Substance Use Disorder Symptoms: What You Need to Know

Learn more about the types of substance use disorder symptoms that may affect you or a loved one. Read on to learn more about symptoms and types of care.

How Black Horse Health Can Support You Through Substance Use Disorder Symptoms

At Black Horse Health, we understand how devastating the effects of substance use disorder symptoms can be. Substance use disorder can lead to detrimental impacts on mental, physical, emotional, financial, and social well-being. 

Our team of skilled and compassionate specialists have over 100 years of combined experience, and we are committed to helping you or your loved one lead a fulfilling life by helping you heal and work through the symptoms of your substance use disorder.

With comprehensive wellness services including medication-assisted treatment, trauma-focused therapies, and medical detox, we will create a path to recovery that best meets your unique needs, goals, and experiences.

Steps Toward Sustainable Recovery

Learn more about our substance use disorder programs, other treatment opportunities, and how our Black Horse Health team of specialists can help you recover in this comprehensive article.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to our team for more information or to begin your path to wellness today. We’re here to help you harness the power of healing.

substance use disorder symptoms

What is Substance Use Disorder?

A substance use disorder (SUD) is characterized by the compulsive use of one or more substances. This leads to significant impairment in daily life, health, or well-being. Substance use disorder symptoms can vary depending on the individual, the substance they use, and the severity of their addiction.1

Substance use disorders can involve a wide range of substances, including:

  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Prescription drugs, such as opioids, sedatives, or stimulants
  • Illicit drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine

Important Note About Substance Use Disorders

It’s important to note that substance use disorders are recognized as medical conditions in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). They can have serious health and social consequences, but they are also treatable.

Effective treatment often involves a combination of therapy, medication, and support from healthcare professionals and support networks. Early intervention and treatment can significantly improve an individual’s chances of recovery and long-term sobriety.

What Are Common Substance Use Disorder Symptoms?

Substance use disorder can manifest with various signs and symptoms. The severity of these symptoms can vary depending on the individual and the substance involved.

Here are common signs and symptoms associated with SUD:2


One of the most notable substance use disorder symptoms is intense and frequent cravings for the substance. This leads to a strong desire to use it. These cravings can be detrimental to an individual’s daily life.

Loss of Control

This is an inability to control the amount or frequency of substance use. It often results in an individual using more of the substance than intended. It may also lead to someone trying unsuccessfully to cut down or quit using a substance.


Developing a tolerance to a substance is another one of the key substance use disorder symptoms. Tolerance means that over time, the individual needs increasing amounts of the substance to achieve the desired effect. This can become dangerous very quickly and may lead to added symptoms.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Experiencing physical or psychological withdrawal symptoms when attempting to reduce or stop using the substance can be another indication of substance use disorder. These symptoms can be highly uncomfortable. They can include nausea, anxiety, sweating, and others, depending on the substance.

Neglecting Responsibilities

Neglecting important responsibilities at work, school, or home due to substance use can lead to poor performance or even job loss. As individuals spend more time finding and using substances, neglecting responsibilities can quickly follow.

Social and Interpersonal Problems

Substance use can cause conflict and difficulties in relationships with family members, friends, and colleagues. Individuals may become increasingly isolated from loved ones.

This can lead to a loss of support network, further leading the individual to feel alone. This can exacerbate substance use disorder symptoms quickly.

Loss of Interest

Another key facet of substance use disorder symptoms is losing interest in previously enjoyed activities and hobbies. This generally occurs because the substance takes precedence over other interests and responsibilities.

Risky Behaviors

Some individuals may engage in risky behaviors while under the influence of the substance. This can include behaviors like driving while impaired, having unprotected sex, or taking part in illegal activities.

Failed Attempts to Quit

This is when an individual repeatedly tries to quit or cut down on substance use without success. As dependence on the substance grows, quitting becomes harder for the individual. Many substances alter the brain’s chemistry as well, further leading to issues with quitting.

Time Spent on Substance Use

Many individuals with substance use disorder symptoms will spend a significant amount of time obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of the substance.

Physical and Health Issues

Many individuals also experience physical and mental health problems as a result of substance use. These can range from chronic health conditions, such as lung problems, to mental health issues like anxiety.

Some individuals with substance use disorder symptoms will also develop co-occurring disorders over time. This means that they will need treatment for both substance use and mental health disorders concurrently for holistic recovery.

Legal Problems

The involvement in legal issues, such as arrests or legal consequences, may also be related to substance use.

Financial Strain

This is when the individual is facing financial difficulties due to the cost of obtaining the substance. It may also be related to the consequences of substance-related problems, such as losing one’s job or facing legal problems.

Denial and Secrecy

This is when individuals deny or minimize the extent of the substance use problem. They may even often hide it from others.

Recognizing these signs and symptoms is a critical step in seeking help and initiating the recovery process. Treatment and support are available to help individuals regain control of their lives and achieve lasting recovery.

How Do Substance Use Disorder Symptoms Progress Over Time?

Substance use disorder symptoms can progress over time. The course of the disorder can vary depending on several factors, including individual characteristics and the presence of any co-occurring mental health issues.

There are generally three stages associated with substance use disorder. These include:3

Early Stage

The early stage of substance use disorder often begins with experimentation. This is when an individual tries a substance out of curiosity or peer pressure. At this stage, substance use may not necessarily lead to addiction.

Some individuals will continue to use substances recreationally and socially without significant problems or cravings. However, this is when an individual can become more interested in using the substance for longer periods of time.

Middle Stage

From this point on, continued use may progress to regular or frequent use. This is especially true if the substance provides relief from stress, pain, or emotional issues. As use continues, tolerance may develop.

