Would you wait to treat stage 1 cancer until it progresses to stage 4? Of course not. So why would you continue problematic drug or alcohol use until substance abuse treatment is necessary?
Let’s think of this from another angle. If someone is complaining about your substance use, there’s a problem. Period. It’s that simple.
“How?” “How dare they?” “Who are they to know how much is too much for you?” you may ask.
The Real Problem When You Drink or Use Drugs is the Behaviors, Not the Quantity
It all boils down to how you behave when you use your drug of choice (whether that be alcohol, prescription medications or illegal drugs). When your behaviors change, that’s a problem – not only for you but for those within your sphere.
Think of it this way. Would someone ever complain about how much water you drank. Heck no. And that’s because water does not interfere with your brain’s communication system, therefore it cannot change the way your brain functions, therefore drinking water does not change your behaviors.
Alcohol and other drugs, on the other hand, do reach your brain’s communication system. In fact, they can interfere with it big time; thereby changing the way your brain works.
They reach the brain through the bloodstream (whether ingested, smoked or injected). They contain chemicals that tap into the brain’s communication system. This communication system consists of cells (neurons), neurotransmitters, receptors, synapses, to name a few of its key components. Working together, these components create neural networks for everything a person thinks, feels, says and does.
When taken in amounts that exceed those prescribed by a doctor for a particular individual (in the case of pain medications) or the liver’s ability to metabolize (in the case of alcohol), drugs and alcohol disrupt how brain cells normally send, receive and process information.
These interruptions in cell communication are what cause a person to exhibit drinking or drugging behaviors. And for a quick reminder, these behaviors include:
• insane, circular drunken arguments
• physical fights
• weaving, slurring words, “falling asleep” on the couch
• verbal, physical or emotional abuse, neglect, bullying
• driving while impaired, riding in a car with an impaired driver, getting a DUI
• unprotected, unwanted, unplanned sex; sexual assault
• problems at work or in school, such as absenteeism, tardiness, unfocused or distracted work effort, unsatisfactory work product
• health ailments, such as liver or heart problems, erectile dysfunction, sleep problems, some cancers
• domestic violence
• hangovers that impair one’s ability to function normally the next day.
When your behaviors are a problem – when your loved ones are now talking (or yelling or arguing or blaming or shaming you) about your drinking or drugging, you are now drinking or drugging beyond what are considered “moderate” or “normal” limits. When you do that repeatedly, you start the progression. For you see, drug or alcohol addiction is progressive – it develops over time and it always starts with substance abuse.
What is considered “normal” drinking or drug use
Just so you know:
Moderate Drinking (aka “low-risk” drinking) is defined as:
No more than 7 standard drinks in a week with no more than 3 of those 7 in any one day, for women
No more than 14 standard drinks in a week with no more than 4 of those 14 in any one day, for men.
A standard drink is defined as 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of regular beer, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof hard liquor (bourbon, tequila, scotch, gin, vodka) and 3.3 ounces of Champagne. Drinks served at parties, bars and restaurants often contain more than one standard drink. The number of standard drinks per drink container varies widely, as well. A tall regular beer, contains 2, a bottle of table wine contains 5, whereas a bottle of Champagne contains 7.5.
Moderate Drug Use (aka “low-risk” drug use) is explained as:
Taking prescription medication in exact accordance with the amount prescribed by a medical doctor for that particular patient.
Not taking any illegal drugs.
Note the terms, “moderate” and “low-risk” in both definitions. Even moderate limits can be a problem for a person depending on gender, whether other medications are being taken, stage of brain development, genetic differences, overall health of the body and similar variables.
Why Continue Behavioral Changing Drug or Alcohol Use Until Substance Abuse Treatment is Necessary
So why do people insist on being able to abuse a substance, meaning to use it in amounts that change their brain function, thereby changing their behaviors?
The answers to this question are individual and endless. But they generally come down to not believing it’s a problem, blaming someone or something else for their drinking or drugging, not understanding their key risk factors and the contribution of those risk factors to the problem or believing this next promise to cut down is going to stick.
Suffice it to say, a person does not have to keep at it until they have crossed the line to abuse and/or addiction and need treatment. Nor does a family member or friend have to get dragged through the muck of constantly trying to make sense of a situation with a person whose brain is impaired.
The individual whose drug or alcohol use is resulting in behaviors described above can make the decision to pull back within “low-risk” or “normal” drinking limits or within prescribed amounts for their prescription medications. There are no “normal” or “low-risk” limits defined for illegal drugs. And if they can’t pull back and stay there, they can make the decision to do whatever it takes to stop all together.
As for the family member or friend who loves that individual, they, too, can understand and accept these facts and then take steps to really set and stick with the boundaries around the intolerable, unacceptable drinking or drugging behaviors.
For More on These Concepts
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