Substance Abuse: Nursing Diagnoses

Nursing Knowledge

Substance Abuse: Nursing Diagnoses

Substance abuse is a significant public health concern that affects individuals, families, and communities worldwide. It is a complex and multifaceted issue that requires a comprehensive understanding of the factors that contribute to its development and maintenance. Keep reading for an overview of commonly abused substances, the symptoms, and risk factors for substance abuse disorder.
Last updated: December 4, 2023

Table of contents

What is substance use disorder? 

Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is a medical condition characterized by the recurrent use of drugs or alcohol that causes significant clinical and functional impairment. This includes health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school, or home. It is diagnosed based on evidence of impaired control, social impairment, risky use, and pharmacological criteria like tolerance and withdrawal symptoms.

Substance use disorders are chronic, but treatable medical conditions. 

What are the most commonly abused substances?

The most commonly abused substances include:

  • Stimulants (cocaine, amphetamine, prescription drugs for ADD/ADHD)
  • Depressants (prescription drugs to treat anxiety (like benzodiazepines), insomnia, seizures) 
  • Opiates (heroin, opium, prescription opioid pain relievers)
  • Hallucinogens (mescaline, psilocybin)
  • Cannabinoids (marijuana, hashish)
  • Alcohol

What are the signs of substance use?

SubstanceSigns of use
AlcoholEuphoria, relaxation, lowered inhibitions, drowsiness, slurred speech
CannabinoidsEuphoria, increased appetite, dry mouth, impaired judgment, slowed reactions
DepressantsSlurred speech, mood swings, lack of coordination, dizziness
StimulantsDilated pupils, irritability, increased energy, decreased appetite, insomnia
OpiatesSedation, slurred speech, constricted pupils, confusion, drowsiness
HallucinogensEuphoria, hallucinations, bizarre behavior, tremors, altered perception

What are the risk factors for substance abuse disorder?

No single factor can predict whether a person will develop substance abuse disorder. A combination of genetic, environmental, and developmental factors influences risk for addiction.

Risk factors for substance abuse disorder include: 

  • Family history of substance use
  • Mental health disorder
  • Peer pressure
  • Use at an early age
  • Using highly addictive drugs
  • History of trauma
  • Genetic predisposition

How can nurses identify and address substance abuse disorders in their clients?

Healthcare professionals can identify and address substance abuse disorders in their clients by conducting a thorough assessment, including a physical exam, laboratory tests, and a mental health evaluation. They can also use screening tools to identify clients who may be at risk for substance abuse disorder. Treatment options include medication-assisted treatment, behavioral therapy, and support groups.

What is the substance use continuum?

Substance use occurs on a continuum. 

Use → Abuse → Dependence

  • Use: occasional use (e.g., in social settings that does not appear to affect activities of daily living
  • Abuse: recurrent use, related legal problems, failure to fulfill role obligations (school, work, family)
  • Dependence: tolerance, withdrawal, large amounts, persistent desire 

How can nurses educate clients about substance abuse and prevent addiction?

Effective ways to educate clients about substance abuse and prevent addiction include: 

  • Using non-stigmatizing, person-first language: for example, say “person with substance use disorder” instead of “addict” or “alcoholic”
  • Educating clients on available treatment methods
  • Connecting clients to community resources and treatment providers
  • Providing information on the risks associated with substance abuse and strategies for reducing those risks

What are potential nursing diagnoses for substance use disorder?

Potential nursing diagnoses for substance use disorder could include:

  • Ineffective coping: related to reliance on substances as a coping mechanism
  • Impaired social interaction: difficulty establishing or maintaining relationships due to effects of substance use
  • Self-neglect: potentially due to prioritizing substance use
  • Imbalanced nutrition: due to effects or side effects of substance use
  • Risk for injury: due to impaired coordination, altered judgment, or withdrawal symptoms


Substance Abuse: Nursing Diagnoses

Free Download

Nursing Cheat Sheet

Overview of commonly abused substances, signs of use, risk factors, and client education

Master the topic with a unique study combination of a concise summary paired with video lectures. 

User Reviews