Page Header

Signs of Substance Abuse Disorder

In the United States, an estimated 20.2 million people suffer from a Substance Use Disorder. Among those with a Substance Use Disorder, 7.9 million people also have a co-occurring mental disorder. You may be among them.


If you suspect you have a Substance Use Disorder, treatment is available. Addiction Recovery support offers guidance, resources, and treatment for Substance Use Disorder. Consider the five signs of Substance Use Disorder on this page, and determine whether or not they apply to your life. If they do, keep reading for more information on why substance abuse counseling is vital and where to go for help.

What Is Substance Use Disorder?

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Substance Use Disorder refers to mild, moderate or severe symptoms related to the recurrent use of drugs, alcohol or other substances. The word ‘substance’ can mean a variety of things. Substances range from alcohol, prescription drugs, illegally obtained drugs and household substances such as cough medicine, paint, and glue. For the sake of our discussion, we’ll limit Substance Use Disorder to alcohol and drugs — both illegal and prescription medications.

Substance Use Disorder is diagnosed according to criteria spelled out in a book called the DSM-5, a diagnostic manual used by health professionals to reference a common criterion for diagnosis. The diagnostic criteria for Substance Use Disorder are based on questions related to impaired control, social impairment, risky use and pharmacological criteria. Pharmacological means the effect of the drug on the body or the physical effects on someone’s body after taking drugs.

There are six categories of Substance Use Disorder:

  1. Alcohol
  2. Tobacco
  3. Cannabis
  4. Stimulant
  5. Hallucinogenic
  6. Opioid

You can have one of these disorders or a combination of them. For example, you may fit the criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder and Tobacco Use Disorder or any combination of two or more of these. And like most things with human health, there are few absolutes in each disorder’s diagnostic criteria. Instead, there’s a scale of behaviors, with some behaviors classified as mild and others as severe.


Only a health care provider can determine which, if any, of these disorders you have. But if you suspect your drinking or drug use is out of control or turning into a problem, it may be worthwhile for you to make an appointment with your doctor for a diagnosis. Substance Use Disorder is a serious health problem. Even if you’re not feeling sick now, over time, substances wreak havoc on your body and can lead to many problems. 

Substances That Are Commonly Abused

We mentioned in the list above several commonly abused substances. Let’s take a closer look at some of the substances that fall into each category.

  1. Alcohol Use Disorder: Any type of alcoholic beverage has the potential for abuse including beer, wine, spirits, and hard liquor. You can have Alcohol Use Disorder even if you drink only beer, for instance, or wine.
  2. Tobacco Use Disorder: All tobacco use products count as Tobacco Use Disorder including cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, and other tobacco products.
  3. Cannabis Use Disorder: This includes marijuana, or cannabis, in all of its forms.
  4. Stimulant Use Disorder: Stimulants are drugs that excite or stimulate the central nervous system. Also nicknamed “uppers,” they can include legally prescribed medication such as Ritalin, prescribed for ADHD, as well as cocaine and other stimulants.
  5. Hallucinogenic Use Disorder: Hallucinogens produce hallucinations. LSD is one of the most famous hallucinogens, but various synthetic drugs can also fall into this category as well as some natural substances like hallucinogenic mushrooms.
  6. Opioid Use Disorder: Opioid Use Disorder is an epidemic sweeping the country. Heroin is the best-known opioid and what many people think of when they think opioids, but many prescription painkillers like Oxycontin and others also fall into this category.

It may be difficult to admit that your use of any of these substances has slipped out of your control. None of us like to admit we can’t control our behavior. Yet if you can recognize your symptoms and admit you have a problem, you can get treatment for your Substance Use Disorder.

person sitting

The sooner you recognize a problem, the faster you can take action to overcome it.

The Five Telltale Signs of Substance Use Disorder

Although each Substance Use Disorder on the list has its own unique signs, there are some signs and symptoms common to all Substance Use Disorders. The following five telltale signs of a Substance Use Disorder are common among many substances and situations where addiction has taken hold. 

1. Losing Control

Loss of control — over your drug use, over your actions while under the influence and more — are all signs that your substance use has passed from casual use to a Substance Use Disorder.

One of the lies addicts tell themselves is they can stop at any time. They believe they have control over their substance use. However, as you begin using substances, tolerance develops. Tolerance means the same amount of a substance that used to make you high no longer works. You need to increase the amounts to feel better.

woman sobbing

As you increase the amounts of the substance you are taking, it gradually begins to control your life. Your daily routines revolve around acquiring substances, taking substances and recovering from it. There’s no longer room in your day for family, friends or work. Drugs or alcohol have taken over control of your life.

Another aspect is losing control over your actions while under the influence. People find they do things they wouldn’t normally do while using substances. They may engage in risky sexual activities, hurt themselves or someone else, neglect their personal hygiene or otherwise act in ways they wouldn’t recognize in themselves.

Both losing control over your substance use and losing control over your actions while under the influence are signs of Substance Use Disorder.

