If you have used drugs or alcohol more than you normally would, this may have alerted you to having some concern that this can be a sign that you have a problem.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), addiction is defined as a severe substance use disorder that’s characterized by compulsive drug use. Therefore, there are different levels of severity to ascertain the level of dependence.
Mild substance use disorders can include binge drinking or using drugs beyond their usual intended purpose, moderate SUDs can involve chemical dependence, while severe disorders are characterized by compulsive addiction. Each one of these levels comes with warning signs that can tell you that your substance use is becoming a disorder.
If you have been using a prescription drug that can be addictive, or if you’ve been using illicit drugs recreationally, it’s important to be aware of the potential signs and symptoms of addiction. People with severe substance use disorders are often blind to the fact that they have a problem. However, if you take the time to truly self-evaluate, you may find that it’s time to seek help.
Some individuals although recognizing they have a severe substance use disorder may not be able to quit on their own. According to the research this is an indication that addiction hijacks your brain’s reward system and make it nearly irresistible to use, even if you know there is a problem. For that reason, it’s important to reach out to your doctor or an addiction specialist to learn more about addiction treatment, if you feel like you have a problem and you just can’t quit.
To help your self-evaluation, here are a few questions you should think about when considering a potential substance use disorder:
The frequency of your drug use plays a big role in its effects on your brain. It’s rare for a drug to cause a severe substance use problem after just one use, although some people do report it happening. On the other hand, it’s unlikely that you will be able to take frequent, substantial doses of an addictive drug without experiencing any consequences.
Do you drink or use drugs every week? Binge drinking on the weekends is a common issue, especially among college students and young adults. However, not everyone who binge drinks every weekend develops a severe alcohol use disorder. Still, binging may qualify you for a mild AUD.
On the other hand, using other highly addictive drugs such as heroin or meth, even once per week could cause addiction to develop. If you start using an addictive substance multiple times a week, you are risking a chemical dependency, which can lead to an addiction. Drinking or using four or more times a week can be a major red flag for addiction.
Recreational drug use often starts as a social activity, especially when it comes to alcohol. It’s possible that you started using a drug out of curiosity, but most people are introduced to new drugs by friends, and experienced drug users know the value and safety in using with other people. Parties are also common settings for drug use, especially stimulants and empathogens like MDMA. If you started out by using in social settings and now you’re using by yourself, it may be a sign that you have a problem.
Using by yourself may mean that you’re more concerned with maintaining a feeling of normalcy, avoiding withdrawal, or feeding an addiction than you are with socializing or even using for recreation.
Again, recreational drug or alcohol use may start as a social activity, but it often turns into a way to treat other problems. When a person uses drugs or alcohol to treat a physical or mental health problem outside of the advice of a doctor, it’s referred to as self-medication. Self-medication is a common problem among people that struggle with addiction. Depression and anxiety are some of the most common ailments that fuel self-medication. However, using alcohol or other drugs to self-medicate can be dangerous, and it only serves to make mental health issues worse.
If you notice that you feel compelled to drink or use drugs after a stressful day or feelings of depression, you may be self-medicating, which is a red flag for a substance use disorder.
Using drugs at odd times of day is a common sign that you may have a substance use disorder, especially if you use in the morning. If you feel compelled to use or drink as the first thing you do in the morning, it’s a major red flag. Certain drugs and alcohol wear off after several hours. For instance, if you drink at night, it may start to wear off by the time you wake up, so you wake up with cravings for them. Drinking or using drugs before you start your day may point to chemical dependence or addiction. It’s especially telling if you feel the need to use in the middle of a workday. If you leave work to sneak a drink or a hit of a drug, you may be addicted.
Think about the last time you used drugs or drank alcohol. Why did you do it? Was it to socialize with friends, to experience a high, or to try something new? Or was it to help you feel normal. When someone becomes chemically dependent on a psychoactive substance, their brain will integrate the substance into normal nervous system functioning. If you miss a dose, you’ll feel different, and if you stop using, you may start to experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. When it comes to alcohol, benzodiazepines, and other nervous system depressants, those withdrawal symptoms may even be dangerous.
If your drug use is no longer about socializing or achieving a high, you may be trying to satisfy a chemical dependence or addiction.
There is substantial evidence to suggest that genetics play a large role in a person’s development of addiction. Scientists and researchers have looked at a variety of factors that could point to a genetic link to substance use problems, including twin studies. Some research suggests that genetics can make up the majority of a person’s risk factors for developing a substance use disorder. If you have a parent or grandparent who’s struggled with addiction in the past, you may be at a greater risk for developing a substance use disorder. If you have been using an addictive substance and you also have genetic risk factors, you may want to speak to an addiction specialist to get more information about treatment options.
American Psychological Association. (2008, June). Genes matter in addiction. from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2008/06/genes-addict.aspx
Grant, J. E., M.D., & Chamberlain, S. R., M.D. (2016, May 6). Expanding the definition of addiction: DSM-5 vs. ICD-11 … from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5328289/
Ruiz, M. E. (2010, October). Risks of self-medication practices. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20615179