Woman holds wine glass as she slips into sleep while struggling with alcoholism and substance use disorder

As you read through this article, and you think this sounds like you, we are here to help. Reach out to us to talk with our team about how treatment might be the right next step for you. Below we outline some signs that it may be time for you to ask someone for help treating your SUD.

You need to physically separate yourself from your substance of choice to stop using.

A common trigger many people in recovery cite as the final straw that pushed them to treatment is needing physical distance between them and their substance of choice. Addiction has two components—the physical dependence and the psychological dependence—and sometimes, being sequestered in a place with no access to your substance of choice is exactly what you need to kick start your recovery.

You no longer have control over your use.

If you have struggled to stop or moderate your use of your substance of choice, odds are you could use some help reigning in your use. Attempts at self-control with substance use can take many different forms—bargaining with yourself, setting boundaries on how much or where you use, trying to go cold turkey, trying to limit use to certain days or times, and the list goes on. If you have tried any of these methods, there is a good chance you need help. People without SUD do not need to employ these methods to regulate their use because those substances do not have control over them.

You spend more time than you want using and/or obtaining your substance.

How much time do you spend thinking about your substance of choice? How much time do you spend every week getting it? Using it? Dealing with the aftermath of using it? If you could accurately add up those hours, it likely would not paint a pretty picture. Most people with SUD spend an inordinate amount of time planning how to procure their substance of choice, figuring out when they can next drink or use, and of course, using that substance. That doesn’t even consider the amount of time dedicated to “sleeping it off” or recovering from a hangover.

You spend more money than you want to obtain your substance.

If an accountant sat down and looked at the money dedicated to your substance, would that number be one you’re comfortable with? This includes not just the money spent on the substance itself but also the money spent in acquiring it, the money added on by things you need to use with it (mixers, hardware, etc.), and the cost of food or beverages purchased while drinking or when hungover, money spent on things damaged during your use, the list goes on. It also should factor in any loss of productivity caused by this use. If this number is one that you think is too high, you may want help figuring out how to stop your use so you can put your dollars towards something else.

You physically endanger yourself or others by obtaining and/or using your substance.

This one is easy enough to figure out. Has your use put you or others in situations where you feel unsafe? Has it led you to get behind the wheel under the influence? Have you done something risky that you would not have done sober? These are all signs that your use is potentially endangering your life or the lives of those around you.

You experience physical and/or psychological symptoms of withdrawal when you don’t use.

Withdrawal symptoms look different from person to person and vary depending on the substance of choice, but there are a few common signs to look out for.

  •  Withdrawal from alcohol or benzodiazepines can involve headaches, shakes, insomnia, mood changes, a racing heart, inability to regulate body temperature, hallucinations, and even seizures. Detoxing from alcohol and benzos can be very dangerous and should be done under medical supervision.
  • People in withdraw from opioids can experience anxiety and irritability, aches and pains, chills and sweating, severe gastrointestinal upset, racing heart, insomnia, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

The prolonged use of any mind-altering substance will likely result in withdrawal symptoms when use ends or is paused. If you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you have a break between times of use, you may be dependent on your substance of choice and need help stopping.

You can’t see a future if you continue to use as you are, but you can’t imagine a life without using.

Many people with SUD have reported not being able to see a future for themselves that involves their substance of choice but are unable to imagine quitting and living a life free of it. If you know you can’t have the future you want while using but don’t see any way you can stop using, it may be time to ask for help.

Legal problems resulting from your use are piling up.

This one is self-explanatory. If legal issues stem directly or indirectly from your use, you might want to call in some reinforcements to dig out of that hole.

Your use has affected your professional life.

Have you lost a job or gotten suspended from work? Missed out on a promotion or blown past deadlines? Some addicts will protect their careers above all else, but for others, it is one of the first things to slip, indicating a bigger problem under the surface. If keeping up with your professional life has become almost unmanageable, that may be a sign.

Your use has affected your personal life. You prioritize using over other essential things in your life, like your relationships, responsibilities, and health.

The strongest litmus test for whether your substance use is impacting your life adversely is to look to your personal life, keeping an eye out for any changes that may have happened during a stretch of prolonged substance use. What can start as forgetting your partner’s birthday and missing your dentist appointment can gradually snowball into isolating yourself from any friend or family member who does not actively enable your use. This is the slippery slope many people with SUD find themselves on. If you notice certain things that used to be important to you have now fallen below using your substance of choice on your list of priorities, that is as strong a sign as any that you may have a problem.

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Dr. Brian Wind

PhD, CBSM
Chief Clinical Officer
  • Doctorate-Level
  • 18 years in the field

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