How to Know if You Have a Drug Problem

Man thinking about his addiction problem.

Drug addiction is a complicated affliction. There is no denying that. And now that drug addiction issues have expanded to include an entire range of pharmaceutical substances, this evolution of the drug scene has complicated the issue even further.

People who experiment with drugs and alcohol often wonder, “Am I an addict?” While there is no level of substance abuse which is “right” or “okay” or “acceptable,” we can’t deny that there are varying degrees of substance abuse. The guy who gets a little too drunk once a month does not have the same level of crisis in substance abuse as the guy who shoots heroin every day.

How do you find out how “bad” your substance abuse habit is? How do you know if you really have a problem or not? Luckily, there are clues and real-life indications we can look for to determine the extent of one’s habit.

Signs That You Might Have an Addiction Problem

Included below is a compiled list of signs, symptoms, and indications that you might genuinely have a drug problem or alcohol addiction. While no degree of drug use or alcohol misuse is “okay” or acceptable, there is a line between someone who occasionally makes poor errors of judgment and misuses substances and someone who struggles with full-blown, daily drug addiction. Both types of people need help, but it is important nevertheless to know at what end of the scale one is on. Here are some indicators:

  • Is your substance of choice fulfilling a valuable need of some kind? When people misuse substances in an addictive manner, they are doing so not because it is supposedly a “fun, recreational activity” but because their use of substances fulfills some mental or personal need.
  • Is it essential to you that you get and use drugs? When people use drugs and alcohol, it becomes imperative for them to keep using drugs. The more imperative it is, the more addicted they are.
  • Are you noticing problems in your life that weren’t there before? Any level of drug use or alcohol misuse is going to bring with it some issues. At the very least, drugs and alcohol are harmful to one’s health.
  • Are you neglecting responsibilities? The more you begin to rely on drugs and alcohol, the more you will neglect other areas of life that are important and vital.
Constructor smoking drug at work.
  • Are you using drugs or alcohol under dangerous conditions? This is a definite indication that recreational use has become an addiction. Drinking and driving, using drugs and driving, unprotected sex, getting in fights, operating machinery while under the influence, these are all signs that a habit has gotten worse.
  • Are you getting into trouble? Getting into trouble with the law is a sign that one’s drug use has become, to some degree, uncontrollable (inability to control being a key sign of addiction).
  • Do you need more of the substance to experience the same effects? As one continues to use substances, the body naturally builds up a tolerance of those substances. One will gradually need more and more of the substance to experience the same effects from it.
  • Are you experiencing problems with your family and close friends? The more you use drugs and alcohol, the more it will cause problems with family members and loved ones. They don’t enjoy seeing you hurt yourself with substances, so they’ll likely try to stop you.
  • Do you start to experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking drugs or alcohol? Withdrawal symptoms are the result of chemical dependency, another sign of addiction.
  • Do you feel like you’ve lost control over your drug use? When you can no longer control how much drugs or alcohol you use and how often, this is another sign of addiction.
  • Do your thoughts, activities, and overall life revolve around when you can get and use substances? The more you want the substance, the more it has control over you—another sign of addiction.
  • Have you walked away from the activities and hobbies you once enjoyed? As people use drugs and alcohol more, they begin to drop out other activities they once cared about. If you are doing this, it’s a sign your habit is evolving into a full-on addiction.
  • Are you aware of the harmful effects of drug use, yet you continue to use substances anyway? Why would someone do something to themselves that they knew was terrible for them? Awareness of the harm in substance abuse but a continued need to take part in it is another sign of addiction.
A person is drinking alcohol and looking at some photo.
  • Are you noticing changes in your life that you can’t quite explain? Losings friends, the onset of health problems, money problems, hygiene falling by the wayside, troubles at work, these are all changes that indicate a drinking or drug problem.
  • Do you need to use drugs or alcohol just to get your day going? Is the use of drugs and alcohol becoming a necessary part of your day, just to get through the day? If drug use is so important that one feels they need it just to get through the tasks of the day, this is a sign of addiction.

This is not a full list of the areas to look at when examining your habit, but answering the above fourteen items honestly should give readers an accurate assessment as to the severity of their substance abuse habit.

Any Degree of Substance Abuse Carries with It a Need for Help

Addiction is less about the type of drug you are using or how often you are using it and more about the consequences of that habit on your life. The more a substance is affecting your life or the lives of those around you, the more “addicted” you could be said to be.

True, there are different levels of severity in those consequences, but just because your drug use “Isn’t all that bad yet,” does not mean you should ignore the habit, refuse help, and continue using substances.

At the end of the day, while it is valuable to study the signs of addiction and to know what they are, if you are using drugs and misusing alcohol, you need to get help for that habit. Whether you use substances once per week or every day, all types of substance abuse habits are dangerous and toxic. All kinds of drug use or drinking are going to have some degree of negative consequences.

Furthermore, drug use and alcohol misuse are often likened to a dwindling spiral for a reason. The more you use substances, the worse the habit gets. Your addiction may have started a year ago with only one incidence of drug use or heavy drinking per month, but can you honestly say your habit has not increased since then? Can you honestly say you’re still using the same amount of substances at the precise level of frequency that you did when you first started? Probably not.

That is the dwindling spiral of addiction in effect. If you find that any of the points in the above section apply to you, or if you’ve noticed an increase in the frequency of drug use or drinking, it’s time to get help.

Reviewed and Edited by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.