What is substance use disorder and how does it differ from substance abuse?

Approximately 46 million people struggle with substance use disorder (SUD). These individuals have an intense focus on using substances like alcohol, tobacco, or illicit drugs, to the point where their ability to function in everyday life is affected.1 Terms that fall under the larger grouping of SUD, include:2, 3

  • Addiction – a psychological and/or physical dependence on the use of alcohol or other drugs. Addiction is often used interchangeably with dependence.
  • Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) – A brain disorder that is characterized by an inability to stop or control alcohol even in the face of negative social, occupational, or health consequences.

Substance Abuse, on the other hand, entails overusing a substance and utilizing it in a manner that it was not meant to be used.4 While a cause for concern, substance abuse is not considered to be the same as addiction.


1. Colon-Rivera, H.; Balasanova, A., (2020 December). What is Substance Use Disorder? American Psychiatric Association. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction-substance-use-disorders/

2. American Psychological Association (n.d.). Substance use, abuse, and addiction. https://www.apa.org/topics/substance-use-abuse-addiction

3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (2020). Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/understanding-alcohol-use-disorder

4. WebMD Connect to Care Staff (2021, July 12). Substance Abuse vs. Addiction: What’s the difference? WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/connect-to-care/addiction-treatment-recovery/