When using alcohol or drugs causes problems with your body, mind, and behavior, it's misuse.
Substance misuse creates a stronghold on our brains in several ways.
Substance use disorders are an illness, not a life sentence.
Some people think substance misuse is about a lack of willpower — that someone with a drug or alcohol problem simply doesn’t want to get better and could easily quit if they really tried. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Substance misuse is far more complex and less forgiving than many people realize.
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People use drugs and alcohol for many reasons. They may experiment or use just for fun, to relax, or to cope with emotions such as stress, depression, or anxiety.
When drug or alcohol use changes from an occasional recreational activity and begins to cause problems in a person’s day-to-day life, this can constitute substance misuse.
What kinds of problems? At home, in school, at work, or in relationships with the people we love, misuse may lead to:
A medical professional can diagnose someone who misuses alcohol or other drugs with a substance use disorder. A substance use disorder (SUD) is a treatable mental health condition.
Whether you’re worried about a friend or family member or concerned about yourself, recognizing the signs of a drug or alcohol problem is an important first step toward recovery.
Some people think substance misuse is about a lack of willpower — that someone with a drinking or drug problem simply doesn’t want to get better and could easily quit if they really tried. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Substance use disorders are far more complex and less forgiving than many people realize. They create a stronghold on our brains in several ways:
We know that trying drugs or drinking alcohol won’t necessarily lead to misuse, but when it does, there are usually reasons that range from seeking pleasure or coping with pain, to genetics and social surroundings.
While pleasure is a fairly easy concept to understand, pain is more complex. It comes in many forms and affects everyone differently. Whether someone is suffering from a physical injury, dealing with a mental health issue, recovering from a traumatic experience, or just trying to cope with the stresses of daily life, sometimes drugs and alcohol can seem like the easiest way to drown out the pain. But relying on substances to get through tough times offers only temporary relief and often causes additional pain for both users and their loved ones.
Some individuals have a higher risk due to their family background or their surroundings. Recognizing these vulnerabilities is not an easy task, and removing yourself from certain situations isn't always possible, but there are resources available to help.
It’s important to understand that, whether misuse of drugs or alcohol is caused by seeking pleasure, masking pain, or your surroundings and living situation, there are many ways to help overcome it, including therapy, medication, mindfulness, exercise, and other forms of treatment.
Substance use disorders are far more complex and less forgiving than many people realize.
FACT 1: Your brain makes it harder to quit. Anyone who says ending a substance use disorder is easy is very mistaken. Long-term use of drugs or alcohol changes how the brain communicates with the body. Eventually, the brain begins to convince the body that it needs the substance to continue or produce pleasure or happiness — making it extremely difficult to quit through willpower alone.
FACT 2: Substance use disorders are an illness, not a life sentence. Recovery is always possible. Substance use disorders can be treated through various forms of therapy including counseling, medication, mindfulness, and exercise.
FACT 3: You don’t have to wait until you hit rock bottom to get help. There is no magic formula for treating a substance use disorder, but the earlier someone can begin the recovery process the better. Substance use disorders only grow stronger with time.
FACT 4: The risk of developing a substance use disorder to alcohol or drugs varies from person to person. Risk factors such as genetics, mental and physical health, and your environment as a child and in adulthood can increase your vulnerability to misuse and your ability to overcome it.
FACT 5: Recovery is a journey, not a destination. Recovery is a lifelong process that has its challenges. Relapsing is part of the recovery process and doesn’t mean you failed. It means you may need to adjust your approach to treatment, the people you surround yourself with, or even your physical environment. If a relapse occurs, the best thing you can do is stay positive and move forward, taking steps to get back to a healthy place.
FACT 6: The terms “addict,” “addiction,” “alcoholic,” and “alcoholism” are falling out of favor. It has taken centuries of study to understand the complexities of substance misuse. As a result, the conversations and classifications around substance misuse continue to evolve. People who have issues with addiction are now widely referred to as having a substance use disorder, as opposed to being considered an “addict” or “alcoholic” or having issues with “alcoholism” — terms that have been discredited by many researchers and clinicians alike.
Some people are at greater risk of addiction than others because of the following factors: