Substance use disorder

When you hear the phrase “substance use disorder,” you might also think of substance abuse, addiction or dependence. While each term is similar, they have some differences. You see, many who may misuse substances may not have a substance use disorder. That said, 21 million Americans do struggle with a substance use disorder in some capacity.1 Their condition may not be controlling their life, but it’s a health risk, nonetheless, and may be a reason to warrant getting help.2 It’s important to understand what substance use disorder is so you can recognize it and try to get people help as soon as possible.

What is a substance use disorder?

You might be wondering what’s considered a substance. A substance is anything that has mood and mind-altering effects. Things like, alcohol, pain medications and illegal drugs. A substance use disorder is a medical condition that may affect the brain and body. 3 Someone with a substance use disorder has to meet certain criteria in order to get a formal diagnosis. Some of those criteria may include the regular use of substances even though it might negatively impact that person’s quality of life (like failure to meet major responsibilities or poor health).4  

Remember, substance use disorder is a disease – not a failure of will or weakness of character. 3 It can be serious and life-threatening. The good news? It may be treatable. In fact, many people can recover if they seek the proper counseling right away. Call the 24-hour Substance Use Helpline at 1-855-780-5955 / TTY 711 to speak with a licensed clinician.5

When should I call the Substance Use Helpline?

Concerned about yourself or a loved one? We’ve got resources for you. Call the 24-hour Substance Use Helpline at 1-855-780-5955 / TTY 711 to talk to a specialized substance use recovery advocate. You’ll get confidential support, guidance on recommended treatment options, help finding a network provider and answers to many of your questions — including concerns about your personal health or care for a family member, coverage, cost of care and more. Even if you’re not 100% sure it’s time to take next steps, talking with a recovery advocate may help you decide what might be best for you or your loved one.

Substance abuse support and resources

If you believe you need help right away — for yourself or a loved one — call 911 or use the emergency numbers below.

Substance Use Helpline — 1-855-780-5955

If you feel that you or a loved one are experiencing signs of addiction, call the confidential helpline to get support, guidance on treatment options, help finding a network provider and answers to your questions.

National Domestic Violence Hotline — 1-800-799-7233 | 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)

Get help with crisis intervention, information and referrals to local services for victims of domestic violence and those calling on their behalf.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — 1-800-273-8255 | 1-800-799-4889 (TTY)

If you or someone you know is in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, get emergency help right away. Contact the lifeline for 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress and prevention and crisis resources for you or loved ones. You can also find 24/7 support through an online chat called Lifeline Chat.

The Crisis Text Line — Text “Home” to 741741

The Crisis Text Line is a free resource available 24/7 to help you connect with a crisis counselor.

Employee Assistance Program (EAP) — 1-888-887-4114 / TTY 711

If your health plan includes EAP, you can call our coordinators 24/7 for a no-cost, confidential assessment of your situation and a referral to licensed professionals and services. Not sure if EAP is included in your health plan? Call the number on your health plan ID card to find out.


  1. Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, 2016.
  2. Addiction vs. Dependence: Differences in Drug Abuse Terms, 2021. 
  3. Drug addiction (substance use disorder) - Symptoms and causes, 2017. 
  4. Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders | SAMHSA, 2020. 
  5. Live and Work Well Substance Use Disorders 2021.
  6. Drug addiction: Risk factors, 2019.
  7. Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction DrugFacts | National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2019.