of perception. Marijuana can be smoked or cooked into food. The effects can last up to six hours or more. Marijuana can be psychologically addictive. It is now legal in Canada and in many states in the U.S. However, prolonged use of marijuana can be harmful and can lead to memory problems and loss of motivation.

Prescription Drugs: This category of drugs includes any controlled substance prescribed by a doctor for a specific illness. These include stimulants, painkillers, anti-anxiety medications, and sedatives which are sold on the street for non-medicinal purposes. These drugs can be taken orally or ground into powder to snort or inject. Some of the effects include feelings of euphoria, decreased tension and anxiety, and improved concentration. Because of their addictive properties, these drugs need to be monitored by a medical doctor. When abused, they can be addictive and dangerous, especially if mixed with other drugs or alcohol.

Synthetic Cathinones: Also called 'bath salts,' and ‘spice’ this is a synthetic drug with stimulant properties[M1] made from the khat plant. Bath salts can be smoked, injected, swallowed in pill form, or snorted. They are a cheaper alternative to drugs such as cocaine or MDMA and produce similar effects, such as energy boosts, increased sexual drive, and hallucinations. The negative effects include paranoia, panic attacks, and even death. Bath salts can also lead to addiction, and the withdrawal symptoms are very severe.

Tobacco: Like alcohol, cigarettes are a common part of society. Because they are legal, many people do not consider them drugs. However, cigarettes contain nicotine, the drug that makes cigarettes addictive. The effects of nicotine on the brain are similar to other drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Smoking leaves physical effects on the body, such as yellow, stained teeth, bad breath, greying hair, and wrinkles. Smoking can cause serious diseases, such as lung cancer, heart disease, and strokes. Every year approximately 400,000 people die of health problems caused by smoking tobacco.

Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA): Commonly known as ecstasy, this drug is typically used at raves and parties. Some of the short-term effects of ecstasy are euphoria, increased feelings of empathy, hallucinations, and an increase in self-confidence. Prolonged use of ecstasy can lead to numerous issues such as addiction, paranoia, and sleep and vision problems.

Amphetamines: This is a category of stimulant drugs affecting the central nervous system. The drug sends a jolt of adrenaline through the body, making the individual feel more alert, confident, and energized. However, amphetamines can also have negative effects and make a person feel nervous and hostile. The various amphetamines are more commonly referred to by their street names such as crystal, crank, speed, uppers, or bennies. Amphetamines can be smoked or injected.

A number of disorders such as ADD and obesity are treated using amphetamines. As a result, they are easily available. Methamphetamine is a type of amphetamine that is illegally produced and distributed with no medicinal purpose. Abusing amphetamines can lead to physical and psychological side effects such as hypertension, mood swings, deterioration of the nasal cavity and teeth, and overdose.

Signs And Symptoms Of Drug Abuse

When someone is using drugs, oftentimes the first thing loved ones notice are changes in the person's behavior, such as altered mood and temperament. People who use drugs may display anger or irritation towards family and friends, be vague and secretive about their life, or display paranoia and a careless attitude towards things they previously valued. Additional signs and symptoms can be spotted by asking yourself these questions:

Is the individual straying from their normal routine? Is there a change in eating, sleeping, or daily activities?

Are they not going to work or school?

Is there a change in finances, such as asking to borrow money or asking for a raise on an allowance?

Are they stealing?

Are they moving away from old friendships and family ties or hanging out with a different group?

Are there any physical signs, such as smelling like drugs?

Is there sudden attention to cleanliness, such as showering more often, cleaning their bedroom, or an increase in doing laundry?

Are they doing poorly in school or getting into trouble at school or work?

Are they lying about where they go, who they were with, or what they are doing?

If the answer is yes to several of these questions, it might be time for family and friends to talk to the individual about their concerns. Substance use disorder is a serious medical condition, which can have devastating repercussions for the individual and their loved ones if left unaddressed.

Is Drug Use A Problem In Your Life?

Treatments For Substance Use Disorders

The first step to getting help is identifying and admitting to the problem. Recovery can be a long and difficult process, but it is possible. To be successful, the individual must make a commitment to recovery. Support from loved ones is also crucial. One of the most difficult steps is getting through the withdrawal phase. Symptoms like anxiety, depression, seizures, and restlessness can last for days to weeks. The length and severity of the symptoms depend on the type of drug, how it was abused, and personal medical history. Some drugs are dangerous to withdraw from without medical supervision.

Most drug abuse treatments are done in a detox or rehabilitation facility with programs designed specifically for the individual, depending on the kind of drug dependence. A doctor can help determine whether outpatient, residential, or hospital treatment is the best approach. People with substance abuse disorder often believe they can kick their drug habit without help or support. More often than not, this is a misguided belief. Individual determination, support from loved ones, and working closely with a doctor or substance use disorder specialist are all essential to a successful recovery for most people.

Doctors often strongly recommend behavioral therapy in addition to rehab, as this helps patients learn different methods of coping with drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Therapy can also help with any underlying mental health conditions and can be a crucial resource for family and loved ones of a person with substance use disorder. If seeing a therapist in person seems difficult, consider and online therapy platform like BetterHelp.com.

Psychotherapy can help repair damaged relationships and find effective solutions for ending substance use disorder. In addition, the loved ones of a person with substance use disorder can also benefit from talking to a counselor, and an online therapy platform can make this less stressful and more convenient. Numerous research studies have found that talking to a therapist online is as beneficial as seeing one in person. 

Counselor Reviews

"Julissa is my lifeline to sobriety. I always know that she is there to assist me. She's honest and to the point. She helps me to see other aspects of my behavior that I either could not see or refuse to see. Thank you, Julissa!"

"Devon is a compassionate person who balances that with a let's get to the issue straightforwardness that I've sorely needed. As a procrastinator, I need a little bit of a push now and again, and Devon does that well without any judgment or guilt. She's supported me to the point where I am now in the AA program and beginning to really grasp the benefits. This has allowed us to deal with the me that needs to grow up and deal with the day to day issues of life, which are very painful. She's a highly effective help to me, now more so, since I gave up drinking. I really need her guidance on the issues at hand, and I totally get the support I need. She's wonderful!"


Millions of people struggle with substance use disorder, and there are numerous legal and illegal drugs a person can become dependent on using. These drugs cause a various symptoms from euphoria to paranoia to life threatening respiratory distress. Getting off drugs can be challenging, but it is possible with the support of a doctor or trained substance used disorder specialist. Therapies can be done at home, in a residential center, or at a hospital. Talking to an online therapist is another way of reaching out for help.

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