5 Questions Everyone Should Ask About Their Substance Use

By The Fix staff 10/29/19

Determining whether your substance use is problematic can be tricky. These questions can help you discover whether you need help.

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Recognizing the problem really is your first step to changing your life. © Oksun70 | Dreamstime.com

Are you using just a little too much, or do you have a serious substance use problem? Do you want that glass of wine or joint at the end of a long day, or do you need it? Do you need treatment?

Guaging whether you have an addiction — officially know as substance use disorder — can be tricky, especially since the progression of the disease is gradual. You may have started off using substances in a controlled and healthy(ish) way, but realized over time that you’re not sure you’re in control any more. 

If you’re trying to honestly assess your substance use, these 5 questions can help you. 

Are You Using More and More to Get the Same Affect?

One of the hallmarks of addiction, according to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is tolerance. This means that you need more of a substance in order to get the same affect. If you once felt buzzed from a glass of wine, but now find yourself drinking a whole bottle in order to feel relaxed, that’s a sign that you might have a problem with your substance use. 

Do You Experience Withdrawal Symptoms?

Tolerance happens when your body gets used to having your substance of choice in its system. This can lead to another physical sign of addiction: withdrawal. Depending on what substance you use, withdrawal symptoms could include headaches, nausea, feelings of anxiety or many other symptoms. These symptoms happen because your body has become physically dependent on your substance of choice in order to function properly. Without it, your body falters as it tries to reset to normal. 

Do You Use More than You Want To?

Having trouble controlling your intake is a clear sign of substance use disorder. Many people with addiction maintain the illusion that they can control their use of drugs or alcohol. They might tell themselves or others that they’ll “just have one,” but find themselves unable to stop after that point. If you regularly notice that you’ve violated the boundaries that you set for yourself in terms of drug or alcohol use, you may have a problem. 

Is It Impacting Your Life?

Substance use becomes problematic when it begins to impact your life. There are obvious ways that using can impact you, by making you late to work, causing you to fight with your loved ones, or making you more likely to break the law. 

However, there are also more subtle ways in which drugs and alcohol can change your day to day. For example, do you spend a lot of time thinking about securing your next hit or drink? Do you go out of your way to obtain drugs or alcohol? Or, do you often miss out on weekend activities because you’re too hung over from the night before? All of these are signs that your substance use is taking away time from other activities that are important to you. This should cause you to reconsider your use, and consider getting help. 

Have You Tried, Unsuccessfully, to Change your Habits?

If you have ever tried, and failed, to cut back on your substance use there’s a good chance that you need to seek professional help. This might have been as simple as opting to engage in a challenge like Sober October, but finding out that you couldn’t quit drinking. Or, it might mean going cold turkey on your drug of choice, before relapsing. 

Continuing to use substances even if you recognize their negative impact and dangers can indicate that you are addicted. For example, if you know that your meth use induces feelings of paranoia, but you still use meth as a party drug on the weekends, there’s likely a bigger issue. Even something as simple as drinking to excess when you know it causes you to make bad social decisions is concerning. 

Admitting that you are addicted to alcohol or drugs can be terrifying. Still, as cliche as it sounds, recognizing the problem really is your first step to changing your life. By being honest about the fact that you’re no longer in control of your substance use, you can connect with a treatment professional who will help you regain control. 

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