Warner Park Recovery Center – Woodland Hills Mental Health

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What is Substance Use Disorder?

Substance use disorder is a term that is used medically to describe an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Substance use disorder is classified as a mental health condition, and many argue that it should be considered a disease. While the effects of a substance use disorder can be wide-ranging, it is most commonly defined as a compulsive need to seek a particular substance despite the knowledge that it is harmful.

If untreated, a substance use disorder can be severely damaging to a person’s life. The effects of the drugs combined with an inability to focus or function without them can be detrimental to performance at work or school and negatively affect a person’s relationships. Depending on the severity of the disorder and the type of substance a person is addicted to, continued substance use can be life-threatening.


One aspect of substance use disorder is building a tolerance to the drug over time. As someone continues to use, the body becomes resistant to the effects of the drug. In order to chase the desired effects, a person must increase their use of the substance, which can be incredibly dangerous and detrimental to mental and physical health.

The causes of substance use disorder can be based on various biological, psychological, and environmental factors. Common co-occurring mental health conditions include anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder. It is also more likely to develop a substance use disorder if a close family member also had one, which may be both a genetic factor and a learned behavior.

Is Substance Use Disorder a Disease?

While it is recognized as a mental health condition, there is some debate regarding if substance use disorder is a disease. Officially, medical professionals label substance use disorder as a “chronic, relapsing disorder,” meaning a condition that never truly goes away. 

Although some may disagree, substance use disorder is considered to be a disease by most major medical organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine. While some people argue substance use is not a disease due to the choice involved in trying drugs initially, the disease is what occurs as a result of those actions. Choice can play a role in the development of many diseases. Just as a person living an unhealthy lifestyle may be more likely to develop heart disease, someone who experiments with drugs is more likely to develop a substance use disorder.

Perhaps the most convincing argument on whether substance use disorder should be considered a disease is made by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The National Institute of Drug Abuse argues that addiction is a disease based on four characteristics that can be compared to any disease, such as heart disease. Those four characteristics are:

  1. Both disrupt the functioning of a healthy organ
  2. Both have harmful effects
  3. Both are considered to be preventable and treatable
  4. Both can be life-threatening if left untreated

Am I Addicted To Drugs?

If you fear yourself or a loved one may be suffering from a mental health or addiction disorder, our assessment tool may be of use. Although our assessments cannot replace a diagnosis from a trained medical professional, they can help determine how many symptoms a person is experiencing for any addiction or mental health disorder.

There is no reason to wait. If you have any reason to suspect you or someone around you may be dealing with a severe addiction or mental health disorder, take our assessment and reach out to us today!

What is the Substance Use Disorder DSM-5?

Medical professionals use a set of eleven different criteria to diagnose a substance use disorder properly. The standards have been updated in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, or DSM-5. As doctors check each criterion, they will also rank the severity as mild, moderate, or severe based on how many different symptoms a person is suffering from corresponds to each standard. The eleven criteria for substance use disorder according to the DSM-5 are:

  1. Taking the substance in large amounts for an extended period
  2. Not being able to stop even if you want to
  3. Spending too much time taking or seeking out the substance
  4. Cravings to use the substance
  5. Negative impact on work, school, or home performance due to the substance
  6. Using the substance even when it causes problems in personal relationships
  7. A loss of interest in social activities or recreational activities
  8. Continuing to use the substance even though it is dangerous
  9. Continuing to use the substance even while acknowledging you have a physical or psychological problem that is made worse by the substance
  10. Building a tolerance to the substance
  11. Development of withdrawal symptoms when not taking the substance

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