How to Manage Drug or Alcohol Issues

Experimenting with alcohol or recreational drugs is common for teens and young adults. It is not always easy, though, to recognize when social or experimental use becomes something more problematic. This is because our relationship with substance use can change over time.

One of the easiest ways to tell if your substance use is becoming a problem is when you catch yourself wondering things like, “How much alcohol is too much?”, “Why can’t I get through the day without these pills?” or “If I don’t smoke today, can I let myself smoke tomorrow?” In short, if you start to focus on how much you’re using, feel like days without substances aren’t satisfying, or make deals with yourself about how much to use, you may be dealing with substance misuse.

Misusing drugs or alcohol can have serious effects on your relationships, your performance at work or at school, and your mental and physical health. It can even change the way your brain functions. If your substance use starts to negatively impact your life, it is time to seek help.

How to Start Managing Drug or Alcohol Issues

If you recognize that you are struggling with drug or alcohol use, it is important to seek help. It can sometimes take weeks, months, or even years to feel ready and willing to ask for help. Once you are ready, don’t wait. Managing heavy drinking or drug misuse is an important step in protecting your health, relationships, and work or school life. If you are ready to consider next steps, here are some helpful places to start:

Decide to Seek Help

For many people struggling with substance misuse, the toughest step toward recovery is often the first one: recognizing you have a problem and deciding to manage it.

If you are considering making a change, think about what’s important to you—for example, your relationships, your career, or your education—and consider how your substance use affects these aspects of your life. This can help you see how much control addiction has over your life—and what your life could look like once you can manage it.

Ask for Support from Friends and Family

Having a trusted support network is an invaluable part of the recovery process. People who have support from friends and family have a greater chance of successfully completing treatment and staying sober in the long term.

In addition to moral support, you may want to ask your loved ones to educate themselves on substance misuse disorders, attend support groups or therapy sessions with you, and help create a stable environment for you during and after treatment.

Get to Know Your Treatment Options

No one kind of treatment will work for everyone, so it’s important to find out what will work best for you. Treatments vary depending on the type of substance and the needs of the person in recovery, and can include a combination of detoxification, medication, support groups, and behavioral therapy. If you are unsure what kind of treatment will be best for you, ask a doctor, therapist, or other trusted healthcare provider for help getting started.

For more information on treatment options, you can visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Treatment Locator.

Recovery is Not Linear

Once you are in treatment, it’s not uncommon to face setbacks or relapse into addictive behaviors. Healthy and long-lasting recovery from drugs or alcohol takes time, honesty, support, and self-compassion.

What Helps Make Recovery Successful

  • Imagine a life without substances. It’s nearly impossible to successfully tackle a substance misuse problem if you can’t imagine life without substances. This can be especially true if you are misusing prescription drugs that you take to manage a medical condition or if you have been relying on substances to self-soothe for a long time. The first step in choosing recovery is wanting a life without substance dependence, then starting to imagine what life looks and feels like on a day to day basis. Imagine new ways you might cope with stress and once you have a few identified, start trying them out to see how they feel.
  • Be honest and accountable to others. Very few people struggling with a substance misuse problem are successful stopping on their own. The first step is to be honest with your loved ones about having a problem. Since lying and hiding are often a part of a substance misuse problem, it’s important to have at least one person to be accountable to. Having a partner in your recovery, like a therapist or sponsor you can be totally honest with, can help you stay on track.
  • Put barriers between you and substances. Willpower alone is not enough to keep people from using drugs or alcohol. Removing substances from your home, making them more difficult to access, will help you avoid using again.
  • Change your lifestyle. It’s important to create an environment where you will be supported during recovery. If your previous social life revolved around drugs, you will likely need to find a new social circle. If you used drugs or alcohol at home, sober living homes provide a safe, supportive place to live while you’re recovering.
  • Be willing to make the change. A successful recovery requires all the elements listed above—but perhaps the most important element is your commitment to managing your substance use. Without your desire to change, the rest of these tools will not be nearly as effective.

How to Keep Going When You Experience a Setback During Recovery

The road to recovery is not always smooth. Chronic substance misuse can change the way our brain functions, and those changes can affect how we function and what we crave even after we have stopped using. Because of this, plan to expect cravings, resistance from yourself, and sometimes really crummy days. Have a plan for dealing with each of these and use it as they happen.

Most importantly, don’t be too hard on yourself if you relapse. If you do experience a relapse, here are a few recommended ways to handle setbacks:

  • Be patient and kind to yourself. Remember, recovery is not linear. Setbacks and slip-ups happen. You may have days when you struggle with cravings or fall into old habits. Be patient with your recovery journey and kind to yourself when you have bad days.
  • Learn from your setback. Ask yourself questions like: What led you to this setback? How did you recover from it? What could you do differently if you encountered this situation again?
  • Take responsibility for your behavior. While it is important to be gentle with yourself after a setback, that doesn’t mean you can avoid responsibility for your behavior. Don’t blame the setback on your situation or the people around you.
  • Lean on your support system. Your friends, loved ones, sponsors, and others should support you during difficult times as much as they are there to celebrate your wins. They can also help set you up for future success by holding you accountable.
  • Avoid an “all or nothing” mindset. While a setback can be frustrating, it does not take away from past recovery wins. You’re not starting over—you are continuing on your path and learning from your experiences.

If you are struggling in your recovery and believe you might experience a setback—or if you have already—reach out to a sponsor, a trusted friend or family member, or a medical professional for help. You can also contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline for a free, confidential conversation at any time.

How to Help a Loved One with Substance Misuse Issues

Living with someone else’s addiction can affect you and your relationship with them. It’s important to remember that substance misuse is treatable, and that people who have a strong support system around them have a better chance at recovery and maintaining their sobriety over time.

If your loved one is struggling, express your concern for them and offer your support. Remember, recovery takes time and they may not be ready to seek help yet, but there are effective ways to keep the door open for future conversations. You can also reach out to other trusted people in your loved one’s life to support your efforts.

If your loved one has asked for your support on their path to recovery, there are many ways you can help them while also maintaining healthy boundaries for yourself:

  • Educate yourself on substance misuse. Understanding substance misuse can help you be more supportive to the person going through recovery, and can help you understand how addiction impacts family and friends.
  • Work to create a stable environment. Substance misuse can be perpetuated by an unstable home environment or in social situations that revolve around drug and alcohol use. You can support your loved one in recovery by helping them create a calm and substance-free home.
  • Support them without enabling their behavior. It can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between being a supportive friend and enabling destructive behavior. Avoid “rescuing” your loved one if they are experiencing the consequences of substance misuse—for example, providing them with financial assistance—as that can prolong the impacts of addiction.
  • Attend therapy or meetings with them. Family or group therapy can help tackle underlying issues related to addiction. You may choose to attend meetings with them or find support groups for family members or friends of people with substance misuse.
  • Have your own support system. Supporting someone in recovery can be challenging. Remember to take care of yourself and rely on your own support network, including friends, family, and mental health professionals who understand addiction.

Recovery is not easy, but with the right support and treatment, it is possible. If you or a loved one are struggling with drug or alcohol issues, it is never too late to make a change.

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