Substance Use Disorders

Substance Use Disorders

APA advocates for federal policies that take into account the science of addiction and advocate for funding of research to better understand its antecedents and treatment.

How Substance Use Is Studied and Treated


Psychologists and other researchers study the antecedents of substance use and how what we know about the human brain and its development can inform our understanding of why people use substances and how their use becomes problematic. 

They often study specific types of alcohol and drug problems, their origins and effects, how these problems change over time, how they are distinct from or may overlap with other conditions and how they may interact with biological, social, behavioral and other cultural issues.

Prevention & Treatment

Psychologists and other professionals apply the findings of research to treat substance use in individual people, couples and whole families and may sometimes provide treatments to people brought together as a group or in a community. 

They also may integrate more biological approaches, such as the use of medications, with social and behavioral treatments, work to motivate people to engage in the process of change, maintain long-term changes and even prevent the development of alcohol and drug problems in the first place.

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Getting Help With Substance Use

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Resources from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Road to recovery
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Understanding and Overcoming Opioid Abuse

Learn about treatment strategies and how psychologists are a valuable part of the treatment team.
Understanding alcohol use disorders and their treatment
From APA

Understanding Alcohol Use Disorders and Their Treatment

This fact sheet explains alcohol problems and how psychologists can help people recover.
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SmokeScreen Mobile App

A free app for health professionals who want to help their clients struggling to quit tobacco.

Recent APA Advocacy Related to Substance Use

June 2018

APA Provides Comments to Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 authorized the creation of the Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force to update best practices and address current gaps and inconsistencies in managing chronic and acute pain. The task force held its inaugural meeting on May 30-31, 2018. Psychology was well represented on the panel by Mary Meagher, PhD, of Texas A & M and Cecilia Spitznas, PhD, who serves as science policy advisor for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Following the meeting, APA provided detailed comments for the task force to consider as it works to develop guidelines for best practices in pain management. The comments emphasized the importance of interprofessional approaches to the management of chronic pain and the need to expand access to providers with training in behavioral and nonpharmacological pain treatments.

June 2018

APA and Partners Make the Case for Nicotine Reduction in Tobacco Products

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) in March 2018 to “... obtain information for consideration in developing a tobacco product standard to set the maximum nicotine level for cigarettes.” APA, the College on Problems of Drug Dependence, and the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco issued a joint statement providing detailed comments on the ANPRM. Organized as a set of 13 key points, the document provides a scientific rationale for reduced nicotine tobacco products as part of a comprehensive strategy to reduce tobacco-associated morbidity and mortality. Psychologist Dorothy Hatsukami, PhD, of the University of Minnesota, who is a leading researcher on nicotine addiction and has had prominent roles in all three organizations, led the development of the statement. APA will continue to monitor the FDA’s regulatory activities involving tobacco products.

April 2018

APA Weighs in on Legislation to Address the Opioid Epidemic

On April 11, APA submitted two statements to Congress highlighting psychology’s role in combating the opioid crisis facing our nation.  The statements, authored by APA CEO and Executive Vice-president Arthur C. Evans, Jr., PhD, touted APA’s support for a multifaceted public health approach that utilizes psychological science to guide evidence-based prevention, treatment, and long-term recovery to reduce opioid-related morbidity and mortality.

The first statement, (PDF, 80KB) submitted for a hearing held by the House Energy and Commerce Committee and entitled “Combating the Opioid Crisis: Improving the Ability of Medicare and Medicaid to Provide Care for Patients,” emphasized that psychological services are key to both preventing and treating opioid addiction, including through behavioral and services research and direct provision of services.  Evans called on Congress to support Medicare and Medicaid policy changes commensurate with the scale of the opioid crisis, including allowing clinical psychologists to practice independently in all Medicare-covered treatment settings without the need for prior certification or approval by a physician.

