How do you know if you or your loved one have an issue with substance abuse? Let’s take the time to discuss three points of focus in order to assess the issue and create change.
The sooner you detect the early warning signs, the better!
3 Warning Signs that you might have a problem:
Are you using the substance regularly to cope with stress or specific emotions or conflict? You may notice that you are unable to cope with daily stresses (a bad day at work, the kids screaming, etc) without an alcoholic drink or other substance. Or, maybe you’ve noticed that your use has become more regular, or your tolerance has increased. This can be a slippery slope, and can indicate that you’re in dangerous territory of having your coping mechanism become a crutch for handling adversity. This actually adds stress in your life rather than taking it away. You may also find yourself going over self-imposed limits such as telling yourself that you will only have one drink, but then realizing you cannot stick with this plan and going beyond that.
2) IMPACT ON YOUR LIFE:
Is the substance impeding your relationships? You may experience tension or fights in relationships as a result of your use. Your performance or attendance at school or work may suffer or change from what it’s been prior to your use. Maybe you opt to skip work or class because of being hung over or intoxicated. You could also experience decreased motivation to do things you normally enjoyed doing, or prefer to do them only while under the influence. There can also be an impact on your emotional and social health (for example, increased anxiety or irritability when not being able to use, or pulling away from social scenarios because it may interfere with your use). Lastly, any kind of complications with physical health is definitely a sign of a problem: not feeling as strong, healthy or well as you normally do without using is definitely cause for concern.
3) LEVEL OF SECRECY:
Do you find yourself having to keep your use a secret? This indicates a problem. You may find yourself having to use prior to going out in social settings, hiding from others that you have actually been using. There’s the common phrase “secrets keep you sick” and that applies perfectly here. If you have to hide it from others, it’s a clear indication that your use may be out of control.
Now, what do you do if you’ve read the above and think you may have a problem? Let’s talk about 2 things you can do in this moment to help you on your road forward.
It’s easy to want to keep things under-wraps and a secret from others. Often times shame or guilt can prevent us from opening up about what’s really goin on. But remember what we said earlier, secrets keep you sick. As hard as it is, take the time to talk, push yourself to reach out to others and be honest about your concerns. You could pick one trusted person from family or friends to talk with–maybe someone who’s expressed their concerns to you already. Joining a recovery group in the area can also provide a great means of support from people who fully understand substance abuse. There are a lot of groups available– AA/NA/SMART/ Celebrate Recovery– some are faith based and 12-step oriented, some are not. As hard as it is to open up, the sooner you speak up the better. Please don’t let fear or judgment hold you back from getting the help you need!
2) TRY TAKING SOME TIME OFF:
Taking some time away from the substance helps you to reevaluate your relationship with it. If this is challenging to do, it may indicate that your relationship with the substance wasn’t as healthy as you had thought. One caveat with this: we do not recommend it for everyone. If you’re on a prescription medication, talk with your doctor to get their opinion on taking a break. If you have any withdrawal symptoms, it might be time to seek more intensive help and support. However, for some, this may really help you identify the intensity of your use and if you’d like to change it.
The main point is this: If you have a problem with any substance, help is absolutely available! Don’t keep it a secret or hide it away thinking that you can get it under control on your own. We are here as therapists to help those who struggle and also those who are supporting those who struggle. Reach out and get the help you need and deserve.