Heavy Drug Use vs. Addiction: You Do Not Need to Be an “Addict” to Seek Help

substance abuse vs addiction

One in ten Americans over the age of 12 is currently addicted to drugs or alcohol. That is 23.5 million people in the United States that have been clinically diagnosed with a substance use disorder in a single year.

Yet even still, there are hundreds of binge drinkers, closet drug users, regular party-goers, and self-medicators that struggle with a very similar problem. Perhaps you are reading this article because you personally know someone fighting this fight, but are unsure if he or she needs professional help.

You are not alone. The line between addiction and heavy drinking/drug use is often a hazy one, and it is extremely difficult to know if and when someone has crossed it. Today, drinking, drug use, and partying have all become the norm in many young adult lives. The three have been so accepted that we often do not recognize the difference between “having a good time” and a more serious condition. Because of this fact, it is hard to ascertain if and when an addiction is present in an individual at all.

am I addicted?Perhaps your son has just come home from his first semester at college. You notice he is thinner than when you last saw him, his eyes heavier, his sleep patterns off schedule. You blame the stress from school as the cause, since he is balancing his 3.5 GPA with a sports scholarship. All the while, you happen to notice he is going out with his friends nearly every single night, that he stumbles home in the morning hours, and that his drinking tolerance has gone through the roof. You wonder if you should be worried, or if he is only having fun.

Just as we see in the above example, it is difficult to tell the difference between a heavy user and an addict, primarily because every addiction is unique. Every individual and his or her story is unique. Many users do not fit into the universal definition of an "alcoholic" or an "addict.” There are many degrees of substance abuse and numerous signs of drug addiction that manifest differently across individuals. How will you know when too much is too much? How will you know when is the right time to seek help?

“Heavy use” or “excessive use” is commonly defined as consuming too much at one time or over the course of the week. It is often defined in quantity; for example, men are said to drink excessively after having five or more drinks in one sitting. Underage drinkers who drink any amount are considered excessive drinkers. Still, some people do not see this “excessiveness” as a problem. Some people see this as a phase of adolescence or young adulthood.

Yet we often forget that heavy drinking and drug use is a major public health problem, which causes an excessive amount of deaths each year. Heavy use is also the chief trigger of addiction. It is the repeated, excessive, drug-using behavior that leads to physiological alterations in the brain, and ultimately, substance use disorders.

What many people do not always understand about drug and alcohol abuse is that one does not have to have a full-blown addiction to seek help. Anyone, at any time, may rightfully seek drug treatment. A person does not need to get in trouble with the law, or diagnosed by a doctor, to start a recovery plan. All one really needs is an awareness of the problem and a willingness to change.

One of the main indicators that a problem is present is often when the drinking or drug abuse is no longer a secret. If you have noticed changes in your teen’s behavior, habits, or personality, a substance abuse problem may be present. If you have any inch of doubt or worry in your mind, it is a problem worth addressing. Evaluate your teen’s behavior, your level of concern, and ask:

  • How often is your loved one using?
  • How long has the problem persisted?
  • Are they defensive about the drinking or drug use? Do they get angry when you try to talk about the problem? Do they avoid the conversation altogether?
  • Have they tried to control or limit their consumption?
  • Have they arranged their life around drinking or drug use? Do they spend most of the time obtaining, using, or recovering from the drug?
  • Does he act different, sick, or weak when not drinking or using?
  • Have negative consequences resulted from his drug and alcohol use?
  • Has his job, school, or athletic performance diminished?
  • Is their drug use and drinking no longer recreational?

As a preeminent rehab center for young men, Turnbridge has seen substance come in all shapes and sizes. The difficulty is, one cannot always distinguish the line between addiction and heavy using. That is why we recommend getting a professional assessment of your loved one to see if a more serious problem is present. In the case of teen or young adult substance abuse, it is especially important to take the proper precautions. Educate yourself and your children, know what to look for, and understand that it is never too early—or too late—to seek help for a substance use disorder. Call us at 877-581-1793 for more information.