The second statement, (PDF, 184KB) was submitted in response to draft legislation, the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018, currently before the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.  APA urged the committee to increase federal support for research on effective psychosocial treatments for pain and opioid use disorders and overdose prevention, as well as to expand the scope of its proposed prevention programs and research on risk factors for opioid addiction and other substance use disorders.

With elections coming this fall, opioid legislation may be the only area of significant bipartisan work on health care policy this year.  APA will be focusing closely on this issue in the coming months.

March 2018

Friends of NIAAA Meet & Greet Event

As a member of the Friends of NIAAA steering committee, APA organized a meet and greet luncheon on Capitol Hill with the George F. Koob, PhD, the director of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "The event, The Role of Alcohol in the Opioid Epidemic: A discussion with NIAAA Director, George F. Koob, PhD," was a unique opportunity for members of Congress and their staff to meet Koob and ask questions about NIAAA and the research it funds.

The event started with a presentation by Koob that highlighted advances in alcohol research and what has been found regarding the harmful and often fatal role that alcohol plays in opioid overdoses. A lively and informative Q&A session followed his presentation.

July 2017

Briefing Spotlights NIDA-Funded Research on Opioid Use Disorder Prevention

On July 25, 2017, the Friends of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, of which APA is a member, held a briefing titled “Preventing Opioid Use Disorders: Community Based Approaches that Work.” Nearly 120 congressional and federal agency staff, professional society representatives and others attended the session, underscoring the prevalent interest in preventing opioid use disorders and combating the opioid epidemic. 

Deputy Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Wilson Compton, MD, MPE, discussed how social environment shapes the development of the brain and how adverse childhood experiences increase the likelihood of illicit drug use later in life. He presented evidence that early childhood intervention can prevent opiate misuse later in life, and provided examples of programs that have been effective. Richard F. Catalano, PhD, presented federal spending data from the Office of National Drug Control Policy to illustrate that federal funding for prevention programs has remained low compared to spending on law enforcement and treatment. He also shared recommendations for scaling effective prevention programs and policies. Psychologist Richard Spoth, PhD, demonstrated the value and importance of expanding evidence-based prevention programs. He provided an analysis of the reduction in both economic and societal costs that occur when effective prevention programs are implemented. Kathy Collie, a Prevention Program Director and the Chair of the Pennsylvania Coalition Advisory Workgroup, presented on her experience working in communities on the ground gave a unique perspective to the topic of prevention efforts.

June 2017

Congressional Briefing Highlights NIAAA Research on Alcohol Use Disorders in Women

The Friends of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) held a briefing, "The Changing Patterns of Women’s Drinking and Their Impact on Public Health," on June 22, 2017, in cooperation with the Congressional Addiction, Treatment and Recovery Caucus. APA's Science Government Relations Office took the lead on organizing the briefing on behalf of the Friends of NIAAA coalition. The director of NIAAA, George Koob, PhD, provided a broad overview of NIAAA's research portfolio on the characteristics and patterns of alcohol use in women. Deidra Roach, MD, a medical project officer in the Division of Treatment and Recovery Research at NIAAA, discussed why we are seeing a rise in binge drinking among women around the world, as well as presenting data on the medical consequences of excessive alcohol use in women and on alcohol use during pregnancy. Next, Barbara McCrady, PhD, distinguished professor of psychology and director of the Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse, and Addictions at the University of New Mexico, discussed the barriers women face when seeking treatment and the unique needs of women in treatment programs. Finally, writer and public radio host, Martha Woodroof, told stories of her life and her 26-year recovery from alcohol use disorder.
February 2017

Heroin Treatment Is Focus of Congressional Briefing

Psychologist Lisa Marsch, PhD, of Dartmouth College and Principal Investigator of the Northeast Node of the National Drug Abuse (NIDA) Clinical Trials Network, testified before the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force in 2017. Her testimony led to a trip to New Hampshire this May by Nora Volkow PhD, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, to visit Marsch at Dartmouth College and some treatment facilities with Rep. Anne McLane Kuster (NH-2).

