How to Detect a Substance Abuse Problem?

It can be extremely difficult to recognize the signs of an alcohol or drug problem in a close friend or someone in your immediate family. For one, people are often very secretive about their substance abuse habits; secondly, alcohol and prescription pills (which account for a large percentage of all addictive disorders)[1] are perfectly legal. Unless you’re around your loved one 24/7/365, it would be nearly impossible to know how much and how often he or she drinks or if prescription drugs are being abused.

Once you suspect an addiction or substance abuse problem, your next step should be to learn everything you can about addiction. While you can’t watch every move that your child, parent or spouse makes, you can be aware of subtle signs that could clue you in about any problematic substance abuse [2]:

Noticing any of the aforementioned signs may indicate that your loved one has some sort of substance abuse problem that warrants further investigation. Once you can determine whether or not your close friend or relative is using/abusing drugs or alcohol, you can begin to ascertain whether the problem has developed into a substance use disorder (SUD). The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) sets forth the following criteria [3]:

  1. Taking the substance in larger amounts or for longer than the you meant to
  2. Wanting to cut down or stop using the substance but not being able to
  3. Spending a lot of time getting, using or recovering from use of the substance
  4. Cravings to use the substance
  5. Not managing to do what you should at work, home or school because of substance use
  6. Continuing to use, even when it causes problems in relationships
  7. Giving up important social, occupational or recreational activities because of substance use
  8. Using substances again and again, even when it puts the you in danger
  9. Continuing to use, even when you know you have a physical or psychological problem that could have been caused or made worse by the substance
  10. Needing more of the substance to get the desired effects
  11. Development of withdrawal symptoms, which can be relieved by taking more of the substance.