Drugs and Alcohol: Passing Phase or Potential Problem?

Teenagers are naturally curious and drawn to experimentation, which is why people are rarely surprised when college students try alcohol, pot or even prescription drugs. But what happens when the experimentation stage doesn’t end after college, and actually escalates? How do you know when your drug use is bordering on addiction?

Most people who experiment with drugs do not become addicts. In fact, reports from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration suggest that more than 90% of first-time drug users do not become dependent. But for the 10% who do become addicted, the decision to try drugs or alcohol may end up haunting them for life.

What�s Your Risk?

Although anyone of any age, background or gender can become addicted to drugs, there are certain risk factors that increase your chances of getting hooked.

  • Do you have a close family relative who has struggled with addiction?
  • Did you start using drugs at an early age (before the age of 15)?
  • Are you experimenting with a highly addictive drug like heroin or cocaine?
  • Are you using drugs intravenously?
  • Do you have a mental health condition like anxiety or depression?
  • Do your friends use drugs or have lax attitudes about substance abuse?
  • Is your relationship with your parents strained or distant?
  • Did you experience some form of trauma, abuse or neglect in childhood?
  • Do you use drugs to cope with stress or escape difficult emotions?

Where Experimentation Meets Addiction

Even when initially used casually or recreationally, drugs can cause changes in the brain that interfere with your ability to function normally. With prolonged use, your brain stops producing feel-good chemicals like dopamine, making it harder to gain pleasure from activities you’d typically enjoy, such as eating, sex, a beautiful sunset or a favorite song.

Has your drug use crossed the line from experimentation to addiction? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you continue to use even though drugs have caused problems at work, home, school or in relationships?
  • Have you tried to stop but keep returning to drug use?
  • Do you feel guilty or ashamed of your drug use?
  • Do you need more drugs to feel the same high you initially experienced?
  • Have you stopped hanging out with friends or doing activities you enjoy?
  • Do loved ones express concern about your drug or alcohol use?
  • Are you taking risks while under the influence, such as driving drunk or having unprotected sex?
  • If you temporarily stop using, do you experience withdrawal symptoms, including shakiness, sweating and insomnia?
  • Do you often drink or use more than you planned?
  • Do you spend a lot of time thinking about, securing, and using drugs?

As a result of denial, few addicts recognize when drug use becomes a problem. Many have to reach unanticipated lows like ending up in jail, destroying valued relationships, losing a job, financial insecurity or a misplaced sense of identity before getting help.

If drugs are playing a more central role in your life at a time when the people around you seem to be outgrowing adolescent impulses and embracing the responsibilities of early adulthood, don’t wait for your life to crumble around you. There are dozens of treatment options ranging from free self-help support groups and counseling to outpatient treatment and residential drug rehab. The earlier you get help, the more likely you are to get back on track in time to enjoy the most precious years of your life.

Images courtesy of Blog.palmpartners.com, Addictionangels.com

Dr. Carolyn Ross is an internationally known physician, author and speaker on addictions, obesity and eating disorders. She serves as a consultant to The Ranch�s eating disorder treatment program in Tennessee, maintains a private practice in Denver, is the author of The Binge Eating and Compulsive Overeating Workbook: An Integrated Approach to Overcoming Disordered Eating as well as The Joy of Eating Well and also hosts a weekly radio show, The Vital Life.

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