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How do I Know if I Have a Problem?

Statistics show that most people fall somewhere in between abstinence and dependence. The challenge individuals often find is in knowing how much is too much. This involves individual choice and is informed by personal and family history of addiction as well as how individuals manage their lifestyles and goals.


Typically, there are a number of signs that alcohol or substance use has become problematic. The more of these signs or symptoms a person struggles with, the more likely they are to be using excessively and the more at risk they are of developing dependence. These include:

  • Using larger amounts or using for longer than intended

  • Making efforts to stop but being unable to do so, spending more time obtaining, using, or recovering from using

  • Cravings and urges

  • Continuing to use despite consequences

  • Developing withdrawal symptoms when stopping


What is Addiction? 

Drug addiction or dependence is a chronic disease characterized by compulsive or uncontrollable drug-use despite harmful consequences. While the path to addiction varies from person to person, it begins with the voluntary act of taking drugs and eventually leads to a person’s ability to choose not to take drugs becoming compromised. Along the way there can be a number of different behaviors individuals have in terms of their consumption of drugs or alcohol including drug or alcohol use, abuse, or dependence. The term dependence is sometimes used interchangeably with addiction. However, individuals often times can fall into the categories of substance use or abuse and still want to make some changes to their relationship to alcohol or drugs.

Understanding The Differences - Substance Use, Substance Use Disorder, Dependence, and Addiction 

Substance use is any consumption of alcohol or drugs whether it be as simple as having a beer with friends or a drink with dinner or occasionally engaging in recreational drug use. Substance abuse is when someone continues to use alcohol or drugs even when it causes problems such as interfering with work or school responsibilities or creating problems with family, friends, or even health. Finally, substance dependence is when an individual has difficulty stopping or in some cases is unable to stop without withdrawal symptoms.  

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What Does Treatment Look Like?

Mental health professionals can play a useful role in helping individuals examine their own behaviors around substance use or dependence so that they may be better able to make informed choices and reduce or eliminate unwanted consequences associated with compulsive or uncontrollable use.

Typically, treatment begins with a complete assessment of an individual to help their therapist determine the type of treatment that is best suited. This includes gathering information about the kind, amount, and length of time of substance or alcohol use. Effective treatment also attends to other aspects of an individual’s life such as ongoing stressors, or other cooccurring medical or psychiatric issues, and relevant social, vocational, or even legal issues. This approach is often referred to as a “biopsychosocial” model that emphasizes biological (e.g., genetic, pharmacological, and neural), psychological (e.g., feeling a loss of control and intense cravings for the substance), and social (e.g., peer influences, access to substances of abuse) components of substance use and abuse.

Following the initial assessment, your therapist will work with you to determine the best course of action to begin addressing your alcohol or substance use concerns. No single treatment approach is right for everyone and matching a treatment plan and interventions to your individual needs is critical to success. Typical ingredients of an effective treatment plan include addressing motivation for change, identifying goals (e.g. harm reduction vs. abstinence), developing coping skills to identify triggers and resist drug or alcohol use, finding replacement behaviors that are more constructive and rewarding, and improving problem solving skills. 

Sometimes therapy is just one component of a comprehensive alcohol or substance use treatment plan. For some individuals, medication can also be an important component, which is most effective when combined with therapy. For example, there are a number of medications that can help reduce cravings. Additionally, many individuals with drug or alcohol use difficulties also have underlying psychiatric disorders. These can also benefit from a combination of both medication and therapy. If indicated, your therapist can provide you with appropriate referrals to psychiatrists or medical addiction specialists.

It is difficult to know how long treatment will take but research indicates most individuals that struggle with addiction need at least three months in treatment to significantly reduce or stop their use and as a rule longer treatment durations tend to result in better outcomes.

If you are interested in examining or changing your relationship to alcohol or drugs, we are here to help. Please feel free to reach out to speak with one of our therapists, that can answer any questions you may have or connect you with a therapist best suited for your particular needs. You can also schedule an intake appointment directly with any of our therapists online.

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