Subtle (and not-so-subtle) Signs that You May Need Alcohol or Drug Rehab Treatment

woman looking at glass of wine

Admitting that you have a problem and may need alcohol or drug rehab treatment is very difficult for most people. It’s hard enough to admit it to yourself – and even harder to let others know you need help. But, unless you take that courageous first step, you’ll continue down a path of self-destruction that may have dire consequences for yourself – as well as for those you love.

If you’re like many people, you may subscribe to the false notion that a “drug problem” includes only street drugs, like cocaine, heroin, or meth. However, if your doctor has prescribed pain killers, anxiety medications (like Xanax or Klonopin), or other potentially addictive prescription drugs for you to take – and you are taking them more often or in higher doses than prescribed – you may have a serious drug problem. Many people in drug rehab treatment today have never even touched illicit drugs. Jane’s story is a perfect example:

Jane is a busy professional, juggling a demanding job and a hectic family life. Quite the party girl during her first two years of college with a fondness for wine and hard liquor, she eventually realized she needed to curb her alcohol use and focus on her studies if she wanted to become a successful business executive. Although she continued to drink socially during her twenties and thirties – except when she was pregnant – she had stopped abusing alcohol for many years.

Now in her early forties and dealing with the pressures of a recent promotion, Jane found herself drinking more and more frequently. In fact, it was a rare night that she didn’t have at least 2 large glasses of wine with dinner, and another glass or two prior to bedtime. Feeling unusually stressed and anxious, her doctor had given her a prescription for Ativan. Although he had asked Jane about alcohol use, she denied having anything more than an “occasional” cocktail or glass of wine.

When her husband began to express concern about her alcohol use, Jane often got defensive. She began to become more secretive, often drinking before her husband got home and after he went to bed. Deep down she knew that she was headed in a bad direction, but she wasn’t ready to deal with it.

Jane went through her Ativan prescription quickly – often taking much more than the prescribed dose. When she tried to get it refilled, her doctor gave Jane a referral to a therapist instead. Frustrated, Jane set up an appointment with another doctor in hopes of getting a new prescription.

Two days before her appointment, Jane’s husband talked to her again. Although she found herself feeling defensive, she knew, deep down, that her husband loved her and was not inclined to nag. This time she listened, and two days later she enrolled in an outpatient alcohol and drug treatment program. It wasn’t easy, but she knew that she had too much at stake to let alcohol or drugs ruin her life.

Fortunately, Jane got her life back on track with treatment. But she wouldn’t have been able to do that if she had ignored the signs that she had a problem. So how do you know when your alcohol or drug use is problematic? What are the signs?

  1. You’re wondering if or worried that you might have a problem. The very fact that something is making you wonder if your alcohol or drug use is a problem is usually a good indicator that it is. Whether it’s “just a feeling” or something more – for example, you occasionally drink to the point of passing out or went through your prescription of Vicodin far too quickly – don’t ignore it. Pay attention to those worrisome thoughts – they may save your life or at least steer you away from disaster down the road.
  2. Others have expressed concern about your alcohol or drug use. If someone who loves you or knows you well has expressed concern about your alcohol or drug use, don’t be too quick to write them off. Chances are they have your best interests at heart and don’t want to see you destroy your life.Even if you disagree or think they’re blowing things out of proportion, consider the possibility that they may be right. While some people do have family members or close friends who are prone to judging or lecturing, the vast majority of people will only broach such a sensitive subject with you if they feel it’s necessary.

    And if several people have expressed concern, well, let’s just say the writing’s on the wall that you most likely need alcohol and drug treatment.

  3. You’re hiding your use from close friends or loved ones. Perhaps you’re justifying this because you don’t want others “in your business”, or you feel your loved ones would be judgmental. But if you feel the need to be secretive about your use, that’s typically a red flag that you have a problem. Granted, if you’re using illegal drugs (which suggests a problem in and of itself), hiding the fact is not uncommon. But again, the very fact that you’re willing to engage in illegal activity and risk serious legal problems is an indicator that something is seriously wrong.Perhaps you find yourself using alone, using when your spouse or family or roommate has gone to bed, or locking the bathroom or bedroom door when you’re using. If someone dares interrupt you or violate your privacy, you feel irritable or get angry at them. The question to ask yourself is, why the need for all the secrecy and privacy if you don’t have a problem? Your answer to that should give you a lot of clues regarding whether or not your need alcohol or drug rehab treatment.
  4. You use alcohol or drugs to cope with stress or numb painful feelings. Mental health professionals, as well as drug and alcohol specialists, refer to this as “self-medicating”. Whenever alcohol or drug use becomes a “need, that’s a telltale sign that there’s a problem. Additionally, using a substance as a means of coping often turns into a vicious cycle. Each time you feel better after drinking or using, it reinforces the pattern.On top of that, substance use problems create other problems in your life – relationship problems, health problems, legal problems, and / or financial problems. With each new problem comes even more stress, and an increased need to use (or self-medicate) even more. This vicious cycle can easily spiral completely out of control.

    Pay attention to what you tell yourself every time you use or take a drink. If you often find yourself saying “I need a drink” (or something similar) whenever you feel stressed, that’s a red flag that there’s a serious problem brewing.

  5. Your performance is suffering. If you’re experiencing a decline in your performance at work, at school (if you’re a student), or in your parenting, (or any other area of your life), that’s a strong sign that your alcohol or drug use is a problem. In some cases, the decline is gradual – and harder to spot. In others, it can be fairly rapid.Drugs and alcohol can impact your ability to think clearly. They can also disrupt your sleep, making it difficult to be alert and focused during the day. If you’re noticing – or others (like your boss) are commenting on – a decrease in your ability to perform, take heed before there are inevitable consequences.

Additional signs

The five signs listed above are significant, but there may be others as well. While each of these could be due to other things as well, they often accompany substance abuse problems and support the need for alcohol or drug rehab treatment:

  • Memory problems
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Changes in sleep or appetite (that can’t be appropriately attributed to something else)
  • Neglecting your personal hygiene or appearance
  • Borrowing money or selling possessions to buy drugs or alcohol
  • Doctor shopping
  • Mood swings
  • No longer engaging in activities that you once enjoyed
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Frequent injuries or accidents
  • Feeling the need to lie or be evasive

Having an alcohol or drug problem doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t mean you are weak, undisciplined, or lacking in morals. Admitting that you need help is hard, but you deserve to live a life that is fulfilling and unencumbered by alcohol or drug problems. Alcohol or drug rehab treatment is available if you’re willing to acknowledge the signs and take that first step.

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