Understanding substance use and recovery


By Anna Gardner, Collegiate Recovery Program Coordinator/ Clinical Counselor

Substance use disorder (SUD) is the problematic use of substances. This disorder exists on a spectrum from mild to severe, and includes physiological and psychological dependence. While the physiological dependence on a substance often has very observable symptoms, psychological dependence may be less readily apparent.

Causes of substance use disorder are many and varied, but often involve a genetic component. Frequent and excessive use of a substance also increases the likelihood of developing a SUD. While only a licensed practitioner can diagnose SUD, a diagnosis is not necessary to reduce risk, or enter recovery. Some signs of a substance use disorder include:

  • Problems at school or work including attendance issues
  • Engaging in risky behaviors while using substances (i.e. driving, having unsafe sex)
  • Increased frequency and amount of use
  • Behaving in secretive or suspicious ways
  • Changes in appetite, sleep, or sudden weight change
  • Sudden change in personality, or mood swings
  • Changes in socialization (i.e. spending less time with friends/ family, or excessive time with certain friends or at parties/ bars)
  • Legal issues related to substance use
  • Increased need for money or other financial problems
  • The continued use of substances even though it causes relationship problems

What is recovery? The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a working definition of recovery, “A process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential.” Recovery can look different for everyone, but some basics commonalities exist.

Improvement in health and wellness will often correspond with a reduction of risky/ unhealthy activities. This may reflect decreased use of substances, abstinence from a substance, harm reduction around use, and/ or replacement treatments. Recovery is not just about the “absence of,” but about the “addition of” and includes increased healthy activities, support, connection, and a journey of mental and physical healing and wellness.

SAMHSA outlines eight dimensions of wellness: emotional, environmental, financial, intellectual, occupational, physical, social, and spiritual. When seeking recovery, and while in recovery, it is imperative to have support. Support can include clinical treatment, community or peer support groups, family and friends, faith based organizations, and recovery centers. There are also online communities, resources, and even apps that can be helpful. There are many pathways to recovery and support groups include 12-step groups, All Recovery, SMART Recovery, Queer Recovery, Mindfulness Groups and others.

Colleges and universities across the country have established Collegiate Recovery Programs (CRPs) or Collegiate Recovery Centers (CRCs), as a comprehensive form of support services to meet the needs of college students in recovery. USM’s CRC is the Recovery Oriented Campus Center (ROCC). For USM students in recovery or seeking recovery, the ROCC is a place for peer support and activities that encourage recovery. ROCC peers may have experienced their own struggles with substance use or mental health or they may be allies to those in recovery. ROCC programing includes peer led support groups, trainings, and social events. The ROCC is located on the Portland Campus on the top floor of Sullivan. Counseling to address substance use is also available through University Counseling Services in Portland and Gorham.


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