Consuming alcohol or drugs might seem like an acceptable way to relax or cope, but it’s easy to overlook the potential dangers.
Drinking a six pack after class. Smoking a joint to unwind. Popping a couple of pills to stay awake. Consuming alcohol or drugs might seem like an acceptable way to relax or cope, but it’s easy to overlook the potential dangers.
Even the “experimental” use of alcohol and drugs can negatively impact a person’s life. Blackouts, overdoses, and accidents can happen even when it seems like things are under control. Alcohol use can slide into abuse and then dependence. People who are dependent on alcohol or drugs may build up tolerance and need increasing amounts to feel the same effects. They may spend more time obtaining and using them, as well as recovering from their effects. They may find themselves repeatedly unable to quit using substances, even once they recognize that they have a problem. When they do quit, they can go into withdrawal, which is sometimes life threatening.
Alcoholism and drug addiction are diseases. The craving that an alcoholic or addict feels for their substance of choice can be as strong as the need for food or water. They will continue using despite serious family, health, or legal problems. Alcohol and/or drug use doesn’t necessarily have to affect your ability to function academically to be a problem. Consider also how it affects your health, relationships, and overall behavior.
Here are some warning signs of substance abuse and addiction:
- Abdominal pain
- Drinking alone
- Episodes of violence with drinking
- Hostility when confronted about drinking
- Lack of control over drinking—being unable to stop or reduce alcohol intake
- Making excuses to drink
- Nausea and vomiting
- Need for daily or regular alcohol use to function
- Neglecting to eat
- Not caring for physical appearance
- Secretive behavior
- Shaking in the morning
- Cycles of being unusually talkative, “up” and cheerful, with seemingly boundless energy (often seen in cocaine and methamphetamines)
- Increased irritability, agitation and anger
- Unusual calmness, unresponsiveness, or looking “spaced out”
- Apathy and depression
- Paranoia and delusions
- Temporary psychosis or hallucinations
- Lowered threshold for violence
- Abnormally slow movements, speech or reaction time, confusion and disorientation (often seen in opiates, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates)
- Sudden weight loss or weight gain
- Cycles of excessive sleep
- Unexpected changes in clothing, such as constantly wearing long sleeved shirts, to hide scarring at injection sites
- Suspected drug paraphernalia such as unexplained pipes, roach clips, or syringes
- For snorted drugs, chronic troubles with sinusitis or nosebleeds
- For smoked drugs, a persistent cough or bronchitis, leading to coughing up excessive mucus or blood
- Progressive severe dental problems (especially with methamphetamines)
If you or someone you know may have a problem with alcohol or drugs, contact your campus health center to connect you or a friend with a therapist, group counseling, or rehab program. The health center can also provide the appropriate medical treatment if someone is suffering from withdrawal. Because substance use can seriously impair judgment, suicidal thoughts can be very real. Seek help immediately if you or a friend is thinking about suicide.
Substance abuse can be treated. Treatment programs use both counseling and medications to help people stop abusing substances and rebuild their lives.
Recovery from addiction can sometimes be a life-long challenge. For some people, sobriety is an ongoing process that requires regular monitoring. Treatment focuses on teaching coping skills to help avoid temptations, maintaining a substance-free lifestyle, and dealing with cravings or relapses. With proper treatment, addiction is manageable and shouldn’t stand in the way of a successful, productive life.
Please be sure to select your school so we can provide you with information about resources and help on or near your campus.
Are you worried that a friend or loved one needs help with alcoholism or drug addiction? You may see warning signs that they can’t or don’t want to acknowledge. Maybe you’ve noticed that their behavior or appearance has changed, or that they’re acting uncharacteristically hostile or secretive. Maybe they’re missing classes or are suddenly disinterested in things they usually enjoy. Or perhaps they just seem wasted or out of it more often than feels right. Don’t assume that the problem will go away on its own, or that your friend can just “snap out of it.”
Before confronting your friend, it’s a good idea to educate yourself on the effects of alcohol or the specific drug that concerns you. Explain to your friend that lately they’ve been behaving in ways that worry you. Some people get defensive or angry when they’re confronted; your conversation may go more smoothly if you don’t judge, get upset, or make accusations. Instead, try listening to your friend and asking open-ended questions about their feelings. You can’t force your friend into action, but you can make a big difference by offering your encouragement and help in seeking treatment.