Just Say Know: Substance Use Disorder and Problematic Drug Use

Just Say Know: Substance Use Disorder and Problematic Drug Use

Written by Guest Blogger Karen Walker, Peer Education Intern

  • What are some ways you can identify if someone is exhibiting signs of addiction or problematic drug use?
  • What is the difference between drug use and problematic drug use?
  • What are some of the ways in which our current understanding of problematic drug use and substance use disorders help the recovery process for people who use drugs ?
  • What are some of the ways in which our current understanding of problematic drug use and substance use disorders hinders the recovery process for people who use drugs?

For many people, the most frightening parts of using drugs are the potential and unknown risks. While using drugs can cause clear physical harms in the short-term, explaining a drug’s potential for long-term problematic use and substance use disorder is much harder.

A common myth is that every individual is subject to the same consequences when using a substance; however, the effect of a drug on a person is much more complex than that. An individual’s mindset, emotional state, and expectancies, as well as their external environment and stimuli, play as much of a role in someone’s experience as the drug does. The same applies to problematic use and a substance use disorder.

Traditional drug education has supported the myth that using any substance, even once, will create dependency, lead to “addiction,” and cause an endless list of other negative consequences. However, not all drug use is inherently problematic and every individual has a different potential for developing a substance use disorder. In fact, 80 to 90 percent of people who use drugs will never develop a substance use disorder. Our next question would then be: what constitutes problematic use?

Psychiatrists have narrowed down the criteria for diagnosing substance use disorders in the  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; Fifth Edition (DSM-5). These include: going to great lengths to obtain a substance, using substances in a way that interferes with completing obligations or sustaining relationships, and using larger amounts of a substance for a longer period of time than intended. When aspects of a person’s life begin taking a downward turn, it is important to remain aware of these destructive habits in order to help that individual persevere. Qualified clinicians can use these criteria as part of a comprehensive evaluation to determine whether yourself or a loved one may be using a drug problematically.

Despite the complexity of substance use disorders and experiences with drugs in general, our policy treats all people who use drugs as criminals, leaving those with substance use disorders vulnerable. Those who have less opportunity, support, and resources are the most likely to develop substance use disorders and the least likely to find a path to recovery.

Developing a substance use disorder is not simply a choice; it is influenced by a combination of past experiences or trauma, mental and emotional states, current conditions, available opportunities, unhealthy relationships and countless other variables. Rather than continuing to increase law enforcement’s role in deterring health issues from arising, we should focus on changing the societal structure that fosters them.

SSDP Peer Educators have the chance to create a compassionate environment equipped with professional resources for those who may be struggling with a substance use disorder. Coming from a place of understanding can bring immeasurable support and assistance to those who might not have those resources, and the ability to realize SSDP’s vision by facilitating this space is yet another groundbreaking opportunity the Peer Education program offers to college campuses.

You can get 10 points for responding to the Reflection Questions from this Training Curriculum module.

Check out ssdp.org/justsayknow for more information on peer education!

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