Questions to Help You Identify Substance Abuse:
- Does your friend pound lots of drinks very quickly?
- Does your friend always want to stay out after last call?
- Has your friend experienced trouble on campus (i.e., public intoxication citations) because of drinking or drug use?
- Does your friend frequently black out while drinking?
- Are drugs or alcohol affecting your friend’s academic performance?
- Does your friend use alcohol or drugs to cope with stress?
- Does your friend drink in the morning?
- Do they have cravings and urges to use alcohol or drugs?
You may have asked why your friend can’t just stop using drugs or alcohol. Addiction researchers now know that quitting is much harder than simply saying “no” to drugs and alcohol. Studies show that addiction development is accompanied by changes in the brain. These changes can impact a person’s self-control—which makes quitting drugs or alcohol difficult.
Does Your Friend’s Substance Abuse Affect You?
- Have you felt embarrassed about what the person did or said while under the influence?
- Is their drug or alcohol use making you unhappy?
- Has your friend’s use of drugs or alcohol caused you to take time away from your studying or classes?
- Have you had to take care of your friend after they used alcohol or drugs?
- Have you been worried about your friend’s safety?
Addiction is often referred to as a family disease because it affects the people closest to the addicted individual. If someone close to you is abusing substances, you’ve likely experienced one or even all the above situations.
Is Your Friend Dependent or Addicted?
Substance dependence and addiction are serious medical conditions, but for college students it may be difficult to recognize the signs of problem behavior—especially when it seems like “everybody’s doing it.” If you are concerned for your friend or classmate, it will help to know the criteria doctors use to diagnose dependence and addiction. Does your friend exhibit two or more of the following characteristics?
- Made repeated attempts to cut down or stop their alcohol or drug use, but could not.
- Wanted to use drugs or alcohol so badly they couldn’t think of anything else.
- Increased the amount of drugs or alcohol they use to get the same effects as they once did (i.e., developed tolerance to the substance).
- Spent a lot of time drinking or using drugs, or being sick/recovering from the effects of their drug or alcohol use (i.e., hangovers).
- Spent increasing amounts of time trying to get more drugs or alcohol.
- Used more than one drug at a time.
- Continued using substances despite experiencing social or relationship problems because of their drug or alcohol use.
- Stopped doing things they once enjoyed (i.e., sports, clubs, hanging out with certain friends) because of their drug or alcohol use.
- Felt withdrawal symptoms (felt sick) when they stopped using drugs or alcohol.
- Experienced medical issues because of drug or alcohol use, such as memory loss, bleeding, black outs, convulsions, cardiovascular injury, liver damage, contracting viruses or other infectious diseases, etc.
- Engaged in illegal activities to obtain alcohol or drugs.
- Neglected responsibilities such as school assignments, going to class, or going to work because of drug or alcohol use
What is the difference between dependence, tolerance, and addiction?
Physical dependence refers to the body adapting to the substance, to the extent that people who are dependent need to take the substance just to function normally. With continued use over time, it may require more of the substance in order to feel the same effects—this is tolerance. Both dependence and tolerance accompany addiction. Addiction is marked by a compulsion to use substances despite social or medical consequences (i.e., dropping out of school, failing classes, getting arrested, break-ups, overdose, and even death).
What behaviors accompany addiction?
When a person is struggling with addiction, they may exhibit changes in behavior or appearance. Single incidents of such changes are not necessarily cause for concern, but if you notice the changes listed below over a period of time (especially in combination with other changes on the list), it might be time to talk to your friend about their substance abuse.
|Unintended weight loss or gain||Bloodshot eyes||Pupils larger or smaller than usual||Itching|
|Sniffing||Bloated face||Dry mouth or nose||Needle marks|
|Sweating||Vomiting||Changes in hygiene/personal appearance||Finding drug paraphernalia|
|Changes in sleeping patterns||Secretive behavior||Drinking or using drugs alone, or in the mornings||Missing class|
|Financial problems||Changes in friends or hobbies||Fighting||Irritability|
|Mood swings||Lack of motivation||Detachment||Complacency|
|Isolation||Drunk driving||Having risky or unprotected sex|
The more times you answered “yes” to the questions and signs of abuse listed above, the more likely it is that your friend might be struggling with a substance use disorder. However, the information on this page is not intended to reliably diagnose a drug or alcohol problem. If you think your friend has a substance abuse problem in college, you should express your concern and offer to help them get connected with a medical professional and/or counseling.