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Early Warning Signs of Substance Use Disorder

October 31st, 2022


When most of us think about substance use disorders, we consider how they are portrayed in the media. We might think about Frank in Shameless waking up surrounded by beer bottles or Rue being chased by police after stealing money and jewelry in Euphoria. Though these visual representations of addiction are valid, they do not represent the full range of experiences of people who have substance use disorders.

Rue and Frank both have substance use disorders that have unfortunately progressed to points of significant severity. Had they recognized the signs of addiction earlier on in their use, they may have recovered sooner and not experienced such severe consequences. While many people are suffering from severe substance use disorders, not all substance use disorders have to progress to a “rock bottom” to get treatment and support.

This may come as a surprise for some. In my work with addiction, I often hear from folks who have concerns about their substance use but are unsure if it is “bad enough” to get support. They believe that because they are still working full time, have not faced legal consequences, or have great relationships, their concern about their use may be unfounded. Though many people recovering from substance use disorders talk about their rock bottom moment as the point in time that they decided to pursue recovery, that is not the case for everyone and it need not be.

If you feel that you have a concerning relationship with substances, it is important to know the early signs of the disorder so that treatment can be started sooner rather than later. As with any medical concern, outcomes are better in addiction the earlier it is addressed.

Early Warning Signs

Early Warning Signs

  1. Behaviors related to substance use have increased. Increased substance-related behaviors may include using more often, spending more money on substances, and/or spending more time getting substances. For example, you may historically have only had alcohol during social gatherings, but now you realize that you are consuming alcohol every day.
  2. Your relationship with substances is not reflective of your values. When reflecting on your values, you may realize that you value getting a good night’s sleep so that you can wake up early and do yoga before work. If you realize that you start skipping yoga or losing sleep to use substances, that may be a sign of a growing problem.
  3. Your health is being impacted by substance use. Some common health problems related to substance misuse and abuse include cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, Hepatitis B and C, lung disease, and mental health disorders. If your health has changed, you may want to reflect on your relationship with substances.
  4. Relationships and other obligations are impacted by substance use. Many people report using substances in social settings as substance consumption is often a cultural experience. If substances are being used safely, social use can be enjoyable. However, if your use has led to others expressing concerns, that is a sign that your use may need to be addressed.
  5. You feel like you struggle to control or manage your use. A common sign that substance use needs to be addressed is if you are unable to manage your use. This might look like saying you will only have one glass of wine, but then consume a whole bottle. If this is happening frequently, it is important to get support.
Benefits of Addressing Substance Use Disorders Early

Benefits of Addressing Substance Use Disorders Early

  1. You may avoid more severe consequences of use. Those suffering from substance use disorders may engage in behaviors that lead to severe consequences including legal challenges, permanent bodily harm, and loss of relationships. By addressing use early, you may be spared from experiencing these harms.
  2. You may avoid significant physical health problems. As discussed above, substance use disorders can lead to serious harm like brain damage, stroke, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Additionally, some states may have laws barring those with substance use disorders from receiving transplants due to elevated risk. If addressed early, substance abuse may not lead to these issues.
  3. You may be able to maintain positive relationships. Many folks in recovery reflect on the harm that occurred in their relationships while using. The earlier disordered use is addressed, the less time there is to cause damage.
  4. Managing your recovery may feel more accessible. As substance use disorders progress, they often require more extensive treatment. For example, someone with Opioid Use Disorder may need to go to a methadone clinic daily to manage their recovery. If you address your challenges early on, maintaining recovery may not require as extensive of support.
  5. You may save money on more extensive treatment. Treatment for substance use disorders ranges from free support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous to inpatient treatment which can cost thousands of dollars per day. If addressed early, substance use disorders often only need a lower level of care to be properly treated which is more affordable for the consumer.
Treatment and Support Options

Treatment and Support Options

You may be thinking that now is the time to receive support regarding your substance use. If you believe that you are addressing your use early on, an early recovery outpatient therapy group may be the right fit for you.

For more information about Clarity Clinic’s Early Recovery Group, read more here. If you are unsure about the severity of your substance use, it may be helpful to get an assessment from a trained clinician.

Contact SAHMSA at 1(800) 662-4357 to get connected to a local resource. If you are in Illinois and need subsidized services, a great organization to contact is Haymarket. Haymarket is a treatment facility that treats substance use disorders at all levels from outpatient to inpatient. Anyone who seeks support will receive it regardless of their ability to pay.

Written by: Sarah Kelly, LCSW, CADC.

Clarity Clinic

At Clarity Clinic, we have highly trained staff who specialize in therapy and psychiatry services. To learn more about how we can support your mental health, call Clarity Clinic at (312) 815-9660 or schedule an appointment today.

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