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Drugs and alcohol abuse: Warning signs

Drug and alcohol abuse can have serious consequences, including significant health problems and damage to relationships with family members and others. If you are concerned about your drug or alcohol abuse, it’s important to seek professional help. The information in this article series isn’t meant to take the place of a formal drug or alcohol assessment, but it will help you decide whether you need outside help. Although this information is written primarily for people who are concerned about their own alcohol or drug use, it can also help if you are concerned about a family member or friend’s alcohol or drug use.

Signs you may need help

Substance abuse affects all kinds of people, from preteens to the elderly, in every income level and occupation. Alcohol and drug abuse are treatable, and more options are available today than ever before.
If you are concerned about your use of drugs or alcohol, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you think often about using drugs or alcohol while you are doing other activities?
  • Have friends, family members, or your employer expressed concerns about your use of drugs or alcohol?
  • Has your use of alcohol or drugs had a negative effect on any of the following areas of your life?
  • relationships with family members and others
  • your work
  • your physical health
  • your mental health
  • your recreational activities
  • your finances (from the expense of purchasing alcohol or drugs and from diminished ability to work)
  • your legal situation (including charges of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol)
  • Do you or others notice a significant change in your personality when you are using drugs or alcohol? Do you become extremely sad, extremely happy, irritable, or do you not care what is happening in your life?
  • Does your behavior change in other ways when you are using drugs or alcohol? Do you embarrass yourself or others? Do you become aggressive or violent toward yourself or others? Do you withdraw from people? Do you miss work regularly?
  • Have you driven a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol?
  • Do you seek out activities that will include drug and alcohol use?
  • Is it hard for you to stop drinking or using drugs once you start?
  • Do you ever have trouble remembering periods of time when you’ve been drinking?
  • Has your tolerance increased? That is, do you need more of the substance than you did before to feel the same effect?

If you answer yes to any of the above questions, you could have a drug- and/or an alcohol-abuse problem and may benefit from outside help:

Other indications

In addition to the kinds of personality and behavior changes described above, a person who is abusing alcohol or drugs may experience symptoms that interfere with daily functioning. In the case of alcohol or other depressants such as opiates or benzodiazepines, symptoms might include drowsiness, slurred speech, and loss of coordination. In the case of stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines, symptoms might include insomnia and appetite loss.

It is important to keep in mind that symptoms like these do not necessarily indicate drug or alcohol abuse. They can be caused by a wide range of physical and mental health problems, including strokes, neurological diseases, and depression.

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