substance use disorder icon

substance use disorders

One in twenty-five American adolescents, ages 12-17, suffer from a substance abuse disorder.

- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration


substance use disorders

Know the facts.

Repeated drug misuse changes a person’s brain chemistry. These changes in brain chemistry make it extremely difficult to stop using drugs.

Substance abuse is defined by a pattern of harmful use of any substance for mood-altering purposes. It is when an individual uses a substance such as alcohol or drugs (medicines or illegal) in a way that is not intended or recommended, or because they use more than is prescribed.

Substance Use Disorder is when the use of a substance causes problems such as physical or mental health issues (e.g., missing work or school, causing problems in relationships, getting into trouble with the law, driving while under the influence, or failing to meet responsibilities).

The brain continues to develop until age 25. Therefore, because younger brains are still developing, they are more sensitive to alcohol and other drugs.

The younger a person is when they start using alcohol or other drugs, the more likely they are to develop an addiction and to be at risk for addiction throughout
their lives.

Having difficulty stopping, or relapsing does not mean someone doesn’t have willpower, just that they have an illness that needs to be treated.

It is easier for someone to recover from a substance use disorder if it is detected and treated early.

Below is a list of possible warning signs for a person who might be engaging in substance abuse or who may be developing substance use disorder.

  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Changes in mood and behavior - withdrawn and/or hostile
  • Secretive behavior
  • Missed school/work or other responsibilities
  • Dropping old group of friends for a new group
  • Physical changes: may include sudden weight loss/gain, frequent nosebleeds, bloodshot or watery eyes, or shakes and tremors
  • Paranoia, irritability, anxiety, fidgeting
  • Being extremely tired or extremely hyperactive
  • Losing interest in once pleasurable activities

Many factors may influence a teen’s decision to drink or use drugs:

  • Adolescents may associate alcohol or drug use with becoming an adult.
  • Drinking or drug use may be acceptable in the adolescent’s peer group.
  • Parents’ use of and attitudes about alcohol or drugs may influence drinking or drug use.
  • The teen may have experienced emotional or psychological trauma and use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate..
  • The adolescent may not feel connected to family, school or community.

It is important to remember that a risk factor for one youth may not be a risk factor for another.

Understand that substance use disorder is a disease, not a moral failing or sign of weakness.


  • Focus on building trust so the person will be more likely to listen.
  • Express your concern.
  • Respect privacy while being supportive. You can’t force a person into quitting, but you can be a source of strength.
  • Listen non judgmentally.
  • Encourage appropriate professional help.
  • Expect many people to be in denial that they have a substance abuse problem.
  • Assess for risk of suicide or harm.


  • Threaten. Giving ultimatums may lead them to hide the behavior.
  • Criticize. This can contribute to shame and lessen a person’s belief in their ability to quit.
  • Expect immediate change. Recovery takes time and setbacks are bound to happen.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
This is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.