The Importance of Intervention Before Hitting Rock Bottom
While there have always been those who advocate the acceptance of moderate, “controlled” substance use as “normal,” a growing body of evidence suggests there is no “safe” level of drinking or drug use. Further, the more substances people use and the longer they use them, the more harm they cause to themselves and those around them.
With that reality at the forefront, why wait until someone develops a severe addiction before intervening? If someone is drinking alcohol frequently or using drugs recreationally, their loved ones should step in, identify the harmful behavior, and seek to help that individual halt that behavior. Family members of those who drink or use drugs recreationally should confront the issue with their loved ones.
Examples of Someone Beginning to Slide Toward Addiction
Many people who use mind-altering substances recreationally will say they can “control” their consumption and that such substances do not bother them. Yet this is usually not the case. While there is a difference between consuming alcohol socially and a slide toward alcohol misuse, there are some clear signs of people who are engaging in harmful behavior with alcohol or drugs but who may not meet the standard criteria of addiction. Examples of people who may be on the verge of becoming addicted to substances (and who deserve help and intervention from their family members) include:
1). Someone who drinks alcohol every day. Perhaps they “only have one drink per day.” However, their habit of consuming at least a small amount of alcohol every day predisposes them to addiction.
2). Someone who uses cannabis extract in a vaporizer. They may say it does not have the carcinogenic effects of smoking cannabis, and perhaps they are using the drug in a state where cannabis is legal. However, regular use of the mind-altering drug can still easily cause them to become addicted.
3). Someone who uses MDMA, ecstasy, or LSD when they go to concerts or music festivals. They may “only” do it when attending an event where they feel they’ll enjoy it more if they’re under the influence. However, feeling like one needs to use drugs to enjoy music is a slippery slope to feeling like one needs to use drugs to enjoy many other things.
4). Someone who self-medicates for pain. If someone struggles with chronic pain, they may take opioid pain relievers, over-the-counter pills, cannabis, or alcohol to numb the pain. Unfortunately, even when used as prescribed, pain relievers can be addictive. When used not as prescribed, the risk for addiction is much higher.
5). Someone who uses substances “just to get through it.” Addiction is defined as the repeat, compulsive use of mind-altering substances that harm the individual’s life. But the truth is, most people started using such substances to solve a problem, to cope with some area of life they were struggling with. Using a stimulant drug to “get through the day” or a depressant to “wind down” is just a few short steps away from compulsive, continuous use of those substances.
The individuals in the above examples will probably not meet the criteria for addiction, but they’re at higher risk for addiction than someone who doesn’t use mind-altering substances at all or uses them only very rarely, hence the need to intervene before they go over the edge.
An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure
As many public health officials and medical experts will say, it’s easier to stop a medical issue or problem from occurring than to repair the damage after it has happened. Concerned family members should examine their loved one’s behavior closely. Are they drinking alcohol routinely? Is it more than just “social drinking”? Are they using mind-altering substances? Are they self-medicating? When these signs start cropping up, it’s time to step in, even if the person insists they don’t have a problem.
Some successful prevention tactics include:
1). Have a conversation. Sometimes, the best prevention tool is simply talking to the individual about what is going on in their life, why they are using a substance, what they perceive they may be getting out of it, and why that substance may harm them.
2). Educate the individual. People who recreationally drink or use drugs often do so because they do not know the true harm attendant with such substances. For example, they may not know that having one daily alcoholic beverage increases cancer risk or that smoking cannabis puts one at risk for many of the same health problems associated with cigarettes.
3). Point out obvious harms. Even infrequent substance abuse likely has harmful effects, like occasional hangovers, headaches, lack of productivity, or bad attitudes. If someone does not see that their use of substances is harmful, connecting these phenomena to their drug use may help.
4). Intervene early. When younger people are educated about the harmful nature of drugs and alcohol, they are less likely to use such substances recreationally or “in moderation.”
5). Address the underlying issues. People rarely use mind-altering substances unless they are facing a critical issue or trying to cope with another problem. Even one alcoholic beverage per day to “wind down” or one marijuana joint per day “to relax” suggests the individual has a difficult time relaxing or may be overly stressed. In such a scenario, it would be far preferable for them to find healthier ways to address stress levels and overwork than to use mind-altering, addictive substances.
As the “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” mantra suggests, a very slight effort toward preventing someone from using mind-altering substances may be all it takes to get them to understand their habit poses risks and may be harmful. Continued efforts in the form of having several conversations with the individual over time may help them see why they should find other, healthier ways of coping with life’s challenges and finding joy in life.
How to Know When It Is Time to Find an Addiction Rehab Center
There is a fine line between when family members of people who use mind-altering substances should shift their efforts from conversations about harm and the need to cut back toward sincerely advocating for addiction treatment. When someone reaches a point when they can no longer control their substance use and cannot stop using on their own, they must enter a qualified, residential drug and alcohol rehab center as soon as possible.
Prevention efforts like education, one-on-one conversations, setting boundaries and expectations, and helping the individual see the harmful nature of their habit can be enough to help someone realize they need to stop using substances before it is too late. But when the habit takes over, and the individual loses their ability to control their usage, they must get help. If this has happened to your loved one, please don’t wait until it worsens, until they fall further down the dwindling spiral of addiction. Please help them seek treatment today.
- NIDA. “Time To Start Talking about Pre-Addiction.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2022. nida.nih.gov
- SAMHSA. “Prevention and early intervention strategies can reduce the impact of substance use and mental disorders in America’s communities.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2023. samhsa.gov