2. Stealing to Pay for Substances

Substance Use Disorder is an expensive illness. Although the initial cost of purchasing the substance of choice may be relatively low, as tolerance builds, you need more of the substance to feel good again. Increasing amounts cost more. What was once a $20-a-week party becomes a $200-a-day habit.

Substance users may also find their work performance suffers because of their drug and alcohol use. They may lose their jobs or work fewer hours because of their use patterns. Eventually, they may find themselves turned down for raises or promotions — or out of a job.

Many people with Substance Use Disorder find themselves stealing to pay for their substances. When your substance use becomes so expensive that you can no longer afford it with what you’re making, or you’ve lost your job and can’t afford much of anything, it’s spiraled into Substance Use Disorder.

dollar bills

Stealing can take many forms. There’s outright theft, such as stealing money from your employer to cover your substance payments or stealing from family and friends. Shoplifting is common among addicts, who shoplift and resell items to obtain ready cash. Another form is stealing drugs from the medicine cabinets of family and friends. Because prescription opioids are controlled substances and carefully regulated, it can become difficult to get more as an addiction grows. Stealing from others with legal prescriptions is common.

If you find yourself shoplifting, stealing from friends or employers or browsing a family member’s medicine cabinet for drugs to steal, you’re showing a classic sign of a Substance Use Disorder.

3. Hiding Substances From Others

Another sign of a Substance Use Disorder is hiding substances from others. Hiding several bottles of alcohol or stashes of drugs so there will always be more when you need it is another classic sign of a Substance Use Disorder. If your habits have grown so strong that you can’t go a day without using, and you panic at the thought of not having your drug of choice at hand, then you may have a Substance Use Disorder.

man in distress

In addition to hiding your substances, many people go to great lengths to hide their use patterns from family and friends. Chewing breath mints to cover the smell of alcohol on your breath, changing clothes so that family won’t smell cannabis on you and wearing long sleeves to hide needle tracks are all common ways in which substance users hide their disease from others.

4. Failing to Meet Obligations Because of Drugs

Life is filled with obligations — arriving at work on time, attending family functions like weddings and holiday celebrations, showing up on time for class. People with Substance Use Disorder find themselves drifting away from all of these obligations, eventually neglecting them entirely. They may be late for work or simply not show up, fail classes at school because they don’t do their work or stop attending religious and family functions. All of these are signs that substances are taking priority in a person’s life.

5. Becoming Isolated and Losing Friends and Family

As substance use progresses, people stop participating in activities that once made them happy. They stop going out with friends or participating in sports, hobbies or social activities that once gave them pleasure. The only thing that now gives them pleasure is the high they get from substance use. Family and friends drift away. The user’s social life revolves around getting high, but the “friends” they make who are fellow users aren’t true friends. The emotional bonds that are the hallmark of friendship aren’t there because substance use mutes and disturbs them.

Substance users also hide their activities from family and friends. The more you have to hide, the harder it is to interact with other people because you’re afraid you’ll give away your secrets. You end up isolating yourself further until you feel completely cut off from others you once loved.

Substance Use Disorder is a lonely disease. If you find yourself losing family and friends over your substance use or the behaviors that accompany it, you may need help for your substance use problem.

Physical Signs and Symptoms

So far, we’ve talked about social and psychological signs of Substance Use Disorder. Substance Use Disorder also has several physical signs and symptoms that are important to recognize too.

Withdrawal symptoms are the physical signs that your body has become dependent on substances. When you take drugs or drink excessive amounts of alcohol, your body adapts to the chemicals by changing its balance of neurotransmitters. Different systems in your body are affected, but the brain and central nervous system are most affected.

woman in withdrawal

As you use increasing amounts of a substance, your body adapts to the point where it must have that substance in order to maintain homeostasis or balance. If the levels of the substance drop, cravings result, followed by physical withdrawal symptoms.

Physical withdrawal symptoms can take many different forms, depending on the substances you use. These may include:

  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Sleepiness
  • Excitability
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Feeling cold or hot
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Anxiety or excessive worry
  • Feeling jumpy, like you can’t sit still
  • Hallucinations or seeing things that aren’t there
  • Sweating

Withdrawal symptoms aren’t something you should try to handle by yourself. Seek medical attention quickly if you experience confusion, hallucinations, drenching sweats — sweating so much your clothes are soaked with perspiration — fever or problems breathing. Some substances can cause life-threatening complications if you stop them abruptly. If you’re in doubt about whether or not you can stop something cold turkey, talk to your doctor immediately or seek help from a Substance Use Disorder treatment center. There you’ll find doctors and others experienced at helping people through withdrawal symptoms.

Do You Need Addiction Recovery Support?

There’s no reason why you have to “tough out” your Recovery alone. Recovery is a journey, not a destination, and like any journey, you’ll benefit from help and support.

If you’re still not sure whether or not you can benefit from addiction Recovery support, ask yourself the following questions. Give yourself one point for every “Yes” answer and zero points for every “No” answer.