Then, cravings for the substance become more pronounced. The individual may find it increasingly difficult to cut down or quit. When not using the substance, withdrawal symptoms emerge, making it uncomfortable or painful to stop. This can reinforce continued use.

At this point, the individual may use the substance more frequently and in larger quantities. This is often in an attempt to avoid withdrawal symptoms or to achieve the same euphoric feeling as before.

Late Stage

In late-stage substance use disorder, a state of physical and psychological dependence is reached. The substance becomes central to the individual’s daily life, and efforts to quit are met with strong resistance.

At this point, physical and mental health problems associated with substance use may become more severe. This can lead to chronic health conditions and co-occurring mental health disorders. Also, relationships with family and friends may deteriorate, and social isolation can occur.

How Tolerance and Withdrawal Affect Substance Use Disorder Symptoms: A Closer Look

As mentioned, tolerance and withdrawal are two key factors that play a significant role in developing and recognizing substance use disorder symptoms. They are important indicators of the changes that occur with addiction.


An individual’s tolerance often grows over time with increasing use of substances. Other important factors to note include:

  • Role in Development: When an individual begins using a substance, they may experience a strong euphoric effect. However, with continued use, the body adapts to the substance’s presence, requiring higher doses to achieve the same level of intoxication or relief.
  • Recognition of SUD: Tolerance can be a warning sign of developing SUD when individuals consistently need more of the substance to achieve the desired effect. It indicates that the body is adjusting to the substance, and it can lead to increased consumption.


Withdrawal refers to the symptoms that occur when an individual stops or reduces their use of a substance after becoming physically dependent on it. Withdrawal symptoms are often the opposite of the substance’s effects and can be highly uncomfortable or even painful.

Withdrawal effects can be very dangerous and affect the individual in the following ways:

  • Role in Development: Withdrawal symptoms serve as a powerful motivator for continued substance use. Individuals may use the substance to avoid or alleviate these unpleasant symptoms.
  • Recognition of SUD: The presence of withdrawal symptoms when an individual attempts to quit or cut down on substance use is a clear indication of physical dependence.

Recognizing the Role of Tolerance and Withdrawal in SUD

Tolerance and withdrawal are important factors in determining substance use disorder symptoms and struggles. These two factors can affect the diagnosis of SUD in various ways, such as:4

Diagnostic Criteria

Tolerance and withdrawal are explicitly included in the diagnostic criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Individuals are assessed for the development of tolerance and withdrawal as part of the diagnostic process.

Indicators of Severity

The presence and severity of tolerance and withdrawal can also indicate the severity of the SUD. Individuals who experience more pronounced tolerance and withdrawal symptoms may be at a higher level of risk and may require more intensive treatment.

Treatment Considerations

Tolerance and withdrawal influence the treatment approach. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) may be used to manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings in some cases.

Are There Specific Risk Factors for an Individual Developing Substance Use Disorder Symptoms?

There are specific risk factors that can make some individuals more prone to developing substance use disorder symptoms. These risk factors are often a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors.

While the presence of risk factors does not guarantee the development of SUD, they can increase an individual’s susceptibility.

Common SUD Risk Factors

Here are some common risk factors and vulnerabilities associated with SUD:

  • Family History: A family history of substance abuse or addiction can increase the risk of substance use disorder symptoms.
  • Genetic Variations: Specific genetic variations may affect how an individual responds to substances, such as their tolerance, sensitivity to the effects, and risk of addiction.
  • Mental Health Disorders: Co-occurring mental health conditions can increase the risk of SUD. Individuals may use substances to self-medicate or alleviate symptoms.
  • Personality Traits: Certain personality traits, such as impulsivity, can be associated with a higher risk of substance use disorder.
  • Trauma and Stress: Experiencing traumatic events or adverse childhood experiences can contribute to the development of SUD.
  • Peer Pressure: Associating with peers who use substances can influence an individual’s behavior and increase the likelihood of experimentation and regular use.
  • Neurobiology: Differences in brain structure and function can influence an individual’s response to substances and their vulnerability to addiction.
  • Physiological Factors: Variations in metabolism and the way the body processes substances can affect how individuals react to and become dependent on them.
  • Cultural Norms: Cultural factors, including cultural attitudes toward substance use, can shape an individual’s perception of and engagement in substance use.
  • Social Support: A lack of social support can increase vulnerability to SUD.

Note About Developing Substance Use Disorder Symptoms

It’s important to note that many individuals with one or more risk factors do not develop SUD. On the other hand, individuals without apparent risk factors can still develop addiction.

Protective Factors

Protective factors, such as a strong support system and positive coping skills, can mitigate the impact of risk factors and reduce the likelihood of SUD development.

A comprehensive approach to prevention and treatment should consider the interplay of these factors and tailor interventions accordingly.

substance use disorder symptoms

How Black Horse Health Can Help Treat Substance Use Disorder Symptoms

If you or a loved one are struggling with symptoms of substance use disorder, know that there is help available. Our expert team at Black Horse Health will work with you every step of the way to ensure that you get the treatment and assistance you need.

We can help treat your symptoms and addiction, understand the source of your mental health and addiction challenges, and empower you with healthy, sustainable coping mechanisms for long-term recovery.

Our holistic and comprehensive support also helps with:

Reach Out to Our Team at Black Horse Health and Begin Healing

No matter the severity of your SUD symptoms, we meet you where you are with your treatment needs. Our number one priority is ensuring that you feel supported throughout your treatment. We may recommend inpatient treatment, outpatient support, or aftercare options.

Start Your Healing Journey Today

Get in touch with us today. Our team is ready to help you or your loved one harness the power of wellness and lead the happy, healthy, and fulfilling life you were made for.