Are you worried that your use of drugs or alcohol has become problematic?
If so, you’re not alone. Most people who worry about their use of drugs and alcohol struggle to find an objective measurement to help them understand whether or not they have a problem.
At what point should you consider reaching out for professional help If you’re like most people I work with, you might be thinking, “My use is the same as my friends or family. “Or: “I don’t use every day”.
I get it. It’s comforting to look around at the people who have “real problems,” thinking to yourself, “I’m doing ok by comparison, right?”
These thoughts, comforting as they might feel, also run the risk of minimizing the negative consequences you’re experiencing TODAY.
You might be worried about the future – and with good reason.
Now, severity of substance use is ABSOLUTELY important. Whenever I meet with clients, we carefully assess the degree of severity. We take time to assess where you fit on the scale of problematic use.
That said, the severity of your use is just one factor. The second part involves exploring the subtle – yet essential – negative consequences of your use.
First, the Basics
We all know the obvious negative
consequences of problematic drug and alcohol use: losing a job, ruining a
marriage, legal consequences like a DUI, or financial troubles.
If you have had two or more obvious negative consequences happen to you, then you are probably not in the group of people who are wondering whether or not there is a problem.
If you haven’t had an obvious negative consequence happen to you, then the 7 Key Questions apply to you. This leads me to the most important assessment of substance abuse: quality of life.
The Subtle, Negative Consequences to Quality of Life
Most of my clients who are candidates for individual counseling (rather than inpatient rehab) take careful stock of the subtle signs of trouble. They are unwilling to get arrested, get divorced, or lose a job before deciding to change their substance use. They aren’t willing to hit rock bottom.
You might be wondering: “At what point does substance use turn into a full-blown problem?”
Below are 7 key questions to help you get started.
7 Key Questions:
- Have loved ones ever commented on my substance use? If you’re like most people I work with, you’ve probably caught flak from your significant other, parents, or in-laws at least once in the past 5 years. Almost EVERYONE who goes on to develop severe substance abuse problems gets called out by someone they love before things spiral out of control.
- Have I ever lied about my use to people I care about? Let’s drop the philosophical debate on “lies of omission” (failing to share information) and “lies of commission” (actively lying) to consider the subtle lies that show up when substance use is on the verge of becoming substance abuse. As yourself the following:
- Do you take extra care with liquor, beer, or wine bottles when you leave the house to make sure that they go unnoticed in the trash?
- Do you ever walk through the front door and tell your significant other that you had “just one or two drinks,” when you really had four or five?
- Did your best friend ever slip you a pill to have “just in case,” that you “forget” to mention to the person you live with?
- Do you take extra special care to use a juice or water glass that the person you live with does not associate with drinking?
All of the above are examples of subtle forms of lying. They are also worrisome red flags, inviting you to make a change today.
- Do I ever feel guilty about my use? I’m not talking about a hangover, or a forced apology the day after a bad night out. I’m talking about those moments of panic, worry, and fear that show up when we feel like we have crossed a line. This is the kind of guilt that is telling us to change.
- Has my work or school performance decreased? You might have an awesome job, with raises and promotions. That’s not the point. Where we want to take a look is at the way your energy FEELS when you are at work. Have you ever had one of those days where you’re just “punching the clock” at work because of a rough night? This is the kind of red flag that should concern you.
- Has my quality of life gotten worse? Most people who struggle with substance use struggle with insomnia, anxiety, and occasional exhaustion. Perhaps you’ve seen one of those Facebook “memories” pop up on your newsfeed -from just a few years ago! – that left you thinking, “Wow, I used to look really good.” I’m here to tell you that you can still be a high performer at work while compromising your quality of life. Even if you only use substances “every now and then,” you may see the negative consequences in your quality of life.
- Have I stopped doing things I enjoy? Have I been seeing my friends less than I would like? This could be for two reasons.
- It’s not uncommon to get into trouble with your significant other when you get after it with your friends, only to promise the person you love you will never go out with those friends, do things you love, or do anything outside of the house. The problem isn’t your significant other – it’s the way you use substances.
- The other reason relates to the kind of drug and alcohol use that makes you want to isolate yourself.
Bottom line: if this type of “Netflix and Chill” describes most of your free time, you may want to take a look at what you are doing
- Have I ever thought I need to cut back on my use of alcohol, pills, or substances? Most of the clients I work with buy their substances through legal means – alcohol, prescription pills, and over-the-counter sleep medications. If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I should really use a bit less than I do,” then this should give you pause.
Why Your Answers to the 7 Key Questions Matter
These questions aren’t random – they’re based on research. People who answer “Maybe” to any of the 7 Key Questions have reason to be concerned that their use of drugs and alcohol. The 7 Key Questions uncover themes that may eventually turn into larger problems.
Substance abuse is progressive. If you recognize that something needs to change, you can get help to prevent these subtle, negative consequences from spiraling out of control. Individual therapy can helps. The good news is that by identifying the negative consequences of your use, you have taken the first step to make healthy changes to have the life you want to live.