Substance Use Disorders—Pharmacological Criteria

Hi Everyone! Welcome back. We’re wrapping up our discussion on Understanding Substance Use Disorders. You can take a look at the previous posts in the series by clicking the link below. This is a short post, but feel free to like or share on social media. You can also subscribe to the blog, and feel free to start up a discussion in the comments section.

Understanding Substance Use Disorders

Pharmacological criteria are described as either Tolerance or Withdrawal Symptoms. The other criteria we’ve looked at describe interactions with the world around you—your family, your job, your hobbies, or other aspects in your life you value. Pharmacological criteria refer to the physiological affect that substances can have on your body.

Tolerance is defined in two ways:

A need for markedly increased amounts of a substance to achieve the desired effect OR

A markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of a substance.

This phenomenon has to do with brain chemistry, and I’m currently working on a video or infographic to explain exactly how that happens. Basically, all drugs of abuse create adaptations in your brain that lower the amount of naturally occurring feel-good hormones. That’s because your brain is compensating for the fact that drugs of abuse cause an unnatural and temporary huge increase in your feel-good hormones. This means that with long-term use your feel-good hormones get lower and lower. Eventually, you get to a point where you are using substances to feel normal, or increasing the amount you use to get a similar feeling. Don’t worry if it seems confusing. We’ll talk more about it later.

Withdrawal is defined in two ways. The first is:

You experience the characteristic withdrawal syndrome for a given substance.

Withdrawal symptoms vary for different drugs. With alcohol you could experience seizures or delirium tremens. Alcohol is considered by many professionals to be one of the most dangerous detoxes a person can go through. Heroin withdrawal includes body pains, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. All drugs have emotional withdrawal symptoms as well. This includes cravings. Physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms with vary from person to person and substance to substance.

The second way withdrawal is defined is:

The substance or a closely related substance (alcohol and benzos, heroin and methadone) is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

This is pretty self-explanatory, and is often medically necessary. When a person goes into a medically supervised detox, medications are often used to counteract withdrawal symptoms and wean a person off substances of abuse.

So there you have it—Pharmacological Criteria. Let me know if you have questions, and definitely share this post with anyone who might find it useful.