November 28, 2022

Signs of Problematic Drug and Alcohol Use

Millions of Americans are addicted to alcohol and other drugs. Do you wonder if this might include you? Or someone you care for?

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), people from all backgrounds experience addiction. Addiction doesn't care how old you are, how much money you make, or your skin color; it has no bias. While the initial choice to use a drug is often voluntary, the powerful effects of addiction make it very hard to stop, even if someone wants to.

What is a Substance Use Disorder?

When drugs or alcohol are used so often that they have significant negative effects on your life, this is called a substance use disorder and can include:

  • Using illegal drugs like heroin or cocaine, or excessive alcohol drinking.
  • Using prescription drugs in ways other than prescribed, or using someone else’s prescription.

Some Common Behaviors of Addiction and Substance Use Disorder

Addiction is a chronic and treatable disease. Using drugs repeatedly changes the brain, including the parts that help exert self-control. That’s why someone may not be able to stop using drugs, even if they know the drug is causing harm, or feel ready to stop.

SAMSHA lists common behaviors of addiction and substance use disorder. These include:

  • Trying to stop or cut down on drug use, but not being able to.
  • Using drugs because of being angry or upset with other people.
  • Taking one drug to get over the effects of another.
  • Making mistakes at school or on the job because of using drugs.
  • Drug use hurting relationships with family and friends.
  • Being scared at the thought of running out of drugs.
  • Stealing drugs or money to pay for drugs.
  • Being arrested or hospitalized for drug use.
  • Developing a tolerance, and needing larger amounts of drugs or alcohol to get high.
  • Overdosing on drugs.

When You Should Seek Help

It’s not always easy to see when your alcohol intake has crossed the line from moderate or social drinking to problem drinking. The bottom line is how alcohol affects you. If your drinking is causing problems in your life, then you have a drinking problem. 

Read each of the following statements. If you recognize any you should seek help.

  • You feel guilty or ashamed about your drinking.
  • You lie to others or hide your drinking habits.
  • You need to drink in order to relax or feel better.
  • You “black-out” or forget what you did while you were drinking.
  • You regularly drink more than you intend to.
  • Friends or relatives express concern.
  • You become annoyed when people criticize your drinking.
  • You feel guilty about your drinking and think that you should cut down but find yourself unable to do so.
  • You need a morning drink to steady your nerves or relieve a hangover.

Types of Treatment

There are several approaches available for treating alcohol problems. No one approach is best for all individuals. The good news is that no matter how severe the problem may seem, most people with an alcohol use disorder can benefit from some form of treatment.

Behavioral Treatments. Behavioral treatments are aimed at changing drinking behavior through counseling. They are led by health professionals and supported by studies showing they are beneficial.

Medications. Three medications are currently approved in the United States to help people stop or reduce their drinking and prevent relapse. They are prescribed by a primary care physician or other health professional and may be used alone or in combination with counseling.

Support Groups. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12-step programs provide peer support for people quitting or cutting back on their drinking. Combined with treatment led by health professionals, mutual-support groups can offer a valuable added layer of support.

Whether you choose to go to rehab, rely on self-help programs, get therapy or take a self-directed treatment approach, support is essential. Recovering from alcohol addiction is much easier when you have people you can lean on for encouragement, comfort and guidance. Without support, it’s easy to fall back into old patterns when things get tough.

Your continued recovery depends on continuing mental health treatment, learning healthier coping strategies and making better decisions when dealing with life’s challenges. In order to stay alcohol-free for the long term, you’ll also have to face the underlying problems that led to your alcoholism or alcohol abuse in the first place.

Helping Yourself

If you are thinking about your own path to recovery, consider the following:

  • Think about telling someone you trust, who understands and will support you through this effort.
  • Find new ways to manage stress, such as with exercise, stretching, deep breathing, acupuncture, massage and connections with trusted friends and family members.
  • Look for local programs and providers. Groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Al-Anon are free of charge and offer confidential assistance several times per week.

Helping a Friend or Co-Worker

  • Express your concern directly to your friend or co-worker when they are not under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.  Emphasize how much you care and remind the person they are not alone.
  • Offer to accompany your friend to a recovery meeting or to help find other assistance. 
  • Consider arranging for strategic intervention. This may involve several other people and should be coordinated by an experienced substance abuse professional.
  • Don’t attempt to punish, threaten, bribe or preach. Avoid emotional appeals that may only increase feelings of guilt and the compulsion to drink or use other drugs.
  • Don’t cover up or make excuses for the problem drinker or shield them from the realistic consequences of their behavior.
  • Don’t drink along with the problem drinker.
  • Above all, don’t feel guilty or responsible for another’s behavior.

The worst thing you can do is nothing. Most people who misuse substances are not able to stop without support from others. Take the first step to help yourself, a friend, or a co-worker.

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