When does “use” turn into “abuse?” How does a person know when he no longer has a healthy relationship with drugs or alcohol? Can there ever be such a thing?
Substance abuse is a delicate issue because it hurts so many people, and those people do not want to alienate a loved one with accusations. Nor does a healthy individual want to become paranoid about how much he drinks.
A closer look at the topic reveals sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious clues which will help you come to a conclusion.
Substances That Are Always Problematic
There are certain drugs one can never come by legally. One must shop for them on the street, going through drug dealers whose products could be tainted. They are not legal drugs because there is no such thing as a “safe limit” and the chance of becoming addicted or even over-dosing after just one experiment is extremely high.
Methamphetamines are an example (known as “meth,” “glass,” and “crystal meth” among other aliases). While doctors frequently prescribe amphetamines in various forms to patients with Attention Deficit Disorder, narcolepsy, and to shift-workers, they do not prescribe meth.
Cocaine is another problematic drug and often associated with the wealthy. The rare individual tries this stimulant only once or at parties twice a year; most people crave it after the first time and the same is true of meth.
Certain narcotics are useful as part of a pain management strategy when prescribed by a doctor and used as directed. Narcotics for sale on the street, heroin particularly, are not legal; not safe, and they are associated with a high mortality rate. If the drug doesn’t get you, an infected needle might.
Substances Which are Sometimes Safe
Controlled substances like alcohol, amphetamines, and oxycodone are like green lights on the highway. You are safe to cross the road on a green light if no one is running the red light at that moment. In other words, you have to use caution and keep your eyes open to signs of danger. The same goes for opioid painkillers, alcohol, and “uppers.”
Alcoholics often argue that they never miss a day of work due to a hangover. They don’t binge or hit their wives. What is the problem then? Ask yourself what you first think about upon waking each morning and your last conscious thought at night.
If you are always craving a drink or can’t get to sleep without one, there could be a problem. Does stress prompt you to reach for a bottle or can of beer?
Cider, beer, and wine are as potentially addictive as whiskey, rum, and vodka by the way, so if you de-stress by drinking any of these it is possible you have forgotten how to deal with problems and that you see every task as a burden these days. There is no such thing as moderate, manageable stress anymore.
When you talk about alcohol, do you give it an alias to make it sound less like alcohol? You might refer to your “little drink,” your “pick-me-up,” or a “glass of bubbly.” In a healthy situation, people refer to booze for what it is and they don’t go through anxiety or depression when there isn’t a glass of beer/cider/wine/vodka at the end of every day, preferably three or four glasses. How much you polish off is not as important as your relationship with the substance.
Narcotic painkillers are meant to be used for a short period of time. The body can’t make its own painkilling chemicals if opiates replace them day after day. Many people refuse to take anything stronger then ibuprofen for fear of becoming addicted, even if pain is barely tolerable.
Anyone can become addicted to prescribed painkillers. Again, what do you think of when you wake up? Do you take the drug as recommended or consume more than you are told to? Obtaining a drug through any means other than a legitimate prescription is a definite substance abuse issue whether on the street, online, through means of fraud or theft. The same goes for uppers used to stimulate wakefulness during long haul driving sessions, night shifts on the maternity ward, and long hours of study over university text books.
You should automatically seek help if you can’t survive without these drugs; if you go through physical pain, vomiting, experience suicidal thoughts, or hallucinate when you crave them. Any time you believe you could commit a crime or harm someone to obtain a supply of drugs or alcohol, this is extreme, but even sweating and shaking are indications you are addicted and have possibly been abusing a substance.
What To Do About Substance Abuse
From the outside looking in, loved ones should seek professional help from an interventionist. This person will guide family members as to how they can best approach the addicted individual. A substance abuser, however, should seek appropriate treatment, which will likely start with a detox or a rehabilitation center if he is aware of his abuse problem. Counseling, group therapy and 12-Step programs will aid his recovery into the future.