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How to Identify the Signs of Substance Abuse

Addiction can develop silently without a person realizing the extent of their use of drugs or alcohol until they have already developed an unhealthy relationship with such substances. Overcoming addiction is a complicated and difficult journey, but being able to recognize the signs of substance abuse early can help someone get the help they may need to begin addressing their substance use. Knowing what substance abuse is, what signs a person can look for in themselves or loved ones, as well as what the first steps are towards addressing one’s substance abuse are all important in understanding the path to recovery ahead. 

What Is Substance Abuse? 

Substance abuse is commonly related to drugs and alcohol. It involves an overindulgence in these substances to achieve a desired effect (typically being drunk or high) in order to relieve pain, stress, or otherwise detach from the stressors of a person’s life. It can manifest as using drugs beyond their intended use, such as using pain medication for the high rather than solely when someone is actively in pain. These substance abuses have a number of health risks correlated with them, making early identification and recovery support necessary to prevent these negative relationships from developing even further. 

Substance Abuse Can Happen to Anyone

It is important for someone to be able to check themselves and their relationship with drugs or alcohol on a regular basis in order to prevent themselves from developing an abusive relationship with drugs or alcohol. Addictions can develop regardless of someone’s race, sex, age, occupation, or level of education, and can have a very destructive effect on a person’s own life and the lives of their loved ones. Being aware of the signs of developing substance abuse disorder is the first step in maintaining a healthy and productive lifestyle. It can also inform a person of when to reach out to professionals if unhealthy relationships with drugs or alcohol begin to develop. 

What Causes Substance Abuse? 

Substance abuse can develop for a number of reasons. It is possible that someone has a predisposition to developing abusive habits or addiction regarding drugs or alcohol if a family member has suffered from addiction in their lives. Someone may also turn to drugs or alcohol due to feelings of depression or anxiety in order to self-medicate or escape from these debilitating mental disorders. Lack of close social or familial connections and the health of a person’s physical and social environment may also be contributing factors to the development of a problematic relationship with drugs or alcohol. Traumatic events and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can also lead someone to look for escape using drugs or alcohol due to their fast-acting nature being able to provide immediate relief without considering the long-term consequences. All of these factors can contribute to the development of a substance abuse disorder, making addressing these disorders a complicated exploration of a person’s emotional state and coping mechanisms through the recovery process. 

What Are the Signs of Substance Abuse? 

Catching the signs present in a person who is abusing drugs or alcohol early on can be the best way to get them the help they need to address their problematic relationship with these substances. Not everyone may exhibit the same signs, but being aware of the various ways in which symptoms of substance abuse can surface can help each person be more aware of their own relationship with drugs or alcohol, or help identify when a friend or loved one may be becoming dependent on their use of such substances. 

Lapses in Memory

Having blind spots in a person’s memory, typically of the day or night before, are indicative that someone may have overindulged in their use of drugs or alcohol. These lapses may also be coupled with social consequences, such as being told they were saying inappropriate things to friends, family members, or strangers, or can manifest as injuries where someone doesn’t remember falling down or dropping something. If someone is suspicious that another may have been dangerously overindulging in drugs or alcohol, asking them to recall the entire night can be a way to explore this, or can be a method where someone can test their own levels of intoxication. 

Increasing Tolerance

Tolerance is the need for someone to ingest more of a substance in order to achieve the same effects as it had before. This may mean drinking more in order to get buzzed, or needing more of a drug to achieve the desired high. Realizing that someone is needing more and more of a substance in order to reach the same levels as before may be a sign that the person needs to reevaluate their relationship with an abused substance and find a way to objectively measure how much or how often they have been engaging in these activities. 

Depression and Anxiety

Depression or anxiety may also become a part of someone’s daily routine. Experiencing these emotions can cause someone to seek out more of a certain substance in order to assuage this mental discomfort. However, these feelings can also be perpetuated by the continued use of drugs or alcohol and may be indicative of a developing substance abuse disorder. Experiencing depression or anxiety on a regular basis can be a sign to measure one’s use of drugs or alcohol, or cut out its use completely and seek professional help, if needed. 

