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Due to the recreational nature of alcohol and drugs, it's easy to justify your use as normal. You might tell yourself that everyone does it or that you're just taking the edge off—that it actually enhances your life somehow. Although you may occasionally find yourself a little taken aback at the sight of empty cans or bottles in the recycling bin or surprised that a statistic puts you outside of the range of normal, it's hard to determine the exact moment when a bad habit becomes a big problem.
Substance abuse can result in a series of small but seemingly disconnected symptoms that are easy to blame on the stressors of life. However, in these cases it's often the drug or alcohol abuse causing your problems at home and at work, affecting your professional reputation and stifling career growth. Take an objective look at your relationship with alcohol and drugs and determine if it's time to set limits or seek help.
Signs of "Slippery Slope" Thinking
The insidious nature of addiction can seduce you into rationalizing behavior you previously avoided. Here are some scenarios to watch out for:
Substance Abuse Off the Clock
While it can seem like what you do outside of work has no effect on you at the office, consider how your habits have impacted your performance lately. Have you been showing up late and leaving early? Had trouble focusing? Experienced conflict with co-workers? Turning to drugs or alcohol to cope with workplace stress can wind up hurting your performance much more than it helps. Here's how to recognize if you're developing an addiction that is affecting your work:
Creating limits on how much, where, or when you drink or use can be useful if you are highly disciplined and accountable—but there's a good chance you may not be. A good litmus test for this is to abstain from all use for 30 days and see what happens. If you stop for a month and find you can take it or leave it when it comes to your drug of choice, setting limits should be easy. If, on the other hand, you find yourself craving it, becoming grouchy and irritable, or if you secretly start to use, that's an indication of dependency. This will make enforcing limits difficult and you may need to evaluate other options such as support or treatment.
The First Step
Evaluate if substance abuse is an issue in your life with the following questions from Alcoholics Anonymous (substitute alcohol with your drug of choice, if necessary):
While only you can decide whether drinking/using is an issue for you, if you answered yes to four or more of these questions, chances are you have a problem. In that case, the next step is to get some more information. Ask a good friend or family member if they've noticed a change in your behavior recently. Search online for resources; AA has a confidential website with a trove of helpful information, assessments and referral options. Finally, reach out to a support community or someone who formerly had a substance abuse problem to share your experience and get their perspective.
Evaluate recreational drug or alcohol use like any other endeavor you'd invest time and energy on and make sure it's not affecting your life or career in ways you're failing to recognize. Consider your personal and professional goals—and if you don't have any, set some—and see if your current habits are in alignment with what you're hoping to achieve in the future. If you're unable to take a break or impose healthy limits, seek the help and support you need to be your best version of you.
Dr. Rod Amiri specializes in addiction psychiatry. He is a diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and the American Board of Addiction Medicine. He has received the Patients' Choice award every year since 2008, representing less than 5 percent of active physicians in the United States. He serves patients and families at Malibu Hills Treatment Center, a luxury rehab facility located in Malibu, California.
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