Substance Use Disorders

Substance misuse refers to the harmful use of psychoactive substances. This includes alcohol and illicit drugs. TRICARE offers a number of resources for substance misuse. For specific guidance and information, see the below pages:

What is Addiction?

Addiction is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease. It causes compulsive substance seeking and use. This happens despite harmful consequences to you and to those around you. The initial decision to misuse substances may be voluntary. But the brain changes over time. It challenges self-control and your ability to resist intense impulses to use substances.

Why Do Some People Become Addicted While Others Do Not?

No single factor can predict whether you will develop an addiction. A combination of factors influence your risk. This includes your:

  • Individual biology
  • Social environment
  • Age or stage of development

The more risk factors you have, the greater your chance of addiction.


Your genes and environmental influences account for about half of your addiction risk. Gender, ethnicity, and mental disorders also contribute to your risk.


Your environment includes family, friends, socioeconomic status, and quality of life. Factors such as peer pressure, physical and sexual abuse, stress, and quality of parenting can greatly influence your addiction risk.


Genetic and environmental factors interact with critical developmental stages to affect your risk. Taking drugs at any age can lead to addiction. But the earlier you use drugs, the more likely it will lead to more serious misuse. This poses a special challenge to adolescents. They may be especially prone to risk-taking behaviors. Their brains are still developing in the areas that govern decision making, judgment, and self-control.

Prevention Is the Key

Drug addiction is a preventable disease. Research has shown prevention programs can be effective if they involve:

  • families
  • schools
  • cultural factors
  • communities
  • the media

Young people reduce drug use when they perceive it as harmful.

Education and outreach are key in helping all people understand the risks of drug misuse.

For more information, visit the National Institute on Drug Abuse.


There are many substances which are misused. They all can have dangerous health implications. Many drugs are illegal. But even some legal drugs can be bad for you if you don’t take them correctly.


Scientific research has shown treatment can help drug-addicted individuals:

  • Stop drug use.
  • Avoid relapse.
  • Successfully recover their lives.

Principles of Drug Addiction Treatments

Scientific research has shown treatment can help you stop drug use, avoid relapse, and successfully recover your life. Based on this research*, there are 13 fundamental principles for effective drug misuse treatment.
* The National Institute on Drug Abuse's Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide

Getting Help

Your friends and family may be among the first to recognize the signs of substance misuse. Early recognition increases chances for success. >>Learn more.

Signs of Possible Substance Misuse

  • Giving up past activities such as sports, homework, or hanging out with friends
  • Declining grades
  • Aggressiveness and irritability, feeling run down, hopeless, depressed, or even suicidal
  • Paraphernalia such as baggies, small boxes, pipes, and rolling paper
  • Getting drunk or high on drugs on a regular basis
  • Lying, particularly about using alcohol or other drugs
  • Avoiding friends or family to get drunk or high
  • Planning drinking in advance, hiding alcohol or drinking, or using other drugs alone
  • Having to drink more to get the same high
  • Believing you need to drink or use other drugs to have fun
  • Frequent hangovers
  • Pressuring others to drink or use other drugs
  • Taking risks, including sexual risks
  • Having “blackouts” (forgetting what you did the night before)
  • Constantly talking about drinking or using other drugs
  • Getting in trouble with the law
  • Drinking and driving
  • Suspension from school or work
Holidays and weekends are often full of fun activities. But they can also be dangerous. When planning and enjoying your after-hours activities:
  • remember the effects of alcohol or prescription drugs
  • identify the risks associated with impairment while participating
  • make responsible decisions

Last Updated 9/11/2023