Substance Use Disorders | Information for Professionals

What are substance use disorders?

A substance use disorder (SUD) is a mental disorder in which there is uncontrolled use of a substance. The substance and the need to obtain the substance affects the individual’s brain and behaviour, often leading to harmful consequences. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. A person’s ability to function in their day-to-day life may be impacted.

Common substances of abuse include:

New drugs of abuse to be aware of include:

Substance use disorders in the perinatal period

In addition to the general risks of alcohol use and illicit substance use, substance use can lead to following complications during pregnancy:

Little is known about how substances can impact an infant when a mother is breastfeeding and using illicit substances. Research has suggested the following:

Which patients are at greater risk?

Obstetric patients that are at greater risk of a SUD:

Comorbid mental disorders

About half of individuals who experience a SUD during their lives will also experience a co-occurring mental disorder and vice versa. Among the more commonly seen diagnoses in patients with SUD are:  

Screening options

PEACE for Moms recommends universal screening for substance use disorders for all pregnant patients. All those identified with unhealthy use of alcohol or other substances should receive an intervention. Those who manage to abstain during pregnancy may have a return of their substance usage during the postpartum.  

Screening tools can be handed to the patient in the waiting room or sent to the patient with their admission package.

You can open the discussion by asking questions about alcohol, illegal drugs, and prescription drug use.

Diagnosis and assessment

When the possibility of an SUD has been established through screening, history, or one or more clinical findings, the patient should undergo a comprehensive assessment to determine:

It is not the intent of PEACE for Moms to turn its obstetric and primary care colleagues into substance abuse counsellors. If you are concerned a patient may be suffering from an SUD, please reach out to us to help you find services for your patients.

Treatment options

Treatment for substance use needs to be tailored to an individual’s specific combination of disorders and symptoms. The person’s age, the misused substance, the amount of substance used, the length of time it has been used, comorbid psychiatric diagnoses and psychosocial circumstances must all be considered when developing a treatment plan for the patient. Treatment may include attendance at a substance abuse treatment program, self-help programs like NA or AA, and psychotherapy.  Pharmacotherapy may be used to detox the patient, or deter the further usage of drugs of abuse.

Resources to Share with Your Patients