“When should I get help for alcohol (or other drugs)?”
The answer to this question looks a little different for everyone. Wellness – true wellness, not just sobriety alone – is different for all of us. But if you’ve asked yourself this question, it’s probably time to reach out for help. This doesn’t mean you have to go to inpatient treatment or never drink again. Many people feel better after even slight adjustments and self-discovery.
Ultimately, what matters most is how you feel. Start by asking yourself these three questions:
“Do I need this drug to function today?”
“Do loved ones have a problem with my use?”
“Is the substance having its own orbit in my life?”
If you answer yes to any of these questions, maybe it’s time to evaluate your wellness.
If you’re still unsure if you should cut back, one physical symptom to look out for is tolerance. If you use drugs daily, the part of the brain that creates neurotransmitters like dopamine – responsible for motivation, pleasure and joy – slowly stops working like it should. This creates a new baseline and results in extreme discomfort when drugs aren’t introduced to the body. After occasional use, on the other hand, the brain is able to correct itself and return to a normal baseline more easily.
Tolerance explains why people are able to drink or use drugs without appearing intoxicated. It’s also why it might be difficult to stop or cut back. If your brain relies on drugs, you’ll likely feel highly anxious or even ill without them.
Regardless of your tolerance or physical dependence, if you’re unhappy with the role alcohol or other drugs are playing in your life, it could be time to seek nonjudgmental help. Listen to your intuition. The myth that you need to “hit rock bottom” is incorrect and can be very dangerous. You don’t have to lose your job, jeopardize your marriage or get arrested before making healthy choices regarding substances.
It’s also untrue that “rehab” is the only way to get help for alcohol and other drugs. Inpatient treatment is an important option for those with severe challenges related to substances, but it’s not a good fit for everyone.
There are many options out there, including outpatient programs, peer coaching, therapy, support groups, and self-help resources – all offer flexibility and allow people to stay connected in their daily lives. These less intensive forms of support, as long as they are high quality, are often very effective for those with mild or moderate substance use problems.
If you think you’d like to cut back, start by setting small, realistic goals for yourself. Doing too much too quickly can set us up for failure. If you don’t meet your goal, approach the situation with curiosity, rather than judgment or negativity. Consider why didn’t your strategy didn’t work and if additional resources or support would be helpful.
Please remember that stopping a substance without any supervision can be very dangerous. Withdrawal, particularly from alcohol and benzodiazepines, can be incredibly unsafe and even fatal. If you’re planning to stop using a substance, please take the necessary steps to ensure your safety. There’s no shame in getting help, especially if it will save your life.
If you’re considering making a change, or if you’re concerned about someone in your life, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Face It TOGETHER. We’re peers who can help connect you to the resources you need.
Text Disclaimer: This product was supported by grant H79TI083760 from SAMHSA. The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of SAMHSA or HHS.