For someone who has never used drugs regularly, it can be perplexing as to why a friend or loved one is doing so. And even among casual drinkers, it is difficult to comprehend why someone else would be a binge drinker or alcohol abuser. However, there are definite things known to motivate drug and alcohol use – things that can be addressed to hopefully prevent casual use from evolving into dependence.

The good news is that not everyone who uses drugs or alcohol goes on to become dependent. In terms of alcohol, most of us who consume it are considered casual drinkers able to go no further than just enjoying a drink or two on the weekends. On the other hand, for those who do become alcohol or drug dependent a life of misery awaits. Dependence on drugs or alcohol causes physical harm as well as mental, emotional, and financial harm.

Common Reasons for Using Drugs or Alcohol

As we mentioned earlier, it is difficult to understand why someone would use drugs or drink irresponsibly. It is also normal to be angry, confused, frustrated and even a little scared when you discover a family member or close friend is using. However, do not let your emotions and confusion prevent you from doing what you can to help. Consider getting in touch with Addiction Helper so that we can advise you.

Having said that, here are some of the common reasons people begin using drugs or alcohol on more than a casual basis:

  • pleasure – there are those who use drugs and alcohol just for the fun of it
  • self-confidence – drugs and alcohol often give a false sense of self-confidence in anxious situations
  • escape – attempting to escape from one’s problems is a common reason for drinking or taking drugs
  • peer pressure – teenagers often say they use drugs and alcohol simply because their friends are doing the same
  • experimentation – experimenting with drugs just to see what they are like have started more than one person on the road to addiction.

There is a fine line between casual drug and alcohol use and recreational use. Recreational use should be a warning sign that a person’s likelihood of eventual dependence has possibly increased. If you know someone who is a recreational user, now is the time to try to get involved if you can. This might be your best chance of preventing eventual dependence.

What is recreational drug and alcohol use? It is regular use of substances as a normal part of life, but still in amounts and frequencies small enough to remain under control. A recreational drug user might completely stay away from drugs during the week, but make a point of getting high every weekend.

Part of recreational use is something known as ‘binging’. You may have heard of binge drinking, just as one example. Binging is a scenario in which a person drinks or uses drugs heavily and deliberately, over the course of a few days, for the sole purpose of escaping problems or alleviating him or herself from the responsibilities of life.

It should be noted that binging more than once or twice every few months is considered abuse. It is also one of the final steps before an abuse problem becomes full-blown addiction.

Use Is Not Dependence

Perhaps you have noticed a loved one drinking or using drugs for one of the reasons listed above. Perhaps you are afraid that individual is also dependent on the substances he or she is using. However, we want to set your mind at ease by explaining that use is not dependence in every case.

In a clinical sense, there are three ‘levels’ of drug and alcohol use:

  1. use
  2. abuse
  3. addiction.

Each of these three classifications has very definite symptoms easily identified by a professional. If an individual is diagnosed simply as a user, his or her habit is still in the earliest stages. This is the time when intervention is most effective in preventing casual use from becoming abuse or addiction.

If someone you know is a casual user, that person will be able to stop drinking or taking drugs at will. This person might choose to binge every now and again but more often than not, that binging results in regret and a concerted effort not to do it again. When a person realises what he or she’s doing and takes steps to keep it under control, he or she is likely still just a casual user.

Unfortunately, experts estimate that between 5% and 10% of those who use drugs and alcohol recreationally go on to show signs of dependence down the road. This is where it is helpful to know the warning signs of alcohol or drug dependence.

What Dependence Looks like

A person who is dependent on drugs or alcohol – also known as an addict or alcoholic – is someone who is unable to control his or her own actions. Drugs or alcohol becomes the dominating factor in their life to the extent that they eventually live for no other reason. If there is any good news in this, it is the fact that dependence is a gradual process. If signs are noticed early enough, intervention may prevent the issue from reaching its full and destructive conclusion.

Here are a few of the early signs of a potential dependency problem:

  • a change in social circles
  • unexplained mood swings
  • unexplained financial problems
  • increased secrecy about one’s life
  • unexplained absences from work, school.

Family members are often the first ones to see the early warning signs of dependence. Unfortunately, they are also the first to try to ignore the signs or cover them up. We do this in the mistaken belief that the individual will eventually come to his or her senses and stop using drugs or alcohol. Yet it rarely works this way.

Once a drug or alcohol user reaches the early stages of dependence, he or she is no longer thinking rationally about what they are doing. The drugs or alcohol are only making matters worse by impacting the way the brain functions. The deeper one gets into addiction, the less clearly he or she’s able to think. Families may hope the addict starts thinking clearly again, but they likely will not.

Along with the irrational thinking, dependence on drugs or alcohol also creates something known as ‘tolerance’. From a medical standpoint, tolerance is a situation in which the body becomes physically dependent on drugs or alcohol for daily functioning. It is tolerance that causes the withdrawal symptoms addicts experience during detox.

If someone is dependent, he or she will exhibit one clear symptom that is easily recognisable: he or she will need to use drugs or alcohol in greater amounts to enjoy the same pleasurable effects. The alcoholic may graduate from one or two glasses of booze per day to an entire bottle. The heroin user can go from one daily hit up to three or four. The more the individual uses, the more he or she needs just to keep pace.

Recovering from Addiction

We cannot stress enough the importance of intervening in the life of the drug or alcohol user as early as possible. It is a lot easier for a person to change his or her behaviour as a recreational user than it is after he or she becomes an addict. And trust us when we say that recovering from addiction is not a walk in the park.

Because the addict is now physically, mentally and emotionally dependent on drugs or alcohol, those dependencies must be broken if recovery is to take place. Physical dependence is broken through the process of detox. Detox can be implemented as:

  • medicated – doctors and therapists will use prescription medications to ease the symptoms of withdrawal
  • non-medicated – also known as ‘cold turkey’, this detox method uses no supplemental drugs

The mental and psychological dependencies are broken through a series of psychotherapeutic treatments provided by trained therapists. These therapies include things like one-on-one counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), group support, life skills training, and physical/mental challenges.

The length of time needed to fully recover from addiction very much depends on the personality and willingness of the addict, the substances he or she is addicted to, and the length of time he or she has been an addict. Obviously, recovery is usually easier when the length of the addiction has been relatively short. Those who have been addicted for years have the most difficulty achieving complete recovery.

What You Can Do

Assuming there is a drug or alcohol user in your family, you can keep your eyes open for the early warning signs of dependence. As long as they are not present, you can actively engage the person in conversation just to let him or her know you are concerned about the frequency and/or reasons behind their recreational drug and alcohol use. Let them know you are genuinely concerned about their well-being.

If you do recognise the early signs dependence, we recommend you contact us at Addiction Helper, or another similar agency. Dealing with addiction on your own is both challenging and difficult to do correctly. We can help by offering you solid advice and, when appropriate, multiple treatment options. Help for family, friends, and close ones is just as important as the help people suffering with addiction need. Seek support to find the right path.