With more than 20 million American suffering from a diagnosed substance use disorder, we ALL know people who have this disease. it might be your uncle who downs a case of beer while he watches football, or a cousin who loves to “do lunch” that includes a bottle of wine or three dry martinis, or your nephew who was suspended from school the third time his dad’s prescription pills were found in his locker.

And here’s where it gets sticky: in our culture, drugs and alcohol are everywhere, and the majority of people can have a drink, or puff on a pipe for relaxation, without consequences. So we tend to view those who can’t seem to control their use of substances as being weak-willed…they could stop if they wanted to, right???

Science  tells us otherwise. According to the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association, substance use disorder (SUD) (also known as alcoholism or addiction) is a chronic, progressive disease of the brain that is fatal if left untreated. 

The media and resources below will introduce you to some of the evidence for the disease concept of SUD. When we understand more about the parts of the brain it impacts, it is easier to frame the behaviors of those suffering from it. The videos also highlight the genetic aspect of SUD…something that all of us who work with young children can see as a call to action about the importance of supporting their development.

This video gives a good, brief overview of SUD and its heritability, featuring experts in the field, including Dr. Nora Volkow, who is the neuroscientist who heads the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

Deep Dive: Dr. Volkow

A quick explanation that summarizes what is known about the disease of substance use disorder, and highlights the risks for adolescents.

This short video uses Swiss cheese as a metaphor for the risks of developing substance use disorder.