How do we know when alcohol and/or drug use has become a problem for us? What is a substance use problem? Alcohol or drug problems arise when drinking or using drugs, both prescribed and illegal, in an amount that may be harmful or impair any area of life. Maybe you have had arguments with family, friends or loved ones about, or during, drinking alcohol or other substance use. You might have gotten into trouble at school, work, received a DWI/DUI or have been charged with possession of an illegal drug.
An alcohol or drug “problem” often begins far before it is recognized as a problem. No matter one’s opinion of severity, using illegal drugs, even marijuana, is a criminal behavior according to North Carolina and federal laws. Consuming or possessing prescription medications that are not prescribed specifically to you is an illegal act.
For alcohol, identifying a substance use problem is sometimes not simple because it is legal for people aged 21. How to know if it’s a problem? One way is to watch our for heavy drinking episodes, sometimes referred to as “binge drinking.” Binge drinking can be dangerous. Binge drinking is typically considered consuming 4 measured drinks for a male, 3 measured drinks for a female. A measured drink is 1.5 oz 80 proof liquor, 12 oz of standard American beer, or 1 5 oz glass of non-fortified wine.
Why are 3-4 drinks in one evening dangerous? An over-simplified way to consider it is this: After a couple of drinks, the liver produces enzymes to break down the alcohol. The first is “acetaldehyde”, a member of the aldehyde family. Like formaldehyde, aldehydes are preservatives. Regularly drinking “binge” amounts of alcohol harms the liver, eventually causing swelling and irritation. The liver produces acetaldehyde’s preservative properties, preserving the damage alcohol does to the liver; preserving swelling of the liver. The irritation can become scar tissue on the liver. Substantial swelling and scar tissue in the liver eventually causes cirrhosis. Cirrhosis can cause liver failure and death. Mixing alcohol with other drugs often speeds up the harm to the liver.
A simple substance use test is the CAGE test. “C” – have you ever felt the need to Cut down or eliminate use? “A” – Have you ever become Angry or Aggravated when someone discusses drinking or drug use with or about you? “G” – Have you ever felt Guilty about your drinking or substance use, or Guilt about something you did or said while drinking or using? “E” – Have you ever had an Eye opener; a drink or hit in the morning to start your day or “hair of the dog that bit you”? Or, has drinking caused a different type of “eye opener”? This eye opener could include getting arrested, blacking out, fighting? Did you experience something completely unexpected happening while using alcohol or drugs that causes you to take pause; makes you wonder about your use? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might want to discuss this with a Licensed (LCAS) or Certified (CSAC) Substance Use Disorder Counselor.
Do friends or family believe your life is the best it can be while drinking or using other substances? For use of opioids, marijuana, cocaine, and other drugs – are these are legal? Can you stop using these for 30 – 90 days without a desire to resume use? What might happen if you are caught by family or police possessing or using these substances? Does your job drug test? Do you ever drive with drugs, including alcohol, in your system? Is creating a criminal history okay for you? Is going to prison acceptable? These are just a few of the things to consider when using or possessing illegal substances.
Do you use or drink most days of the week? Does it take more of the substance to get the desired feeling? Cocaine and opioids, including heroin and street opiates, are notorious for building tolerance in a short period of time. Does it seem that the drugs are not as good as they used to be? If these apply, you are experiencing tolerance to the drug, including alcohol.
Other ways of identifying a substance abuse “problem” or substance use disorder (SUD) is sometimes simple. Are alcohol and/or drugs causing any type of problem, aggravation or discomfort in your life? Do problems recur in multiple areas of your life? Are you able to completely abstain from all non-prescribed substances, including alcohol, for a period of 30 – 90 days without effort?
The best way to determine if alcohol or drug use is a problem is to take extended time away from consuming substances. Treat yourself to a trial and abstain completely for 90 days. Do you feel different? Do your grades or work experiences improve? Take note of the changes that occur in your life after a period of abstinence. Decide if you are functioning better in areas of your life without use. If so, maybe extend the abstinence and see how much better your life can become!
Our goal at First Step Services, LLC is very simple…do our best to help every client and patient never have another problem of any type with alcohol or drugs. If that is your goal, too, contact us today at (919) 833-8899 or email “info@firststepnc(dot)com.”