Many patients and friends have asked me this question over the years: when does drinking or drug use become a problem? The easy answer is when someone feels like they NEED the substance to relax or to over come anxieties. But there are many other signs that I will outline below.
Depression and addiction is incredibly common among Canadians. In fact, in any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians experiences a mental health or addiction problem.
Who is affected?
- 70% of mental health problems have onset during childhood or adolescence.
- Young people aged 15 to 24 are more likely to experience mental illness and/or substance use disorders than any other age group.
- People with a mental illness are twice as likely to have a substance use problem compared to the general population!
- At least 20% of people with a mental illness have a co-occurring substance use problem. For people with schizophrenia, the number may be as high as 50%.
Is that glass of wine really a problem??
Using alcohol in moderation may not be a problem at all. However, for some, drinking or using drugs gets out of hand and begins to affect work, school and relationships. Below are the signs of substance abuse and are often indicators that the use of drugs or alcohol has gone too far.
Signs of substance abuse:
- Loss of Control: Drinking or taking drugs more than a person wants to, for longer than they intended, or despite telling themselves that they wouldn’t do it this time.
- Neglecting Other Activities: Spending less time on activities that used to be important (hanging out with family and friends, exercising, pursuing hobbies or other interests) because of the use of alcohol or drugs and/or a drop in attendance and performance at work or school.
- Risk Taking: More likely to take serious risks in order to obtain alcohol drug of choice.
- Relationship Issues: People struggling with addiction are known to act out against those closest to them, particularly if someone is attempting to address their substance problems; complaints from co-workers, supervisors, teachers or classmates.
- Secrecy: Going out of one’s way to hide or lie about the amount of drugs or alcohol consumed or one’s activities when drinking or drugging; unexplained injuries or accidents.
- Changing Appearance: Changes or deterioration in hygiene or physical appearance such as lack of showering.
- Family History: A family history of addiction can significantly increase one’s predisposition to substance abuse.
- Tolerance: Over time, a person’s body adapts to a substance to the point that they need more and more of it in order to have the same reaction.
- Withdrawal: As the effect of the alcohol or drugs wear off the person may experience symptoms such as: anxiety or jumpiness; shakiness or trembling; sweating, nausea and vomiting, insomnia, depression, irritability, fatigue or loss of appetite and headaches.
- Continued Use Despite Negative Consequences: Even though it is causing problems (on the job, in relationships, for one’s health), a person continues drinking and taking drugs
If you think that either you or a loved one is dealing with an addiction, it is never too late to get help. Below, find 5 important steps for recovery (adapted from Dr. Jonathan Prousky, 2013).
Step 1: Getting help
The most important first step in recovery is to admit there is a problem and help is needed. This usually means reaching a major low point (hitting rock bottom). However, if the desire to change is there, many organizations can be contacted for help.
Step 2: Rehab
Successful recovery often involves completing some type of addiction program, such as a rehab facility or an outpatient program. These programs are associated with reductions in drug use and criminal behaviour and better employment status.
Step 3: Peer support
Involvement in groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) helps to maintain sobriety and provide essential peer support. These groups are free, incredibly accessible, and provide unlimited support.
Step 4: Wellness
For long term success, focusing on wellness is key. Certain therapies that are associated with stress and anxiety reduction are very helpful when dealing with addictions.
Yoga is excellent at calming the nervous system. According to a 2011 study, yogic practices “promote recovery from and treatment of addiction; reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain; improve sleep patterns; and enhance overall well-being and quality of life.”
Mindfulness helps people to focus attention on the present and encourages a positive attitude toward that experience. People with addictions tend to have difficulty staying in the moment and often struggle with anxiety and depression. Mindfulness training insulates one’s thoughts to be more present, positive, and life-affirming.
Recent scientific research reveals exercise’s amazing impact on addiction. Benefits of exercise include reduced cravings for cigarettes and managed withdrawal from nicotine dependence, reduced urges for alcohol, decreased anxiety and depression among problem drinkers, and even reduced withdrawal and anxiety among heroin users on morphine.
When treating depression, often associated with addiction, regular physical exercise might be as effective as psychotherapy and is perhaps more effective than other behavioural interventions. No pill has more therapeutic value than regular physical exercise!!!
Step 5: Healthy Diet
Focusing on a healthy diet is incredibly beneficial for those in recovery.
High amounts of sugar consumption increases inflammation within the body and may reinforce addiction. In addition, it is believed that excess sugar stimulates food or drug addiction. Fast foods and packaged foods are also devoid of important nutrients that are critical in recovery.
Those who are in recovery benefit from a diet moderately high in good sources of protein and fat, such as lean chicken, lamb, organic beef, coconut oil, avocados, nuts and seeds. Including more healthy sources of protein and fat should stabilize blood sugar, decrease sugar cravings, and also reduce compulsive behaviours. Choosing natural sugars such as fruits is much preferred over refined sugars.
Don’t be afraid to reach out for help! Addiction and depression is much more common than most people realize and recovery is possible.
Yours in Vitality,
Center for Addictions and Mental Health, 2016
Smetanin et al (2011). The life and economic impact of major mental illnesses in Canada: 2011-2041. Prepared for the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Toronto: Risk Analytica.
2Government of Canada (2006). The human face of mental health and mental illness in Canada. Ottawa: Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada.
National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, 2016
Dr. Jonathon Prousky, 2013