Dramatic Mood Swings

Frequent and intense mood swings can be a sign that someone may be developing a substance abuse disorder. These mood swings can be drastic or manifest as overall increases in feelings of anger, frustration, fear, or worry. If you notice that a loved one is seemingly more on edge than usual, addressing their potential drug or alcohol use may be a place to begin when discussing the underlying causes of these mood swings. Mood swings can be a result of substance abuse, emotional distress, or any combination of the two, providing a place to start an honest dialogue about the kind of help that a loved one may need. 

The Substance Is Clouding Your Thoughts

Substance abuse frequently causes a person to think about their use at almost all hours of the day. It is possible that someone will make plans based around their access to drugs or alcohol, or will only attend functions that have these substances available. It is possible that someone may also turn down invitations that do not include these practices and may instead choose to engage with drugs or alcohol on their own. Noticing these thoughts in oneself is a major identifier that you may need professional support to address this relationship. 

Lying About The Frequency of Use

A person may begin to lie about how often they engage with an addictive substance, which may signify some underlying guilt or acknowledgment that they know they need to stop engaging with a certain substance. However, they may not know how to break this habit of substance abuse. Even when someone is caught lying about their use, they may become incredibly defensive, begin to hide their use from others, or begin physically hiding drugs or alcohol around the house and sneaking drinks without others knowing. This is a major sign of a problematic relationship. Those who are experiencing this may feel incredibly guilty about the use, but will engage anyway, knowing of the destructive consequences that may come as a result. This relationship is incredibly complex and can leave someone in a space where they are both ashamed of their substance abuse but may not know any other ways to try to quell their guilt or emotional distress other than re-engaging with an addictive substance again. 

Decreased Energy or Loss of Appetite

If a person is seemingly always exhausted, eating very little, or even skipping meals altogether, it is possible that anxiety, depression, or substance abuse may be involved. Noticing these signs in oneself or a loved one can indicate that it might be necessary to have a conversation with family or other supports to address whatever underlying problem may be present and take action accordingly. Someone suffering from substance abuse may not be prioritizing their own health, which can lead to even more complicated health problems if left unaddressed. 

Inability to Address Personal Responsibilities 

Someone suffering from a substance abuse disorder may also tend to prioritize their use of a substance over daily responsibilities. This may manifest in a lack of responsibility around the house in regards to chores, or an inconsistent work schedule where they may be calling out more than normal. While at work, a person’s performance may suffer, leading to professional complications as a result of their substance abuse. 

Financial Issues

Engaging with drugs and alcohol is expensive. Someone suffering from a substance abuse disorder may not realize how much money they are spending on drugs or alcohol, and the financial cost can add up quickly. As a person prioritizes their use of drugs or alcohol, they may begin to budget their finances around these things rather than their own food, gas money, or even rent, leading them into steep financial troubles. Recognizing that someone is financially struggling more than usual without any major, discernable changes in their lives (such as a hospital bill, loss of a job, or any other major identifiable financial burden) may mean it is necessary to consider the person’s use of an addictive substance. 

Increased Risk-Taking

Someone may also begin to take more risks on a daily basis, seeming to disregard their own physical health leading to potential injury. This can also be an increase in risky sexual behavior, or manifest as overconfidence in one’s tolerance, leading to legal troubles through charges of DUI’s or public intoxication. All of these may indicate that a person is suffering from a substance abuse disorder and may need to be addressed with professionals on an individual basis. 

How to Prevent Substance Abuse

Even though anyone can be susceptible to developing a substance abuse disorder, it is also possible for anyone to overcome substance abuse. Early identification of the problem is the best way to prevent future problems or quell the onset of a “rock bottom” mindset. Prevention and treatment of substance abuse disorders also always starts with a genuine, honest conversation with oneself and loved ones about the nature of the problem. This creates a unified front towards a common goal that avoids potential antagonistic relationships that may develop through misunderstanding or an unwillingness to confront the issue from any side. 

Keeping an eye on one’s own use of drugs or alcohol and consistently employing self-checks is paramount in attending to these issues early. The earlier they are noticed, the quicker they can be addressed before more destructive consequences can occur. Families and individuals can also do research on available facilities that may be pertinent to each individual’s goals in life. Different recovery facilities may have different focuses or core practices, and researching ahead of time can help a person get connected with a place that is right for them as early as possible to work on their substance use. 

Someone trying to measure their substance use numerically may also leave a gap in information. While it can be tempting to say that someone is fine because they “only had two drinks,” it matters much more how those drinks affected the individual than the actual number of drinks. Gauging one’s substance use is better done by the resulting effects of their use on a personal or professional level, rather than ascribing a certain numerical value to their engagement with any particular substance. No matter how infrequently someone may use drugs or drink alcohol, if it leads to a lack of control over one’s personal or professional life, there may be a reason to consider getting professional assistance to address their relationship with these substances.

Taking the First Step

Identifying the signs of potential substance abuse can be a difficult experience, and it can be overwhelming to try to figure out what to do with the information. For someone suffering from a substance abuse disorder, it can be hard to reach out to a facility due to the stress surrounding a substance abuse assessment. However, completing one these assessments isn’t a bad thing, and it is best to be honest when sitting down with a professional. There is no such thing as a substance abuse disorder with no hope for recovery, and substance abuse evaluations are meant to help establish a person’s starting point in recovery. They are not intended to make judgments or belittle the people who are taking them. They are a way of meeting someone with a substance abuse disorder where they are and establishing a relationship to begin to grow through the recovery process. 

What is a Substance Abuse Assessment? 

What happens at a substance abuse assessment is a series of questions that are intended to gauge the presence of a substance abuse disorder and how it has impacted a person’s life. These questions will be administered by presented by a professional, and may include a number of yes or no questions about how someone engages with drugs or alcohol, like “Have you ever felt like you needed a drink first thing in the morning?” or “Has anyone ever voiced concerns about your substance use?” These are meant to discern how frequently someone may engage with addictive substances and get a better understanding of how addictive substances may impact a person’s daily routine. 

These assessments are also created in order to help discover any other underlying factors that may contribute to one’s use of any particular substance. This can be achieved by gathering general information on a person’s home environment, social influences, personal or occupational stressors, or any other details that may be pertinent. This is also used to identify underlying anxieties, depression, trauma, or other disorders that may influence a person’s decision to engage with addictive substances. 

While it may seem like someone is being quizzed about their lives, this isn’t the case. This isn’t graded on any kind of pass-fail metric, and is solely intended to help someone discover their starting point and the kind of care that may be best for them. Taking this information can help professionals curate a plan that can address the unique factors of one’s personal journey with an addictive substance while providing a unique kind of support that may be necessary for someone to get the most out of their recovery program. 

Taking this first step towards a person’s future is a huge accomplishment that should be celebrated. However, identifying that there is a problem is always the first step to recovery. Whether someone is questioning their own relationship with drugs or alcohol, or are concerned about a loved one, asking questions and having an honest conversation about potential, identifiable symptoms can help initiate a person’s journey towards recovery. 


Identifying the signs of substance abuse is the first part of a long battle. However, nobody has to tackle substance abuse on their own. The comfortable, supportive atmosphere of Chateau Recovery can provide a quiet, spacious setting for each person to develop and grow through recovery. Each individual is championed as a unique member of the community, with specialized plans to help each person with their individual goals while learning from professionals and peers in an effective group setting. Your journey with us is about more than substance use – it is about discovering the underlying factors that affect each individual on a daily basis and learning to build up for a happier, healthier future. For more information on how we can personalize your stay with us, or to talk to a caring, trained staff member about your unique situation and how we can help you, call us today at (435) 222-5225

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