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Substance-Related Disorders

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

Recent estimates indicate that nearly 21 million adults in the United States have a substance-related addictive disorder. Substance-related disorders are diagnosed when the use of any substance, whether recreational or prescribed, becomes excessive and leads to significant impairment or distress.


Substance-related disorders are generally divided into two groups: substance-induced disorders and substance-use disorders. Substance-induced conditions include:

  • intoxication
  • withdrawal
  • other mental disorders that can be caused by substances, such as psychotic disorders and sleep disorders

All substance-use disorders are characterized by the continued use of substances despite their causing significant problems in important areas of an individual's life, such as family, school, or work. These disorders cause an underlying change in the brain of the user, the consequences of which can be seen in the repeated relapses and intense drug cravings experienced by many users.

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While there does not appear to be a single cause, some people are more predisposed than others to developing substance-use disorders. This predisposition is based on genetic and environmental factors that vary from person to person. Many people with substance-use disorders have more than one addiction or mental health issue. Children of parents with substance-use disorders are at higher than average risk of developing the disorders themselves. Substance-use disorders and withdrawal symptoms can also be caused by the addictive nature of the substances.


Substance-related disorders are treated like any chronic disease that may be managed or go into remission but with a chance that relapse could occur. While medical attention is not usually required for some substance-related disorders, such as those that involve overuse of tobacco, cannabis, or caffeine, medication or behavioral interventions, including recovery programs and support groups (such as AA) can help a person deal with cravings and other symptoms of withdrawal and improve the likelihood of quitting substance use for good.

American Psychiatric Association. Understanding Mental Disorders: Your Guide to DSM-5. 2015. American Psychiatric Publishing.
Hartz SM, Pato CN, Medeiros H et al. Comorbidity of severe psychotic disorders with measures of substance use. JAMA Psychiatry. 2014;71(3):248-254
Last updated: 03/25/2019