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Understanding Substance Use Disorders: New online course covers the basics

February 6, 2018

Heather Gotham, PhD
Associate Research Professor
Mid-America ATTC

The newest course on HealtheKnowledge, Understanding Substance Use Disorders, is a collaborative effort between the UMKC-SBIRT Project (a SAMHSA-funded SBIRT health professions training grant; and the Mid-America ATTC. Through UMKC-SBIRT we had several requests for a basic training on substance use disorders, as several of the health professions training programs with which we work did not provide even basic instruction on SUD. They wanted a primer course that students could take prior to SBIRT training (SBIRT for Health and Behavioral Health Professionals, also on

In addition, through Mid-America, we had received multiple requests for basic SUD training that could be used during the orientation of new behavioral health staff, as well as training for child welfare, corrections, or other allied professionals. The course is also currently being implemented in baccalaureate nursing and health studies curricula. We hope that other programs will find value in the course and will use it with other student groups.

This course was designed to give a broad introduction to substance use disorders (SUDs) to those without formal training in the topic. It is also a useful refresher for those with gaps in their knowledge of the current language and science associated with substance use disorders, treatment, and recovery.

For students and professionals in diverse areas of health care 

Although our focus is on providing science-based information, we really try to make it personal too, by referring to videos and other ways to show people’s stories. Also, the course is designed to be interdisciplinary and accessible to people of diverse professions instead of focusing exclusively on the SUD field. We chose this strategy to increase capacity, knowledge, and positive attitudes toward working with people with SUD in all professional settings. This is greatly needed given the lack of SUD content in pre-service education, yet the prevalence of SUD-related issues across healthcare, social services, and justice systems.

Developed by experts in multiple fields 

The content was created and honed in person first

over several years by a group of people with expertise in addiction treatment and prevention, psychology, social work, sociology, adult education, and instructional design. Then the content was enhanced and adapted for the online course. The course authors and contributors include:  Heather Gotham, PhD; Sarah Knopf-Amelung, MA-R; Laurie Krom, MS; Pat Stilen, MSW, LCSW; Jessica Hildreth, BA; Edna Talboy, PhD; and Monica Talboy.

Our instructional designers are Edna Talboy, PhD, and Monica Talboy, Salcedo-Talboy Consulting, LLC. This course was developed by the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) School of Nursing and Health Studies’ Collaborative to Advance Health Services, with funding by grants TI025355, TI026442, and TI024226 from the Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Key take-aways for learners 

  • Why people start taking substances and the effects of the major categories of substances.
  • Substance use occurs along a continuum from not using (abstinence) to a substance use disorder.
  • A substance use disorder is a chronic, relapsing brain disease.
  • Substance use disorders are treatable public health concerns, and recovery is possible.

Breaking down myths about substance use disorders 

The overall goal of the course is to provide accurate, science-based information about substance use, substance use disorders (SUDs), and SUD treatment. We really try to break down myths such as that people who have SUDs make a choice to continue using substances, that “rehab” or inpatient/residential treatment is the only effective treatment, and that relapse means that treatment failed.

Continuing Education Credits 

Learners can earn 2.0 NAADAC, NBCC, NASW, CNE or CHES continuing education hours. The course is free for people just wanting a certificate of completion, and is $10 for CEUs.

Visit HealtheKnowledge today to see the full list of free, online courses available. 

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The opinions expressed herein are the views of the authors and do not reflect the official position of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), SAMHSA, CSAT or the ATTC Network. No official support or endorsement of DHHS, SAMHSA, or CSAT for the opinions of authors presented in this e-publication is intended or should be inferred.