Substance use disorder (SUD) can be a problem for teens and adolescents from all backgrounds and ethnicities. It is an increasing public health concern in Arkansas as well as across the United States. Many young people have experienced the social, financial and health problems associated with SUD through a family history of this behavior. They may have inherited a physical tendency toward misusing drugs or alcohol.

The most common SUDs in the United States include usage disorders for alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, stimulants (amphetamines, methamphetamines and cocaine are most common), hallucinogens (LSD, peyote and psilocybin mushrooms) and opioids (oxycodone, hydrocodone and heroin).

Substance misuse refers to a recurring overuse of or dependence on drugs and/or alcohol leading to significant impairment. Impairment includes health problems, disability, or failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school or home.

Links to mental illness

Mental health problems can lead to a SUD, as some people with a mental health problem misuse drugs or alcohol as a way to self-medicate. Conversely, use of some substances can cause one or more symptoms of mental illness. More than 25 percent of adults living with serious mental illness also have a substance use problem. Substance use problems occur more frequently with certain mental health problems, including depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia and personality disorders.

Mental illness and SUDs share some underlying causes, including inherited vulnerabilities, changes in brain composition and early exposure to stress or trauma.


SUD symptoms may include behavioral, physical and social changes.

Behavioral changes may include:

  • Drop in attendance and performance at work or school
  • Frequently getting into trouble (fights, accidents, illegal activities)
  • Using substances in physically hazardous situations such as while driving
  • Engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Unexplained change in personality or attitude
  • Sudden mood swings, irritability or angry outbursts
  • Periods of unusual hyperactivity, agitation or giddiness
  • Lack of motivation
  • Appearing fearful, anxious or paranoid with no reason

Physical changes can include:

  • Bloodshot eyes and abnormally sized pupils
  • Sudden weight loss or weight gain
  • Deterioration of physical appearance
  • Unusual smells on breath, body or clothing
  • Tremors, slurred speech or impaired coordination

Social changes, such as:

  • Sudden change in friends, favorite hangouts and hobbies
  • Legal problems related to substance use
  • Unexplained need for money or financial problems
  • Continuing to use substances even if it causes relationship problems

SUDs usually begin in adolescence or early adulthood. These disorders affect up to 30 percent of U.S. adults with approximately 9 percent of adolescents having a drug-use disorder and 6 percent an alcohol-use disorder.

Although most teens who use drugs or alcohol do not become addicted, even limited substance use can have a significant impact on a teen’s ability to function at school and in the community and on his or her relationships with family and peers.


There are resources available and specific steps to take to increase the chances for a successful recovery from SUD. Treatment can include rehabilitation, talk therapy, medications and support groups. Patients with both mental illness and SUD must treat both problems.

The first steps toward recovery should be recognition that substance misuse has become a problem and a willingness to seek help. A doctor or other health care provider can recommend a therapist, counselor or treatment facility. There are support services that can help the patient and his or her family.

Intervention Resource Center 1-888-421-4321