Understanding Substance Use Disorders


Committed to Recovery and Prevention

Munson Healthcare is committed to the treatment and prevention of substance use disorders and stigma reduction through a variety of resources and supports – from intensive inpatient treatment and peer recovery coaches to accessible life-saving intervention and safe medication disposal.

Understanding Substance Use Disorders

Often referred to as addiction, substance use disorder is a complex and frequently misunderstood disease that impacts every aspect of a person’s life. Understanding how the biochemistry of substance use disorder is critical in providing the support and treatment needed for recovery.

How Substances Affect the Brain

What are Opioids?

Opioids are narcotics used for pain relief that produce morphine-like effects on the body. These drugs significantly and quickly influence dopamine levels, and therefore can be highly addictive. In the U.S., more than 1 million people have died since 1999 from a drug overdose, with more than 75 percent of those involving an opioid. Since 2000, opioid-related deaths have grown tenfold. This public health crisis impacts our families, friends, and communities.

Hormones play a large role in the body’s day-to-day function. Dopamine, for example, influences our mood by giving us feelings of pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation. It also plays a role in memory, sleep, learning, concentration, and movement. Sometimes referred to as the “happiness hormone,” dopamine fluctuates throughout the day or from day to day – hence the “some days are better than others” effect.

Legal or illegal substances, including alcohol, drugs, and medications, can cause more significant swings in dopamine levels, which impact the brain. These highs and lows can quickly lead to a dependence on the substance, including difficult withdrawal symptoms like uncontrollable cravings and physical symptoms. The video below shows how substances like drugs and alcohol impact the brain – and why overcoming the disorder without the right supports is so difficult.