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Using substances that alter our mood, behavior, and thinking is widespread in most societies, and has been going on for centuries. Many of us start the day with a cup of coffee or tea. Our reaction can be anything from feeling more alert and energetic to feeling jittery and irritable. However, in moderate quantities, most research shows few adverse effects, and even positive health benefits.  But when people become addicted to a substance, that’s a far different story. 

So, where is the line?

How do you know when using drugs or alcohol harms you or someone else? Most people aren’t very good at noticing it in themselves because using a lot has become part of their daily lives. And when they are under the influence, their judgment and self-awareness are clouded. 

It’s often just as challenging for family members and friends to recognize that someone may have a significant problem with alcohol or drugs. After all, some people seem more funny and likeable while drinking or using, and we may have gotten used to their behavior. Others can become very good actors, putting on a good show, and get skilled at hiding how much they’re using.  

The critical factors

The tipping point between mild to moderate social use and addictive use isn’t always clear. Usually, when those close to us notice major, negative changes in our behaviors that become problems, that’s often a sign things are slipping out of control. 

For example, someone may lose a job because they’re unreliable or have interpersonal problems. They can get mired in legal tangles. And their moods may vary widely depending on when they are using versus coming down from a high. What’s more, often the addicted person denies that he or she has lost a grip and mounts a quick defense, “I’m on top of this and can take it or leave it. I’m fine. It’s not that big of a deal.”  

Warning signs

While addiction is different for every person, the general rule is that when someone cannot reduce or stop using a substance successfully on their own, they will need help to break their dependence. Addiction refers to the measurable physiological changes that take place in the brain and body when certain substances are chronically abused. When those changes take place, it’s an uphill battle to cut back or quit. 

Here are some questions to ask yourself:  Am I…

  • Spending a great deal of time thinking about, getting, and using substances and ignoring activities that I once loved?
  • Continuing using substances even though it results in serious consequences (like poor health, legal entanglements, loss of a job?)
  • Trying to cut down or quit without success?
  • Needing more of the substance to get the same effect?
  • Trying to stop but it produces withdrawal (nausea, vomiting, shakiness, depression, high anxiety?)
  • Telling more lies about how much I’m using and how it’s affecting my behavior?

The challenge

Generally, these types of changes don’t happen overnight and are a gradual process. Alcohol and Drug addiction can be treated, but it’s not simple, plus there’s the stigma and shame associated with addiction, making it more difficult to reach out for help. Getting someone who is dependent or addicted to a substance to admit they can’t do without it and realizing their need for help is usually the first hurdle, and often the most significant. But that’s only half the battle. It usually takes getting into effective treatment and staying in treatment to deliver the most lasting results.

Facing reality, getting support common to beating addiction is the reality that most can’t do it alone. At one time or another, most of us have tried to change some part of ourselves or our lives– quit smoking, lose weight, or get a new job. Sometimes our best efforts aren’t enough. 

Support into and through the journey is vital, and it’s usually a long-haul. The best pathway is a therapist trained in addiction treatment coupled with family and friends who are willing to loyally walk with the person through treatment with compassionate determination for however long it takes.

Recovery is possible 

If there are still questions about possible addiction and you’re wondering what to do, talk to a professional who’s trained in addictions. Most have multiple years of experience dealing with almost every kind of addiction and can apply that knowledge effectively. Therapists at Jefferson Center are experts in substance use treatment and can provide a full range of substance use services. If you’d like to find out more call 303-425-0300. They have a non-judgmental approach, and focus on how to link you with the life change you’d like to start living.