Aims: The aim of the study was to explore whether the concept of heavy substance use over time can be used as definition of substance use disorder.
Methods: Narrative review.
Results: Heavy use over time clearly underlies the neurobiological changes associated with current thinking of substance use disorders. In addition, there is evidence that heavy use over time can explain the majority of social problems and of burden of disease (morbidity and mortality). A definition of substance use disorders via heavy use over time would avoid some of the problems of current conceptualizations, for instance the cultural specificity of concepts such as loss of control. Finally, stressing the continuum of use may avoid the high level of stigmatization currently associated with substance use disorders.
Conclusion: 'Heavy substance use over time' seems to be a definition of substance use disorders in line with results of basic research and epidemiology. Additionally, it reduces stigmatization. This approach should thus be further explored.