Substance Use Disorder

Offered in Ithaca, Orchard Park, Saratoga Springs and Binghamton, NY

Substance Use Disorder

Understanding Substance Use Disorder:
When to Ask for Help


What is Substance Use Disorder?

Substance use disorder (SUD) refers to a condition characterized by an individual's harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs. It is a chronic, relapsing disorder that can lead to significant impairment in various areas of life, including physical health, mental health, relationships, and overall functioning.

It's essential to recognize that experiencing substance use disorder is not a personal failure or a reflection of your character. Substance use disorder is a complex and multifaceted health condition influenced by genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Understanding that this challenge is not your fault can be a crucial step toward seeking help and embracing a compassionate, non-judgmental approach to your journey of recovery. Seeking professional support is a proactive choice that emphasizes healing and the development of effective coping strategies, highlighting the importance of self-compassion on the path to recovery.

What does Substance Use Disorder Look Like?

Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is characterized by a range of signs, including loss of control over substance use, intense cravings, physical symptoms like tolerance and withdrawal, neglect of responsibilities, social isolation, continued use despite negative consequences, loss of interest in previous activities, unsuccessful attempts to quit, secrecy, and legal or financial issues. The severity of these symptoms varies, and a professional assessment is essential for an accurate diagnosis and tailored treatment. SUD is a complex health condition influenced by genetic, environmental, and psychological factors, and seeking help is a crucial step toward recovery.

Key features of substance use disorder include:

  • Impaired Control: Difficulty in controlling substance use, leading to using larger amounts or for longer periods than intended.
  • Social Impairment: Substance use interferes with social, occupational, or recreational activities.
  • Risky Use: Continued substance use despite awareness of recurrent physical or psychological problems related to use.

Pharmacological Criteria: The development of tolerance (needing more of the substance to achieve the same effect) and withdrawal symptoms when not using.


When to seek help

Determining when to seek mental health therapy for substance use disorder depends on various factors, including the severity of your symptoms, the impact on your daily life, and your readiness for change. However, it's generally advisable to consider seeking therapy if you experience:

  • Loss of Control: If you find it challenging to cut down or control your substance use, despite wanting to do so.
  • Negative Consequences: If substance use is causing problems in your relationships, work, legal issues, or physical health. 
  • Failed Attempts to Quit: If you've tried to quit or cut down on substance use but have been unsuccessful.
  • Concerns from Others: If friends, family, or colleagues express concern about your substance use.
  • Personal Distress: If you feel distressed, anxious, or depressed about your substance use and its consequences.
  • Tolerance and Withdrawal: If you experience increasing tolerance or withdrawal symptoms, indicating physical dependence.

How We Can Help

Seeking mental health therapy for substance use disorder can be beneficial at any stage. The therapists can provide support, help you explore the underlying issues contributing to your substance use, and assist in developing coping strategies and a treatment plan. Different therapeutic approaches, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational enhancement therapy (MET), and contingency management, are commonly used in the treatment of substance use disorders.

  1. Counseling and Psychotherapy: Individual or group therapy sessions to address the underlying psychological factors contributing to substance use and develop coping strategies.
  2. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Focuses on identifying and modifying negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with substance use.
  3. Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET): A counseling approach that aims to evoke internal motivation to change substance use behavior.
  4. Support Groups: Participation in mutual support groups helps you to to share experiences and gain support from peers.
  5. Family Therapy: Involves family members in the treatment process, addressing the impact of substance use on family dynamics and relationships.
  6. Holistic Therapies: Complementary approaches that address the whole person in order to increase well being.

Taking the First Steps

It's important to consult with a mental health professional to discuss your specific situation and determine the most appropriate course of action. One of our Whole Wellness clinicians can help determine the most appropriate course of action based on your unique situation. If your substance use is severe or involves physical dependence, your therapist may suggest you seek medical intervention and detoxification under the guidance of healthcare professionals.