Some people think substance misuse is about a lack of willpower — that someone with a drug or alcohol problem simply doesn’t want to get better and could easily quit if they really tried. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Substance use disorders are far more complex and less forgiving than many people realize.
How to tell if substances are being misused
People use drugs and alcohol for many reasons. They may experiment or use it just for fun, to relax, or to cope with emotions such as stress, depression, or anxiety.
When drug or alcohol use turns from an occasional recreational activity into a habit that causes problems in a person’s day-to-day life, this progression may form into a substance use disorder.
What kinds of problems? At home, in school, at work, or in relationships with the people we love, misuse may lead to:
Signs of a problem with substance misuse
Drinking and drug use can be common in many settings. For many people, their use of one or both might be casual, and they are aware of their limits. But when drugs or alcohol become engrained into or interfere with your daily life, it may be time to reassess your dependency. Whether you or someone you care about has transitioned from an occasional or social drinker to binge drinking regularly, increased dosage of prescribed opioid medication, or progressed to harder drugs like heroin and methamphetamine, it’s important to seek help and take control of substance use.
People use prescription or recreational drugs for a variety of reasons: out of curiosity, to relax or socialize, or because a family member or loved one also uses drugs. However, when drug use interferes with your daily life, there may be a problem. If you notice that your use, or a family member’s or friend’s use, gets in the way of sleep, relationships, work, or fulfilling responsibilities — or if it’s significantly affecting your mood — then it may be time to reach out for support. If you’re ready, taking that first step can get you on a path to recovery.
To explore the signs that you or someone you care about may have a substance use disorder, click here for a completely anonymous and confidential assessment. This assessment isn’t meant to diagnose or label drug or alcohol use by you or your loved one, but it can indicate if it’s a good idea to seek professional treatment.
Whether you’re worried about a friend or family member or concerned about yourself, recognizing the signs of a drug or alcohol problem is an important first step toward recovery.
Recognizing the root of misuse
We know that trying drugs or drinking alcohol won’t necessarily lead to misuse, but when it does, there are usually reasons that range from seeking pleasure or coping with pain, to genetics and social surroundings.
While pleasure is a fairly easy concept to understand, pain is more complex. It comes in many forms and affects everyone differently. Whether someone is suffering from a physical injury, dealing with a mental health issue, recovering from a traumatic experience, or just trying to cope with the stresses of daily life, sometimes drugs and alcohol can seem like the easiest way to drown out the pain. But relying on substances to get through tough times offers only temporary relief and often causes additional pain for both users and their loved ones.
Some individuals have a higher risk due to their family background or their surroundings. Recognizing these vulnerabilities is not an easy task, and removing yourself from certain situations isn’t always possible, but there are resources available to help.
It’s important to understand that, whether misuse of drugs or alcohol is caused by seeking pleasure, masking pain, or your surroundings and living situation, there are many ways to help overcome it, including therapy, medication, mindfulness, exercise, and other forms of treatment.
StartYourRecovery.org provides helpful information for people who are dealing with substance use issues — and their family members, friends, and co-workers, too. We know that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges faced by those who misuse alcohol, prescription or illegal drugs, or other substances, and we aim to break through the clutter to help people at any stage of recovery.
Help is available. Find treatment today
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