Substance Use – When is it a Problem?

There are many reasons people use substances such as alcohol or recreational drugs. Some of us drink wine with dinner, or meet friends at a bar or pub for drinks; some people use recreational drugs, like marijuana and cocaine, at some point in their lives to enhance their mood when they’re feeling down. When life feels tough, we may rely on substances to alter how we see reality or to help us feel more comfortable around other people. 

Although substances can increase positive mood or enhance social experiences, for some people substance use can lead to significant negative consequences at school or work, with physical and emotional health, as well as in important relationships. For individuals experiencing negative consequences from their substance use, changing their relationship with alcohol or drugs can be difficult and repeated, unsuccessful attempts to change can leave them feeling hopeless. 

What is a substance use “problem”?

The first step in changing a substance addiction involves identifying whether you or someone you care about has a problem. Although this may feel like a daunting task, it is an important first step. Addiction psychologists recommend asking the following questions:

1. Is the substance taken in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than was intended?

2. Has the individual persistently wanted, or struggled to, cut down or control their substance use?

3. Is a great deal of time spent trying to obtain the substance and recover from its effects?

4. Is there a strong desire or urge to use the substance?

5. Has recurrent use resulted in a failure to fulfill major obligations at work, school, or home?

6. Is there continued use despite having relationship problems caused or worsened by the effects? 

7. Are important social or work activities given up or reduced because of substance use?

8. Is there recurrent substance use in situations in which it is dangerous (e.g., drinking and driving)?

9.  Does substance use continue despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or worsened by the substance?

10. Has tolerance of the substance occurred (i.e., a need for more of the substance to achieve the desired effect or diminished effect with continued use of the same amount)?

11. Is there withdrawal from the substance when use is reduced or stopped?

Individuals experiencing some or many of these consequences as a result of their substance use may want to consider seeking assistance to help them reduce, control, or stop their substance use. Psychologists and psychotherapists at CFIR can support you to address your substance use, whether you want to reduce your use or abstain completely.

Read more about our Substance Use Treatment Service.

Dr. Aleks Milosevic, C.Psych. is a Clinical Psychologist, Director of Clinical Training, and the Centre Director at CFIR’s Ottawa location.  He has a specific interest and extensive clinical experience in the treatment of substance use-related difficulties and sexual addiction. Dr. Aleks Milosevic, C.Psych. provides psychological services to individuals experiencing difficulties related to the use of all types of substances (alcohol, recreational drugs, prescription medications, anabolic steroids).