Substance Use

When might alcohol or other drug use become a problem?

With time, some people can find their alcohol or other drug use becomes problematic, because the harm or risk of harm associated with the substance use outweighs the benefits. Substance use may be a problem when you:

  • Have difficulty meeting responsibilities at home, work or school
  • Use more than you intended despite wanting to cut down or quit
  • Have recurring problems with health, safety, relationships, finances or the law through the substance use
  • Need the substance to cope with everyday life or particular experiences
  • Organise other events or needs around your substance use
  • Need increasing amounts of the substance to have the same effect
  • Feel sick or moody without the substance, but feel normal upon resuming use
  • Have tried unsuccessfully to reduce or cease use.
  • Find yourself using as a way to maintain your friendships.

What kinds of problems can alcohol or other drug use cause?

We often tend to think of the immediate harm associated with what drug is being used, how much and how often. But substance-related risks or harm can occur at any stage of drug use, including:

  • How you get hold of the substance (e.g. raising the money or risks in buying the substance)
  • How you put the substance into your body (e.g. drink, eat, inhale, smoke, snort, or inject)
  • The effect of the drug on your body (e.g. increased heart rate, unconsciousness or long-term liver damage)
  • What you do while under the influence of the drug (e.g. increased risk taking or neglect of other responsibilities)
  • What happens when you cease to use (e.g. depression when “coming down” or withdrawal symptoms).

What can you do if you think you have a problem?

It can sometimes be hard to admit that your alcohol or other drug use has become a problem, especially if you still enjoy aspects of the drug use. Think about whether you would like to change your use in some way, such as:

  • What you use
  • How much you use
  • When or how often you use
  • Method of use
  • Where you use
  • Who you use with
  • What you do to get hold of or afford the drug
  • What you do while under the influence of the drug.

It can be useful to ask yourself what are the helpful and not so helpful consequences of using the substance, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of cutting down or quitting. These questions are particularly useful
in identifying what goals you would like to set for yourself in changing your substance use, and the challenges that you might experience in working toward achieving those goals.