Substance Use Frequently Asked Questions

About this Information

If you have concerns about alcohol or substance abuse, there is no substitute for an in-person assessment by a reputable, qualified addictions counselor. This information is general in nature and is not meant to be an exhaustive response to the difficulties experienced in addressing alcohol or substance abuse.

How would I know if I were an alcoholic or addicted to a drug?

Professionals who provide assessments generally look for at the following criteria. The more criteria met the more severe the problem (mild, moderate, severe):

Impaired Control
What would this look like? Taking more of a substance than planned, or using for a longer period than planned. Having unsuccessful efforts to stop or cut down on use. Spending a great deal of time obtaining, using, or recovering from use. Having cravings for the substance.
Social Impairment
What would this look like? Failure to fulfill major obligations due to substance use. Continued use of a substance despite problems caused or made worse by the use. Important activities are given up, reduced, or avoided because of substance use.
Risky Use
What would this look like? Using again and again in hazardous situations. Continuing to use despite physical or psychological problems that are either caused by use or made worse by the use.
Pharmacologic Dependance
What would this look like? Tolerance to the effects of the substance (using the same amount is no longer effective, more of the substance has to be used to feel the effects). Withdrawal symptoms occur when not using, or when using less. This category – being physically dependent – often comes with some higher medical risks. Consider consulting a professional soon, either your physician or a professional substance abuse counselor.

What is the best way to approach a loved one about their alcohol or drug use?

It is important to approach someone whom you think may have a problem in a way that is caring and not blaming. If you’re upset or angry, wait to have the discussion. You want to be heard, and approaching in a calm and caring way will help that happen. Simply say that you care about them and you've noticed how their use is affecting their life. Say that you would like them to see if they can decrease or stop their use, and if they cannot, ask them to consider going to local support group (AA, NA, CA) or to get professional help to stop.

It is normal for those who have problems with substance use to react by minimizing or denying the problem, or even becoming angry when they are approached. Don’t argue. Simply repeat that you care and are concerned for them (if you argue with them or become angry and lash out at them, you only help them to focus on something besides their own use). Sometimes, the person has heard you and thinks about what you said. If your statements of concern don't seem to do any good, then seek out the assistance of close friends and family to help you speak to the person about their use. Don't hesitate to seek the advice of a qualified professional counselor. Also, look for information on Families Anonymous or Al-Anon meetings in your community, or on their websites. Families Anonymous and Al-Anon are good ways to get support.

How can someone get confidential help for alcoholism and substance abuse?

All professionals who provide services for substance use disorders are bound by federal regulations in regard to releasing information about care. Respect for confidentiality is at the core of any reputable professional’s practice and any organization's treatment program. As a result, information about someone in treatment will not be released by telephone or any other means without a signed consent to release information from that person, and/or a court order as stipulated by the regulations. Getting confidential help is simply a matter of getting help!