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Substance-Induced Disorders


Mashal Khan

, MD, Weill Cornell Medicine

Last full review/revision Dec 2020| Content last modified Dec 2020

Substance-induced disorders include

  • Intoxication

  • Withdrawal

  • Substance-induced mental disorders

Many different substances can cause a substance-induced disorder. A disorder can occur regardless of whether or not the substance is legal, is socially acceptable, or has an accepted medical use (with or without a prescription). The specific manifestations and treatment of intoxication and withdrawal vary by the substance and are discussed elsewhere in THE MANUAL.

People who inject drugs also can develop problems related to the injection itself rather than the drug, particularly infections.


Intoxication refers to the immediate and temporary effects of a specific drug. Intoxication impairs the person's mental function and judgment and may alter mood. Depending on the drug, the person may feel a sense of excitement or an exaggerated feeling of well-being (or euphoria), or the person may feel calmer, more relaxed, and sleepier than usual.

Many drugs impair physical functioning and coordination, leading to falls and vehicle crashes. Some drugs trigger aggressive behavior, leading to fighting. As larger amounts of the drug are used (called an overdose), adverse effects become more obvious, with serious complications and sometimes risk of death.


Withdrawal refers to symptoms that develop when people stop taking a substance or take significantly less than usual. Withdrawal causes various unpleasant symptoms that differ depending on the substance involved. Withdrawal from some drugs (such as alcohol Alcohol Alcohol (ethanol) is a depressant. Consuming large amounts rapidly or regularly can cause health problems, including organ damage, coma, and death. Genetics and personal characteristics may... read more or barbiturates Antianxiety and Sedative Drugs Antianxiety and sedative drugs are prescription drugs used to relieve anxiety and/or help with sleep, but their use can result in dependency and a substance use disorder. Using prescription... read more ) can be serious and even life threatening. Most people who experience withdrawal know that taking more of the substance will reduce their symptoms.

Whether withdrawal occurs depends only on the substance and how long it is used, not whether the person has a substance use disorder Substance Use Disorders Substance use disorders generally involve behavior patterns in which people continue to use a substance despite having problems caused by its use. The substances involved tend to be members... read more , is using the substance recreationally, or the substance is illegal. Some prescription drugs, particularly opioids, sedatives, and stimulants, can result in withdrawal symptoms even when taken as prescribed for legitimate medical reasons and for relatively brief periods (less than 1 week for opioids).

People who have withdrawal symptoms were previously termed physically dependent upon the substance. However, "dependence" has negative connotations suggesting illicit drug use, so doctors prefer to avoid this terminology.

Substance-Induced Mental Disorders

For a mental disorder to be considered substance induced, the substance involved must be known to be capable of causing the disorder. Substances can be members of the 10 classes of drug that typically cause substance-related disorders:

But many other substances can cause mental disorders. Common examples include anticholinergic drugs Anticholinergic: What Does It Mean? Anticholinergic: What Does It Mean? and corticosteroids, which may cause temporary symptoms of psychosis.

In addition, the mental disorder should

  • Appear within 1 month of intoxication with or withdrawal from the substance

  • Cause significant distress or impair functioning

  • Not have been present before use of the substance

  • Not occur only during acute delirium caused by the substance

  • Not last for a substantial period of time*

* Certain disorders of thinking caused by alcohol, inhalants, or sedatives/hypnotics, and perceptual disorders caused by hallucinogens may be long lasting.

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