Recognising drug and alcohol problems
How do I know if I have a problem with drugs or alcohol?
You don’t need to be addicted to alcohol or drugs to have a harmful relationship with it. Alcohol and drug use should be thought of as a spectrum, ranging from use that is occasional and low risk (in the case of alcohol for example) to use that is out of control and which can have serious effects on your physical and mental health.
People often think they should only get help for their drug or alcohol use if it’s affecting their day-to-day life. In fact, many people use alcohol or drugs in a ‘high functioning’ way and are able to continue with their normal routine, such as going to work or college or taking care of family.
It’s important to remember that some drugs, such as some of the new ‘legal highs’, are so strong that you don’t need to have an addiction to put yourself in a life-threatening situation – just once could be too much.
Do these sound familiar?
- You’ve built up a tolerance – you need more to get the same effect or high.
- You don’t feel in control of your drinking or drug use – maybe you have made a decision to take a break but you haven’t been able to.
- You have cravings during the day.
- You regularly drink or take drugs to deal with a hangover or withdrawal symptoms.
- Your use is starting to have an effect on your relationships with family and friends –perhaps you’re having more arguments, or loved ones tell you they’re worried about you.
- You forget what happened the night before; you feel embarrassed or ashamed of your behaviour.
- You find it difficult to sleep or get up. You wake up in the early hours of the morning feeling unwell and your motivation to go to work or complete tasks is low.
- You plan activities around alcohol or drugs – it’s not a night out unless you drink or take drugs to excess.
- Your drug use or drinking is upsetting or worrying you, but you can’t stop.
- You hide, or lie about your use to friends and family.
- Once you’ve had your first drink or a small amount of drug you don’t feel able to stop.
If you recognise any of these signs in yourself, it might be worth getting in touch with your local service.
I’m worried someone I know might have a problem with drugs or alcohol – what are the signs I should be looking for?
It depends on the type of substance that’s being used, but some common signs that someone might have a problem with alcohol or drugs include:
- A change in mood such as becoming more agitated, irritable, defensive or aggressive. This may be more obvious on a Monday or Tuesday after the weekend.
- A change in behaviour such as becoming more secretive, taking money or valuables or getting into debt.
- Not performing as well at work or school, including regularly being late or calling in sick.
- Unusual sleeping patterns such as staying in bed all day or being awake at night.
- Rapid weight loss or gain, or a sudden loss of appetite.
- Appearing confused, disorientated or ‘spaced out’ or, alternatively, becoming hyperactive.
- Physical changes such as slurred speech, bloodshot eyes or enlarged pupils.
- Losing contact with old friends and/or gaining new friends.
How can I best support someone who has a problem with alcohol or drugs?
Firstly, it’s important to make sure you’re looking after yourself and that you get support if you need to. Living with, or supporting, someone who is using alcohol or drugs in a harmful way can be emotionally draining, so it’s worth speaking to a professional who can advise you on how to best protect your own emotional and mental health. You can find your local CGL service here.
People who have a problem with alcohol or drugs often feel ashamed or embarrassed. Try not judge or blame the person you care for, but let them know you’re there for them if they need you. Remember too that it can take time for someone to reach out for help, but it doesn’t mean they won’t get there.
Give them a list of contact details for useful organisations where they can talk to someone privately. Change, grow, live (CGL), your local substance misuse agency, Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous and the Samaritans are all a good place to start. Many people also find it helpful talking to our peer mentors, who are in recovery themselves and can relate to what they may be going through.
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