When is Substance Use a Reason for Concern?

Undoubtedly, substance use is an accepted behavior in today’s society. Data from a large national survey reveal that around 60% of Americans aged 12 or older used some form of substance within the last month. The most commonly consumed drugs are alcohol and tobacco followed by marijuana and prescription pain relievers. Substance use is part of mainstream society. This is the most evident for alcohol, for example the beer at a football game or the glass of wine with dinner.

Most Americans are able to consume substances without having to face any negative consequences associated with the use. Behaviors related to the consumption of alcohol and other substances are not a black or white issue but instead fall on a spectrum or continuum. Some individuals do not use at all, some consume very little, and others use regularly. So how do we know if someone’s substance use behaviors have become problematic?

Professionals such as physicians, social workers, or counselors usually look at a number of indicators to determine whether an individual’s substance use has reached a level that could be considered problematic. They ask questions such as the following: Has the person attempted to cut down on substances but failed to do so? Have responsibilities related to family or employment been neglected because of drugs or alcohol? Have friends or family members ever commented on the amount or frequency of use? Has the person ever used substances to deal with stress or uncomfortable states? Does the individual experience withdrawal symptoms when not using?

Are drugs or alcohol often on the person’s mind? A pragmatic indicator for problematic substance use is whether the alcohol or drug use has caused complications in the person’s life. For example, have there been any DUIs? Is the use causing physical or mental health problems? Is the use putting a strain on interpersonal relationships? Has the use negatively impacted work duties? If this is the case, then seeking professional help could be useful as it can be challenging to tackle addiction alone. A licensed professional will then assess the issue further.