  1. Have you used drugs for more than their required medical purpose?
  2. Do you use more than one drug at a time?
  3. Do you find yourself needing more drugs to get the same high you once did?
  4. Have you ever had blackouts, flashbacks or couldn’t remember things you did while under the influence?
  5. Do you feel guilty about your substance use?
  6. Do your family, friends or coworkers complain about your substance use or express concern about it?
  7. Have you had any health issues from your substance use like infections, coughs, bleeding, dental problems or other health issues?
  8. Do you experience withdrawal symptoms or feel sick when you stop taking the substance?
  9. Do you take more substances to get rid of these feelings?
  10. Have you ever engaged in illegal activities to support your habit?

How did you score? The more “Yes” answers you gave and the higher your score, the more likely you are to need help for your substance use problems.

Why Is It Important to Get Treatment?

If you’re struggling to quit whatever substance you’re using, you may need treatment from an addiction support center. If you don’t get treatment, the problems you’re experiencing from substance use are likely to get worse, not better. That’s because Substance Use Disorder is a progressive, chronic illness. It doesn’t resolve on its own.

So why get treatment at a center? Why not just lock yourself in a room until you’re clean? First, there’s the risk of hurting yourself physically. Remember that substances change how your brain is wired. Your brain chemistry isn’t the same today as it was before you started using substances. If you stop using substances “cold turkey,” you could get very sick because of your body’s dependence on those substances.


It’s also hard to get better when you don’t have the experience or insight to help you recognize pitfalls, problems, and situations that can lead you to relapse. The doctors, counselors, and staff at a Recovery center have all been through what you’re going through or have worked with lots of people going through similar things. They can give you the guidance you need to work through the rough times and recognize and celebrate the good ones.

We’ve also mentioned that Substance Use Disorder is a disease of isolation. Recovery work is the opposite of isolation — it’s a support system of friends who understand you like nobody else. Finding a supportive network of recovering addicts is like finding a great big family of people who just “get” where you’re coming from and who can share their experience and strength. They can act as guides on your journey and help you find your way on the road to Recovery.

Where to Go for Treatment – 7 Summit Pathways

If you recognize yourself in these signs and symptoms and you’re ready to get help for a Substance Use Disorder, it’s time to call 7 Summit Pathways. We are an addiction treatment center in Tampa that offers supportive treatment for Substance Use Disorder.

Our center follows a philosophy called the “7 Dimensions of Wellness.” These include:

  1. Physical Wellness
  2. Emotional Wellness
  3. Social Wellness
  4. Spiritual Wellness
  5. Environmental Wellness
  6. Occupational Wellness
  7. Intellectual Wellness

What does this mean to your Recovery? First, it means you’ll get a personalized plan of Recovery that’s tailored for you. We aren’t into cookie-cutter programs that fit everyone into the same mold. Not everyone came to their Substance Use Disorder in the same way, and not everyone needs the same treatment. We create a personal addiction treatment program to help you on the road to Recovery.

We look at all of the aspects of Substance Use Disorder — physical, mental and spiritual. We also take into account your work and your vocation, your studies if you need to finish school, where you live and the support system you have around you so when you leave our addiction treatment center in Tampa, you can continue your journey to wellness when you get home.

At 7 Summit Pathways, you’ll feel welcomed from the moment you arrive. Your journey back to health starts with detoxification. We offer medically assisted substance use detoxification to help you feel comfortable and to keep you well as your body adapts to life without substances. Detoxification is supervised by Board Certified Addiction Medicine specialists, so you’re in good hands throughout the process.

Once you complete detoxification, you’ll participate in a custom-tailored program to help you on the road to Recovery. Treatment includes programs to help heal your body, including physical well-being, mind/body sessions and nutritious meals. Yoga, acupuncture, expressive arts, meditation and other holistic therapies provide support for mental and physical healing. Chiropractic care and guidance by a nutritionist can help deepen the relationship between mind and body. Individual and group counseling will help you understand the disease of addiction and help you work through issues that may be hindering your Recovery.

You’re feeling hopeless, scared, totally alone and wondering how it ever got this bad. You are afraid to let anyone know and your life has become a big secret. You want it to end, but you don’t know how. Many of us have been there. Our experienced clinical staff and physicians have spent a lifetime helping thousands. We know what it takes and we are dedicated to giving you what works. Call us — it will change your life!

Call 7 Summit Pathways Treatment and Recovery Center for a free phone consultation now at 844-920-2382.

Contact Us Today

If you or someone you love is struggling with Substance Use Disorder, it’s time to find a way back to health. 7 Summit Pathways offers a holistic, personal treatment model that has worked for many. Start your journey to Recovery with us.

Insurance and Payment Options

We accept most insurance plans including:

Aetna Logo
Allegiance Logo
Anthem Logo
Beacon Health Options Logo
Blue Cross Blue Shield Logo
Cigna Logo
First Choice Health Logo
Health Choice Logo
Humana Logo
Medridian Health Logo
MultiPlan Logo
United Healthcare Logo
Value Options Logo

Call now to Verify your Benefits

If you or a loved one is seeking help for an addiction, contact us today.

Call us and get help now 800-719-8115.