The overuse of alcohol or other drugs is called a substance use problem. One of the signs of a substance use problem is that you keep using alcohol or drugs even though you know it's causing problems in your life. Another sign is that you have a strong need or craving to drink or use drugs.
Using alcohol or drugs can affect your health, work, school, and relationships. It can change how well you make decisions, how well you think, and how quickly you can react. And it can make it hard for you to control your actions. In young people, using alcohol or drugs can affect their general health, physical growth, and emotional and social development.
If you think you may have a problem with alcohol or drugs, take a short
quiz to evaluate your symptoms:
You may have an alcohol problem if drinking alcohol affects your health or daily activities. You may be dependent on alcohol if you physically or emotionally need alcohol to get you
through your day.
Symptoms of an alcohol problem
include personality changes, blackouts, drinking more to get the same effect, and denial of the problem. If you have an alcohol problem, you may gulp or
sneak drinks, drink alone or early in the morning, and have the shakes.
You may also have family, school, or work problems or get in trouble with
the law because of drinking.
The use of alcohol with medicines or
illegal drugs may increase the effects of each.
patterns vary. Some people drink and may be intoxicated every day. Other people drink large amounts of
alcohol at specific times, such as on the weekend. It is common for someone
with an alcohol or drug problem to call in sick for work on Monday or Friday.
He or she may complain of having a virus or the flu. Others may be sober for
long periods and then go on a drinking binge that lasts for weeks or
People who are dependent on alcohol may have
withdrawal symptoms, such as sweating and feeling sick to their stomach, feeling shaky, and feeling anxious. In rare cases, severe symptoms of withdrawal can occur such as delirium tremens, or DTs. Treatment for withdrawal from alcohol requires medical care.
People who have a drug problem may use a number of substances. They may use illegal
drugs—such as marijuana, methamphetamines, cocaine, heroin, or other "street
drugs." Or they may misuse legal prescription and non-prescription drugs. Some
people use drugs to get a "high" or to relieve stress and emotional
problems. Many people use more than one illegal
substance at a time.
Club drugs, like ecstasy (MDMA), and date rape drugs, such as gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), flunitrazepam (Rohypnol), and ketamine, are often used at all-night dances, raves, or trances. These drugs can be dangerous, especially in overdose or when combined with other drugs or alcohol. Inhalants like nitrous oxide may also be
used at these clubs.
Drugs come in different forms and can be used in different
ways. They can be smoked, snorted, inhaled, taken as pills, put in liquids or
food, put in the rectum or the vagina, or injected with a needle.
medicines, such as cold medicines that have dextromethorphan as an ingredient,
are being misused as a way to get high. What effects these drugs may have on your health depend on the type, strength, and amount of these drugs you use and whether you take them with illegal drugs or alcohol. The use of prescription and over-the-counter medicines with alcohol or illegal drugs may increase the effects of each substance.
Glue, shoe polish, cleaning fluids, and aerosols are common household products with ingredients that are also being used to get high.
Signs of a drug problem depend on the drug you use and how that drug affects you. Not all drugs affect people the same way. One of the signs that your drug use may be becoming a problem is that you take more of a drug over longer periods of time and need more of the drug to feel "high." Another sign is that you spend a lot of time trying to get the drug, and you give up other activities to do this.
When you have a drug problem, you or others may notice some changes in your behaviour. You may be moody, have problems sleeping, or pay less attention to how you dress or look. Or you may lie, steal, or hide things from people and act sneaky.
You may have a drug problem if
your drug use affects your health or daily activities. You may be dependent on drugs if you physically or emotionally need drugs to get you
through your day. You may not
be aware that you have become dependent on a drug until you try to stop taking
it. People who are dependent on drugs may have
withdrawal symptoms, such as sweating and feeling sick to their stomach, feeling shaky, and feeling anxious.
Drug problems in older people may go unnoticed, since the signs may be similar to those of aging. Older adults often take medicines, such as sleep medicines and painkillers, that can lead to a drug problem.
When you use alcohol or drugs, you may be putting your health and safety at risk.
Alcohol or drug use can:
Alcohol is part of many people's lives and may have a place in cultural and family traditions. So it can sometimes be hard to know when you begin to drink too much.
You're at risk of drinking too much if you are:
you think you might have an alcohol problem, take a short quiz to evaluate your
You may not feel that using drugs can become a problem. Maybe you feel that you're a casual user because you use drugs only now and then. But drug use can quickly become a habit and start to affect your life.
you think you might have a drug problem, take a short quiz to evaluate your
Check your symptoms to decide if and when
you should see a doctor.
If you are with a person who is drunk or high, it's a good
idea to seek medical help right away if:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be
able to take care of this problem at home.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
The use of alcohol and drugs can affect your behaviour. Here are some questions to think about:
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind
of care you may need. These include:
Severe withdrawal symptoms may
Mild withdrawal symptoms may
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The
problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need
or other emergency services now.
Being dependent on alcohol or drugs
means that you have a physical or emotional dependence on the substance. When
you are dependent on a substance:
The risk of a suicide attempt is
Keep in mind that most people who drink alcohol or use drugs don't develop a substance use problem. Many people who want to cut back on or stop using alcohol or drugs are able to do so on their own. But others may need help.
If you're worried about your health and want to cut back on or stop using alcohol or drugs, ask your family, friends, or doctor for help. Or you could join a support group such as LifeRing, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), or Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Your family members might want to attend a support group such as Al-Anon, Alateen, or Nar-Anon.
In some provinces, there are telephone helplines you can call for support and to find out what resources are available in your area that can help you manage your alcohol or drug problem.
If you're still finding it hard to cut back on or stop drinking or using drugs on your own, or if these support services don't help, you may need medical help. This is especially important if you have withdrawal symptoms when you try to cut back on or stop using alcohol or drugs. Symptoms of withdrawal may include sweating and feeling sick to your stomach, feeling shaky, and feeling anxious.
Talk with your doctor about whether you need treatment for your alcohol or drug problem. In many cases, treatment may focus on helping you reduce your alcohol or drug use to levels that are less harmful rather than stopping completely. You and your doctor can decide what treatment approach is best for you.
When you drink alcohol or use drugs, you often get away from some of the basics of good health. This is also true for young people who use these substances.
Here are some things you can do to stay healthy:
Call your doctor if your alcohol or drug use becomes more frequent or
It's important to remember that drinking alcohol or using drugs can affect your health and isn't risk-free. This is especially true for young people who use alcohol or drugs, because these substances can affect their general health, physical growth, and emotional and social development. The risk of harm from using alcohol or drugs increases with each drink that you have or drug that you use, how often and for how long you drink or use drugs, the type and strength of any drug used, and the method of use.
Although there is no amount of alcohol or drug use that is safe, there are some things you can do to reduce your risk of serious health problems and injuries caused by alcohol or drug use.
If you know someone who puts himself or herself in situations where risky drinking or drug use is going to occur (such as at a bar or party), here are some things you can do to help reduce that person's risk of harm. You can:
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your
doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to
answer the following questions:
Other Works Consulted
Ewing JA (1984). Detecting alcoholism: The CAGE questionnaire. JAMA, 252: 1905-1907.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerWilliam H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerH. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Current as ofMay 27, 2016
Current as of:
May 27, 2016
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
& Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2017 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.