Have You Lost Control of Your Substance Use?

Substance use disorder occurs when a person repeatedly uses a substance over and over despite the harm. The substance might be a legal or illegal drug. However, how can you tell if you are simply relaxing, having fun, or losing control?

Key takeaways:
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    It can be difficult to recognize if you are losing control of your substance use.
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    When substance use causes problems affecting your relationships, work, school, or health, it may be time to seek help.
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    If you have a problem, know that you are not alone and that effective treatments are available. More than 20 million Americans experience substance use disorder.

Keep reading to learn more about how to recognize the signs of a possible drug or alcohol problem in yourself or someone close to you.

What is substance use disorder?

Substance use disorder (SUD) is an increasingly common challenge. According to the United Nations, 35 million people worldwide suffer from SUDs. In the United States, 20.3 million Americans are living with substance use disorder. But how do you know if you have lost control of your substance use? It can be difficult to admit when things are spiraling out of control. Therefore, it is imperative to detect the early signs of a SUD so that you can get help and prevent further progression or overdose.

Substance use disorder occurs when you use a substance over and over even though it is causing major problems in your life. For example, the substance might be alcohol, an illegal drug, or a prescription or over-the-counter medication. Even though issues continue to arise, including health problems, disability, or troubles at work, school, or home, you continue to use the substance.

It is not uncommon for a person to develop more than one type of SUD at a time if they are using multiple substances. For example, they may have both alcohol use disorder (AUD) and opioid use disorder (OUD).

Substance use disorders affect physical and mental health. When your mental health is affected, it can be difficult to tell if you need help controlling your substance use. If you have friends or family members expressing concern, it may be because they are noticing things that you do not.

What substances are misused?

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, frequently misused substances include:

  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • Prescription drugs (painkillers, stimulants, anti-anxiety drugs)
  • Methamphetamine

  • Cocaine
  • Opiates
  • Hallucinogens
  • Inhalants

Even legal substances that seem relatively harmless, such as caffeine, can cause addiction or lead to substance misuse in some people.

Signs of substance use disorder

Recognizing a SUD in yourself or others can be difficult. Common warning signs may include:

  • Having strong cravings to use a substance.
  • Cutting back on other activities to spend more time using a substance.
  • Spending lots of time and money on obtaining, using, and recovering from substances.
  • Getting in trouble at school or getting fired from a job.
  • Continually using a substance after causing relationship problems.
  • Developing a tolerance to substances.
  • Neglecting personal hygiene and physical appearance.
  • Participating in risky behavior while under the influence of a substance.
  • Experiencing physical or mental symptoms of withdrawal and wanting to use again to ease the symptoms.
  • Declining physical health.
  • Unusual behaviors.
  • Not wanting to do previously enjoyable activities.

Identifying a SUD in someone close to you can put you in a tough position. It is especially difficult when you are unsure of whether your suspicions about their substance use are valid. However, the best thing you can do for your loved one is to talk with them about your concerns and offer to help them get treatment.

Physical symptoms of SUD

It is important to note that physical symptoms of SUD may not be noticeable. Some people become skilled at hiding their substance use. However, the following physical changes may indicate a substance use disorder:

  • Weight loss
  • Chronic tiredness
  • Abnormal lab test results
  • Insomnia
  • New or worsened anxiety or depression

Risk factors for substance use disorder

While anyone exposed to substances could develop SUD, certain risk factors make some people more prone to addictive behaviors than others.

If you have one or more of the following risk factors, you may have an increased chance of developing a substance use disorder:

  • Past or present addictions to substances.
  • Chronic alcohol and tobacco use.
  • Family history of substance misuse.
  • Mental health problems.

Next steps

What should you do if you think you or someone close to you has a substance abuse problem? It is a difficult answer, but the best thing you can do for yourself or someone you love is to seek help right away. Do not be afraid to speak up and voice your concerns to your loved one. Offer to connect them to programs to help address their substance use disorder.

If you are taking a prescription medication and fear you may be experiencing a substance use disorder, discuss it immediately with your provider.

Substance use disorders are a prevalent and fast-growing issue with serious complications. Identifying and managing substance use disorders is essential to minimize their harmful effects on individuals and communities.

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