What is substance use disorder?

Substance use disorder, otherwise known as addiction, is a mental disorder in which individuals have pathological behaviours towards using substances despite the negative consequences that follow. The substances used typically activate a part of the brain and cause feelings of euphoria or pleasure. Substances that may be used include alcohol, heroin, cocaine, prescription drugs, cannabis, methamphetamines, amphetamines, hallucinogens and inhalants. Individuals who suffer from substance use disorder feel an intense urge or craving to use the substance, even if it means neglecting daily activities and priorities.

Previously substance disorders were divided into abuse (those who were just indulging) and dependence (those who were addicted), however this distinction seemed to imply that a person who simply abuses substances is not in need of assistance and only those who are dependant are at risk of mental illness. Substance abuse generally leads to dependence, it’s also important to note that the other effects of substances; poor decision making, impulsivity, disinhibition, as well as psychosis and mood changes will occur with any form of use and not only in people who are in fact dependant or addicted. These are some of the reasons why substance abuse and dependence were combined under 1 diagnosis – Substance Use Disorders. This also emphasises the fact that any form of substance use requires intervention, all substances affect the brain and cause disturbances in the chemicals of the brain, as well as affecting brain structures in the long term and causing decline in mental capabilities. Other people use substances in order to cope with stress, induce sleep, increase confidence, improve a depressed mood…. The list is endless; all of these underlying issues need to be dealt with separately. Substance use is in fact a poor coping skill for a multitude of underlying issues.

What are the symptoms of substance use disorder?

Those who may be suffering from a substance use disorder may experience the following symptoms:

  • Behavioural changes such as changes in sleep and eating patterns, change in personality and attitude, mood swings, irritability, lack of motivation as well as unexplained paranoia.
  • Physical changes such as bloodshot eyes, weight loss or gain, shaking, slurred speech and overall changes in healthy appearance.
  • Social changes may include changes in hobbies and activities, financial issues, legal issues regarding substance abuse and damage to personal relationships.


Those with substance use disorder may progress from experimental and occasional use to dependent abuse of the substance in a short matter of time. It is essential if you or your loved one is exhibiting such symptoms, to seek professional help from those who deal with substance use disorders such as Dr Mhlane .

How can Dr Tsepiso Mhlane help?

Although treating substance use disorder may be difficult, she prides herself in knowing that she has the professional expertise to aid those with such disorders and manage their substance dependence. From acute detoxification, prevention and management of withdrawal to maintenance of abstinence, Dr Mhlane works with a multidisciplinary team to aid the recovery and sobriety process.

Acknowledging and understanding the underlying biological process of substance use disorder as well as the effect of the specific substance on each patient are the goals for Dr Mhlane in determining treatment. Be it motivational interviewing, psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) or the supplementation of medications, she will be able to aid you in managing your disorder.