Maybe you have an uncle who always drinks "more than he should." Maybe your dad tries to keep alcohol away from your mom because she "can't handle her liquor" and gets really angry or cries a lot when she drinks. Maybe you've seen an adult smoke pot and "become somebody else." Or maybe one of your friends can't go on the school trip because her dad spent the money on drugs.
These are all warning signs of addiction or a really serious drug or alcohol problem.
If you've seen this kind of stuff going on, you know that drugs and alcohol aren't as fun or glamorous as the movies and advertisements make them out to be. You may already know that, when people have alcohol problems or drug addictions, it's not cool or exciting—it's sad, scary, and even dangerous.
And if you know this, you can start thinking now about the kinds of decisions you want to make for your life as an adult.
What is addiction?
Addiction means being dependent on a substance—like alcohol or drugs. An alcoholic or drug addict needs that substance to feel physically okay, and to feel emotionally "normal." Addiction is an illness—not a moral "weakness." Just like a person with cancer needs professional help, so does a person with an addiction problem.
Why are we telling you all this stuff?
You might wonder why we're telling you all about addiction—maybe you've never even had a sip of beer!
Well, it's because addiction is a really unhappy way of life—for the people who are addicted and their families.
We're telling you this so you KNOW. And so you'll really look at the people around you who have problems with drugs and alcohol, and you'll trust your own eyes and knowledge and judgment—and you won't be pressured by friends or what you see on TV.
And we're telling you because if there are people in your family who have problems with alcohol or drugs—it increases the chances that you'll have problems, too. We want you to be SMART and know what's going on.
So get informed. It's really important.
Warning signs of addiction to drugs and alcohol
Here are some signs of addiction or substance abuse problems:
- Need drugs or alcohol to have fun—they don't just like to have a few beers at a party, they need a few beers so they can feel comfortable at a party or social situation.
- Use the substance to deal with emotions like anger or disappointment.
- Need the substance to feel "normal"—they feel uncomfortable in their own skin until they have that drink or drug. It makes them like themselves better.
- They use the substance when they're alone.
- Get worried if they think they can't get it or won't have enough.
- Can't say no—they use the substance even when they don't want to.
- Need to have it a lot (2–3 times a week or more).
- Need more of it to get the same effect, they "build a tolerance."
- Can't stop—for example, an alcoholic wouldn't be able to stop drinking once she started.
- Have physical withdrawal symptoms when they stop.
Signs of addiction: Denial
People with substance abuse problems have something called denial. This means they don't believe, or deny, that they have a problem, even if everyone else sees it! They come up with all kinds of reasons of why THEY don't have a problem like:
- "I never drink in the morning."
- "I'm doing okay at school so I can't have a problem."
- "All my friends use it too." (If all their friends are doing it, they probably all have problems, too!)
Denial is a dangerous thing because it keeps people from getting help.