Are You Living with a Substance Use Disorder?

It is not uncommon in our culture to use alcohol or other substances to unwind after a long day or on the weekends, to assuage feelings of sadness or depression, or to simply escape boredom.

However, when drinking or drug use becomes the coping mechanism of choice for any and all uncomfortable emotions to the point that it begins to trigger a slew of negative consequences, it is clear that there is a problem. If the person is unable to admit that drug or alcohol use is becoming a problem, or unable to stop drinking and using drugs despite an increase in serious issues, the problem may be diagnosed as an addiction and treatment is recommended.

When someone you love is living with a substance use disorder, it is relatively easy to see the signs. From your objective standpoint, you can see the state of your loved one’s life now as compared to the time before drug and alcohol use became a chronic issue. You watched the changes as they developed and likely grew increasingly uneasy as you realized that your loved one was slowly losing control of the ability to manage drug or alcohol use.

But when it is you who is struggling with substance use, the line between “normal” use and “abuse” is fuzzy – not to mention the line between “abuse” and “addiction.” How do you know if you are living with a substance use disorder, and whether or not treatment is the best option for you?

Physical Ailments

Heavy use of drugs and alcohol can result in wear and tear on the body and its systems. It is not uncommon for people who chronically use drugs and alcohol to have higher rates of illness as compared to other people. The immune system is compromised by drug and alcohol use, making the user more susceptible to viruses and bacteria.

This is in addition to the acute effects of specific drugs. Hangovers after drinking heavily that are defined by nausea, vomiting, headaches, fatigue, and dehydration occur frequently. Similarly, after a binge on any drug, the body often responds with symptoms that can resemble the flu or a cold as it attempts to heal after the toxin exposure. When drinking and drug use are chronic, the body does not have time to repair after each use, the toxins build up in the system, and serious chronic ailments can develop. Depending on the drug of choice and the method of ingestion, people who use drugs regularly may develop respiratory illnesses, blood infections, cardiovascular problems, gastrointestinal issues, and more.

Do you find that you struggle with illness more frequently than you did before drinking and drug use were an everyday or almost-everyday activity?

Social and Relationship Changes

Another sign that drug and alcohol use has reached an unhealthy level is the state of your social interactions and relationships. Consider the answers to the following questions:

  • Do you find that you and your spouse or partner often argue over your use of substances or your choices while under the influence?
  • Have you ever physically harmed someone while under the influence?
  • Do you ever forget to follow through on commitments you made to your loved ones because you are drunk or high?
  • Do you have a hard time connecting with people on an emotional level, often feeling cold or indifferent when they are emotional with you?
  • Do you struggle with connecting with people you encounter in the world (e.g., neighbors, retail workers, coworkers, etc.) positively?

Often, the people who are closest to us are the first to recognize a substance use disorder in its early stages. Though it can feel easy to disregard their concerns as overblown or unwarranted, they know you better than anyone else, and their concerns may very well be the first sign that there is a problem you need to address through treatment.

Mental Health

It is not uncommon for people who are living with a substance use disorder to simultaneously struggle with the symptoms of a mental health disorder. In fact, about half of those who are diagnosed with a substance use disorder are diagnosed with a co-occurring mental health disorder – and vice versa.

In some cases, the mental health symptoms may be triggered or worsened by use of drugs and alcohol. In the process of stopping the use of these substances, the symptoms may diminish or disappear completely.

In other cases, an underlying mental health disorder may have played a large role in triggering drug and alcohol abuse. Rather than seeking treatment for depression or anxiety, the person may choose instead to pick up a beer or take a pill with the goal of managing the symptoms in the short-term. When this behavior becomes an everyday method of managing symptoms, it can soon turn into a substance use disorder – and ultimately worsen the mental health issues that may have triggered the whole process.

Do you find that you turn to drugs or alcohol to manage emotional or mental health difficulties? Is this your method of choice for managing uncomfortable feelings?


If you are living with a substance use disorder, there is hope through treatment. Whether you are struggling with a substance abuse problem and would like help getting back on track, or you need to start the healing process at a medical detox program, we are here to help. Contact us at Desert Hope today to learn more about your options in addiction treatment.