September 2016

Congressional Briefing Shines Spotlight on Adolescent Brain Development Study

In September 2016, a congressional briefing supported by APA, “Brain Development and Our Kids’ Future: The Adolescent Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study,” provided an overview of the ABCD Study, the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the United States, and discussed the implications this research will have for the health and well-being of our nation’s children.

May 2016

Congressional Briefing Highlights Research Findings on Alcohol, Stress and the Brain

On Thursday, May 5, 2016, the Friends of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) held a briefing in cooperation with the Addiction, Treatment, and Recovery Caucus and the Military Mental Health Caucus. The briefing, “Alcohol, Stress, and the Brain: Implications for Treatment and Recovery,” explored the link between alcohol and stress and highlighted research findings with implications for treating co-occurring post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol use disorder (AUD). NIAAA Director George Koob, PhD, provided an overview of NIAAA's research portfolio on the neurobiological underpinnings of alcohol use disorders as they relate to PTSD. APA member Rajita Sinha, PhD, followed with a dynamic presentation summarizing her research on relapse and recovery in patients with alcohol use disorders. Veteran Anthony Doran, who currently serves as a peer support specialist with Vets4Warriors, discussed his personal journey of recovery after PTSD and alcohol use disorder diagnoses.
April 2016

Psychologist Invited by Congressman to Speak at a Briefing on the Impact of Opioid Addiction on Infants

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Addiction, Treatment and Recovery, invited psychologist Hendree Jones, PhD, to participate in a briefing on Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome on April 20, 2016. Jones provided an informative overview of the issue of opioid use disorder during pregnancy, and highlighted her research funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) as well as the UNC Horizon’s program, which she directs. Her fellow presenters included the Deputy Director of NIDA Wilson Compton, MD, Medical Officer Melinda Campopiano, MD, from the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and Arthur James, MD, an OB/GYN from the Ohio State University. The room was filled to capacity and the briefing bolstered momentum for the House of Representatives to take action on H.R. 953 — its version of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 (S. 524) passed by the Senate on March 10. Rep. Ryan provided the opening remarks and Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.V., was present throughout the event to discuss his bill, the Nurturing and Supporting Healthy Babies Act (PDF, 33KB).
January 2016

Psychologist Speaks to Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic

Jessica Peirce, PhD, Associate Director of Addiction Treatment Services Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit at Johns Hopkins University, shared her research and clinical experience with the treatment of substance use disorders comorbid with psychiatric disorders before the Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic.
December 2016

Briefing Discusses Opoid Addiction Co-Occurring With HIV and Hepatitis

On December 1, 2015, the Friends of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, of which APA is a member, held a congressional briefing titled “A Co-Occurring Epidemic: The Challenge of Addressing Opioid Addiction, HIV, and Viral Hepatitis.” It was the most recent event in the coalition's Charles R. Schuster congressional briefing series. Wilson M. Compton, the deputy director of NIDA, introduced the topic by presenting some of the troubling data that shows the trends and impacts of these crises. He also discussed what NIDA is currently doing to combat these issues and how research can help change the trajectory of what has developed into a public health crisis. José Szapocznik, PhD, of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, discussed research about at-risk populations, including the importance of evidence based intervention and services such as needle exchange programs, which have been proven to lead to a decrease in risk behaviors and in cases of HIV. Scott Stokes, Director of Prevention Services at AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, continued the discussion of needle exchanges in his presentation on harm reduction, in addition to discussing overdose intervention.
November 2015

APA Co-sponsored Briefing Highlights Strategies for Targeting High-risk Drinking on College Campuses

