Substance Use Disorder

Substance misuse refers to the harmful use of substances for non-medical purposes in ways that may lead to health, social, legal, financial, or other problems. This may involve consuming substances in amounts or with methods that are harmful to oneself or others, in larger amounts, more frequently, or for a longer duration than initially intended. 

It is not uncommon for college students to experiment with substances such as alcohol, marijuana, stimulants, or other drugs. While some individuals may use substances recreationally without significant problems, substance misuse can affect academic performance, mental health, relationships, and overall well-being. Individuals struggling with substance misuse may find it challenging to reduce or cease use despite their intentions.

The complexity of substance use issues is often influenced by multiple biological, psychological, and social factors. Mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, trauma, ADHD, and others sometimes exist alongside substance use concerns. Stigma and shame can prevent students from seeking support. A compassionate, non-judgmental approach is important when addressing substance use to support each person's path to recovery and well-being. 

Signs and Symptoms of Problematic Use:

Problematic substance use may involve some of the following:

  • Loss of control - Unsuccessful attempts to cut back or quit use despite a desire to do so.
  • Cravings - Intense urges or desires to use substances.
  • Excessive time spent using - Spending increasing amounts of time obtaining, using, or recovering from substances.
  • Hazardous use - Continued use despite physical, social, academic, or legal consequences.
  • Tolerance - Needing more of a substance to get a desired effect.
  • Withdrawal - Experiencing negative physical and psychological symptoms when not using.
  • Neglecting activities - Decline in engagement with non-substance related hobbies, self-care, academics, etc.
  • Secrecy - Hiding substance use from others due to shame or stigma.
  • Rationalizing use - Making excuses to justify excessive or problematic substance use.

These signs can vary greatly between individuals. Noticing them provides opportunities to seek help.

Effects of Problematic Substance Misuse:

Some potential effects of problematic substance misuse include:

  • Mood changes - Substances can alter mood, causing fluctuations in emotions. Some may use substances to avoid or cope with uncomfortable feelings.
  • Impaired cognition and concentration - Intoxication and substance misuse can diminish focus, motivation, learning, and academic performance.
  • Strained relationships - Substance misuse may strain connections with friends, family, and partners due to unpredictable behavior, secrecy, or breaches of trust.
  • Risky behaviors - Disinhibition and impaired judgment under the influence may lead to unsafe sexual practices, driving, or other risky behavior.
  • Physical dependence - Prolonged misuse can result in tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, and an inability to stop using despite the desire to quit.
  • Legal issues - Substance misuse raises risks of legal consequences such as DUI citations or possession charges.
  • Financial problems - Obtaining substances can become costly over time, leading to financial distress.

As with any mental health concern, it is essential to approach substance misuse and its effects with understanding and compassion. Professional help and peer support can assist in managing use and minimizing harm.

What to Do if You're Concerned About Your Substance Use:

If you suspect you may be misusing substances, consider taking these steps:

  • Educate yourself about substance use and misuse, including what resources are available. Understanding the issues can motivate change.
  • Seek counseling to uncover underlying reasons for use, build coping skills, and work toward change.
  • Consider meeting with a medical provider. Medical guidance can assist in the safe reduction or cessation of use.
  • Explore community recovery meetings and peer support groups. It can be helpful to connect with others with similar experiences. Some groups are available both in person and online. 
  • Identify personal triggers leading to substance use. Find ways to navigate urges and triggers without using.
  • Implement harm reduction strategies like avoiding risky situations, pacing consumption, and planning transportation.
  • Build a network of supportive friends, family, and professionals. Social support aids recovery.
  • Replace substance use with new hobbies and activities that stimulate reward pathways in the brain.
  • Consider periods of abstinence from substances, starting with small goals like a few days at a time.

Seeking help for substance misuse requires courage, but support is available. Prioritizing health and well-being today can prevent greater struggles tomorrow.

What to know about seeking help


Weber State University’s Policies and Procedure Manual Student Code under section 6.3 outlines categories for which students may be subject to University discipline. Important sections include

  • 6.3.22 which states, “Unlawful use, possession, distribution, sale, manufacture, or possession for purposes of distribution or sale of any controlled substance or illegal drug;” 
  • 6.3.23, “sale, possession, manufacture, distribution, or consumption of alcoholic beverages on University premises;” and 
  • 6.3.25, “smoking in unauthorized locations on University premises in violation of state law, University, or public health regulations.” 

Understandably, students may have privacy concerns when seeking help for substance use and it is important to understand the laws in place to protect patient information. The Federal Government has two privacy laws that protect patient information. 

  • HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) protects patient information; it does not allow for disclosure of patient information without patient consent for treatment, payment, or healthcare operations. 
  • 42 CFR part 2 applies to federally-funded organizations that provide substance use disorder treatment. This policy restricts disclosure of information that would identify a patient as having or having had a substance use disorder. 


Seeking mental health or substance use treatment is a personal journey and there is no singular correct approach. Different options may suit different individuals and situations. Understanding your values, needs, and goals is key in finding the right treatment fit. Some common treatment types include:

  • Abstinence-based: Focused on completely avoiding substance use or specific behaviors. May involve rehabilitation, intensive outpatient programs, or support groups. Best suited for those seeking or requiring total abstinence.
  • Harm-reduction: Aims to minimize negative consequences of substance use without requiring abstinence. Strategies include managed use, safer consumption, medication-assisted treatment. Helpful for those unable or not wanting to fully abstain. 
  • Counseling/Therapy: Addresses underlying mental health issues through therapy modalities such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing. This may help individuals understand causes of use and aid in decreasing or stopping use. 
  • Medication-Assisted: Uses medication to reduce cravings, withdrawal, and relapse risk. Often combined with psychotherapy. Helpful for treating physical dependence.
  • Peer support groups: Connects individuals in recovery through shared experiences. Provides understanding and empowerment. Can be beneficial at supplementing other treatment methods.
  • Alternative therapies: Uses holistic techniques like meditations, yoga, art therapy, and others to complement treatment. Can help manage stress and emotions that contribute to use. 

Tailoring your treatment:

  • Collaboration: Work closely with your medical and mental health providers to determine the most fitting treatment plan that works for you, your goals, values, and expectations.
  • Communication: Maintain open dialogue with your team to discuss progress and any needed adjustments.

Seeking help takes courage. Be patient in finding the approach that aligns with your values, situation, and aspirations. The right treatment plan is one that works for your individual and unique experiences and context. 



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