It's Friday night and you heard that there's a party. Maybe you're wondering whether you can stop yourself from smoking the weed your friends are bringing. Or maybe you feel really frustrated and depressed, but you know that once you get there and down a couple of beers, you'll be having fun in no time.
If this sounds like you, you may have a drinking or drug problem. There's a fine line between using drugs or alcohol (substance abuse) and depending on them to feel good or get through the day (addiction). The important thing to remember if you think you may have a problem is that you can get help, and that it's possible to overcome the problem, no matter how difficult it may seem right now.
Tolerance, which means gradually needing more and more of a drug to get the same feeling, is a major warning sign that you may have a problem. Other warning signs include:
experiencing physical withdrawal symptoms such as diarrhea and shaking
using drugs or alcohol to try to forget your problems
promising over and over again to your family and friends that you'll stop
feeling like you can't have fun without alcohol or drugs
selling or stealing belongings to buy more drugs or alcohol
changing performance at school (such as grades dropping and frequent absences)
drinking or using drugs by yourself
frequently feeling scared, depressed, angry, or anxious
having blackouts (when you can't remember what happened when you were drunk or high)
withdrawing or keeping secrets from your friends or family
If any of these signs sound like you, you may have a problem with drugs or alcohol. It's extremely hard to recognize that you have a problem, and it's no easier to get help. But the best thing you can do is to talk to someone you trust and not try to deal with it alone. Talk to an adult who can support you and make sure that you are safe. If you feel like your parents aren't the best people to talk to, you can turn to another adult such as a guidance counselor, teacher, clergy member, or a friend's parents.
There are also tons of resources for people who have substance abuse problems (just click the Resources tab on this article to find some). There are many organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous that offer information and recovery programs for teens. The National Substance Abuse Help Line (800-HELP-111) is also a quick phone call away.
If people are getting on your nerves because they are accusing you of having a drinking or drug problem, you may be in denial. This means that you have a problem but don't know it, and it's a common symptom for people with this type of problem. One solution is to prove them wrong by agreeing to get a professional evaluation or a drug screening. Another is to agree not to drink or use drugs and if you can't keep your commitment, talk to someone who can help you. Keep in mind that the people who care about you aren't trying to control you - they're looking out for your safety and well-being.
Try to remember that you're not alone - and that many teens (and adults) are dealing with tough situations, too. Whatever steps you decide to take, remember that acknowledging your problem and getting help are the hardest parts of the process. But the rewards (like your long-term health and happiness!) are more than worth it.
Reviewed by: Wes Bowman, MD
Date reviewed: December 2000
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