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You’re Not Alone: Understanding and Treating Substance Use Disorder

You’re Not Alone: Understanding and Treating Substance Use Disorder



Addiction is a chronic disease that can affect anyone. It is not a moral failing or a sign of character weakness. People of all different backgrounds can experience addiction regardless of race, income, age, location, housing situation, or education.

Substance use disorders are results of changes in the brain that make drug use difficult, or even impossible, to stop. A health care provider may diagnose substance use disorder when alcohol or drug use (both legal and illegal) begins to have a negative effect on one's life, to the extent that someone is unable to have the quality of life they had before they started using alcohol or drugs. Diagnoses can be mild, moderate, or severe.

In 2019, more than 20 million people in the United States were diagnosed with a substance use disorder. According to that same report, only 10.3% of that population received treatment.

Substance Use Disorder Symptoms

Substance use can affect the quality of your life. The following are common substance use disorder symptoms you may experience if you’re struggling with drug or alcohol use:

  • Feeling dependent on the drug to function
  • Having intense urges or cravings that control your thoughts
  • Developing a higher tolerance or withdrawal symptoms
  • Maintaining a constant supply of the drug
  • Spending money on the drug, even though you can't afford it
  • Forgoing obligations and responsibilities, including work or family
  • Withdrawing from social or recreational activities
  • Experiencing extreme mood or behavioral changes
  • Engaging in risky activities and behaviors
  • Finding yourself unable to stop using the drug

Family members and friends concerned about a loved one may notice these signs as well:

  • Frequently missing or declining in performance at school or work
  • A sudden disinterest in hobbies or commitments
  • Physical health issues, including a lack of energy and motivation, weight loss or gain, red eyes, and increased injuries
  • Neglecting one’s physical appearance
  • Changes in behavior or relationships
  • Sudden and/or frequent requests for money

Keys to Prevention

You can reduce the likelihood of developing a substance use disorder by understanding risk factors, identifying symptoms early, and educating yourself about addiction. Risk factors are not the same for each person, and there are many variables that can influence a person’s chance of developing a substance use disorder. Considerations that may increase the likelihood of the disease include family history of a substance use disorder, childhood trauma and abuse, or exposure to community violence. Many primary care providers (PCPs) and specialists routinely ask patients about their substance use to better understand how they can help the patient’s overall health.

By recognizing personal risk factors, delaying or avoiding alcohol and drug use, and educating youth about its potential health impacts, we can work together to help build healthier communities and prevent substance use disorders.

Recovery is Possible

You’re not alone when it comes to overcoming a substance use disorder. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of strength. Recovery is possible and can begin at any time. Treatment is tailored to help an individual meet his or her goals and can involve outpatient counseling visits (both in person or telehealth); inpatient or residential treatment; individual, group, or family counseling; and/or peer support groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous.

Talk to your health care provider about which treatment options may be right for you. You may need to meet with your PCP or behavioral health provider regularly, especially within the first month of treatment. Make sure to schedule a follow-up visit with your PCP within a week of being discharged if hospital services or emergency care is required. With any substance use disorder provider that you see, sign a release of information so your doctor can share your diagnosis, treatment plan, and progress with your entire health care team. Your providers can better support you in helping you to reach your goals when they have a shared understanding of your health.

Are you ready to start your journey to recovery, or are you wondering how to help someone with a substance use disorder? These resources can offer support and guidance.

  • Call Colorado Crisis Services at 844-493-8255 or text “TALK” to 38255 for immediate crisis support.
  • Advocates For Recovery Colorado offers support and services to individuals and family members suffering from active addiction.
  • Tough as a Mother is a statewide initiative of Signal, Diversus Health, Mental Health Partners, and West Slope Casa and is a resource specifically for mothers and pregnant women.
  • The Colorado Department of Human Services, Office of Behavioral Health offers a referral resource called Colorado LADDERS with information and services for prevention, treatment, and recovery from substance use and mental health conditions.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers resources for families who are coping with substance use disorder.
  • RMHP can also provide and connect Members with tools and community resources.

Remember: help is available. You’re never alone in this journey!