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Do you have a substance use problem?

reviewed 10/25/2018

Substance use

Should you seek help?

No one starts drinking or using drugs with a plan to develop a problem. But these substances can change the brain. You may start needing drugs or booze just to get through the day or feel normal. This kind of substance use can affect every aspect of your life.

Do you spend a lot of time using drugs or alcohol?

If you answered "yes." Many people with substance use problems may lose interest in their favorite things. They can even miss important events or overlook basic hygiene. Instead, they may spend a lot of time getting, using or recovering from their substance of choice.

If you answered "no." That's good. But if you use drugs or alcohol you should know that it's common for people with substance abuse problems to lose interest in their favorite things because they're so focused on getting, using or recovering from their substance of choice. This change can happen so gradually that you may not even realize it.

Have you tried to stop or cut down your drug or alcohol use but couldn't?

If you answered "yes." You're not alone—quitting can be a real challenge. That's why many people don't quit unless they're forced to. Luckily, you don't have to do it alone. Support groups and treatment programs, and sometimes medications, can help.

If you answered "no." If you ever do try to quit, you don't have to do it alone. Talking to your doctor could be a good first step. Support groups and treatment programs, and sometimes medications, can help.

Do you have problems at work or school because of drugs or alcohol?

If you answered "yes." Failing to fulfill obligations is a sign of a problem. Many people with substance use problems have trouble following through. They may drop the ball on handling their responsibilities to employers or schools.

If you answered "no." Even if you're completing all your tasks, are you often hung over at work? Or tired from staying up using drugs or partying? These can affect your work over time.

Does the idea of running out of drugs or alcohol make you anxious?

If you answered "yes." If you feel dependent on a substance, the thought of running out can be terrifying. It may not matter if you want to stop using. With addiction, the urge is too strong to control.

If you answered "no." You may not be afraid of running out. But do you tend to stock up? Or buy more before you've run out? Look at the motivations behind subtle behaviors too.

Has your drug or alcohol use hurt your relationships?

If you answered "yes." Drinking or using drugs may feel like a social activity. However, a substance use problem can wreak havoc on relationships with friends and family. A person who is addicted may do anything to keep using—including lying and hurting people.

If you answered "no." Drinking or using drugs may feel like a social activity. But they can change your personality too. Maybe you get louder or irritable. Or it might be hard to follow a conversation, or carry one. That can put a damper on quality time with friends and family.

Does it feel impossible to get through the week without drugs or alcohol?

If you answered "yes." That makes sense. We're wired to want things we enjoy. Drugs and alcohol initially make the brain feel good. But the brain can get used to it and need more just to feel normal. Going days without it can seem impossible for someone with an addiction.

If you answered "no." That's good. But pay attention to your frequency of use and why. Do you use drugs or alcohol to reward yourself at the end of a long day? Doing that very often can become a habit, and the health effects add up.

Have you ever felt sick when you stopped using drugs or alcohol?

If you answered "yes." This is common. When you stop using a substance, it upsets your body and your brain. You can feel a strong need to consume your substance of choice. When you feel that bad, it's a challenge to stay away. The good news is that treatment and smart strategies can help.

If you answered "no." That's a good sign. It likely means you don't have a physical dependence. You could still develop one though, so be cautious. And don't forget: Mental and emotional dependence is real too.

Results

Talk with your doctor about your results, and be sure to ask any questions that came up in this assessment. Together, you can decide what the right next step is for you.

Sources: American Journal of Psychiatry; American Psychiatric Association; National Institute on Drug Abuse; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

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