On Oct. 27, 2015, as part of the Friends of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), APA co-sponsored a congressional briefing in cooperation with the Congressional Addiction, Treatment and Recovery Caucus. The briefing entitled “College AIM: Evidence-based strategies for targeting high risk drinking on college campuses,” included an overview of a tool that NIAAA has developed in collaboration with researchers to help college officials reduce high-risk student drinking and its harmful consequences. This resource, the College Alcohol Intervention Matrix, or CollegeAIM, is comprehensive, easy to use and helps college officials to make informed decisions about alcohol interventions. Using CollegeAIM, college officials can explore the evidence base for their current intervention strategies, compare them to other evidence-based alternatives, and identify the best approach to address the needs of their particular student population.
June 2015

Research on Heroin and Opioid Addiction Is Highlighted at Congressional Briefing

On June 1, 2015, the Friends of the National Institute on Drug Abuse held a congressional briefing titled “Heroin Addiction and Overdose: What Can We Do to Address This Growing Problem?” It was part of the coalition’s Charles R. Schuster congressional briefing series. With more than 135 congressional and federal agency staff, professional society representatives and others in attendance, Nora Volkow, the director of NIDA, presented evidence linking the increase in heroin usage to the increased use and abuse of opioid medications; she also described NIDA-supported research aimed at developing overdose medications, treatments for addictions and analgesics with less abuse potential. Sandra Comer, of Columbia University, discussed the use of advantages and disadvantages of medications to treat opioid abuse and dependence: Buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone. Brooke Scannell, chief of staff for Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., who was in attendance, gave a moving speech about her brother Kyle’s fight with addiction and the toll it has taken on her family.
January 2016

APA Comments on Draft Guidelines on Opioid Use for Chronic Pain

In a January 13, 2015, letter (PDF, 181KB) to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), APA offered comments on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Draft Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain.

Advocates for palliative care who were concerned about inadequate treatment of pain at the end of life found themselves in tension with advocates concerned about over-prescribing and opioid dependence at any stage. Controversy erupted between these sides with the release of the draft version of the guideline. The bulk of the criticism launched at CDC was focused on the dearth of evidence concerning opioid use available to support the guideline. But in addition to the discussion of opioids, CDC also gave a nod to the value of non-pharmacologic treatments for pain. In the letter, APA added its voice to the din of over 4,000 comments CDC received on the draft, pointing to a variety of psychological treatments that can be effective in treating pain and to the need to enhance patients' access to such treatments.

April 2015

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders More Common Than Thought, Say Researchers at Congressional Briefing

Many women aren't fully aware of the risks associated with drinking while pregnant, and the public needs more information on the symptoms and severity of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), according to experts who spoke at a congressional briefing. FASD is more common than researchers had thought, George F. Koob, PhD, who directs the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, said at the briefing on April 13, 2015, which was co-hosted by APA's Science Directorate Government Relations Office

New research shows that FASD affects 2.4 percent to 4.8 percent of U.S. children when partial cases are included (Pediatrics, 2014). Though more research is needed, the institute has made some progress in treating the condition, including funding the development of a 3-D scanning technique that decodes changes in a child's facial structure due to the disorder, helping doctors diagnose it. 

March 2015

APA Co-sponsors, Moderates Briefing on the Vital Role of Data to Prevent Addiction, Injuries and Violence

APA worked with the American College of Preventive Medicine, SafeKids Worldwide, the National Association of County and City Health Officials and other members of the Injury and Violence Prevention Network to organize a Capitol Hill briefing on March 17, 2015. The event, moderated by APA staff, informed congressional staff about injury surveillance systems supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Grant Baldwin and James Mercy, directors of CDC's divisions of Unintentional Injury Prevention and Violence Prevention, respectively, presented, along with experts on the National Violent Death Reporting System, traumatic brain injury surveillance and prescription drug overdose monitoring. Presenters described the role of their agencies and organizations in collecting and sharing their data on a national scale. They also underscored the importance of funding surveillance systems to inform public health prevention efforts and health care service planning at the state and local levels.

We have a tremendous opportunity to help shape the laws and policies that directly affect psychology and the populations we work with. We can make a real difference in our society.
—Melba Vasquez, PhD, ABPP, 2011 APA President

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