Coping With Addictions

How Do I Know If I’m Addicted?

The following conditions are all strong indicators that you have been abusing alcohol or drugs:

  • your substance use prevents you from doing what you need to do at work, at school, or at home
  • you repeatedly use a substance in ways that can be physically dangerous (e.g., driving under the influence)
  • you have legal problems (e.g., arrests) relating to your substance use
  • you keep using the substance even though it creates problems dealing with others (e.g., getting into arguments or fights)

If at least three of the following apply to you, then you are considered dependenton a substance:

  • you need larger and larger amounts of the substance to feel the same effect (e.g., “get high”), or the effect decreases when you keep using the same amount
  • you keep using the substance (or use a similar substance) to avoid withdrawal symptoms, or you have withdrawal symptoms when you cut down or stop using the substance
  • you use the substance in larger amounts or over a longer period than you originally planned
  • you keep wanting to cut down, or you try to cut down without success
  • you spend a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from the substance
  • you cut back or give up important activities because of your substance use
  • you keep using the substance even though you know that it’s causing a physical or mental problem

What If I’m Not Ready to Change?

If you’re not ready to make a change, that’s okay. In the meantime, review the list above while being completely honest with yourself. Make a list of the negative effects of the substance you have used. Ask the opinions of two or three people you trust (not including your drinking/drugging buddies). It takes courage to decide to change, but it also opens up new opportunities.

What’s the Next Step?

  • If you’ve decided that you have a problem, then you’ve already taken an important step. Give yourself a pat on the back for starting to move forward.
  • To build up your commitment to change, try watching a video on the harmful effects of addictions–or have someone videotape you while you are under the influence, and watch it as soon as you are sober.
  • Educate yourself: learn about the physical and mental effects of substance abuse.
  • Keep track of how much you’re using. Note what kind of events, feelings and thoughts occur right before you use.
  • How does your substance use conflict with your main values and goals in life? What will you have to give up when you stop the substance abuse?
  • Set a specific goal for changing your behavior.
  • The next time you begin to drink or drug, stop and ask yourself why you’re doing it.
  • Begin to picture “the new you”–focus on all the positive benefits you’ll experience by changing.
  • Get all the support you can. Tell those you trust about your plan to change. Stay away from people who might interfere with your plan (e.g., active substance abusers). Attend meetings of self-help groups such as AA or NA.

See additional resources on the Links page.

Recommended reading

Prochaska, J.O., Norcross, J.C., & DiClimente, C.C. (1994). Changing for good. New York: Avon.

The above suggestions are not a substitute for professional guidance, and no liability can be assumed for this advice. Seek professional assistance if your difficulties persist.