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How Do You Know When You Have a Substance Abuse Problem?

Cherie D. Tolley, Chief Executive Officer

My mother used to tell my father “Denial is not a river in Egypt.” This was in relation to his perception, or misperception, about his alcohol abuse. Like many of us, he started drinking in high school. He got his first arrest related to alcohol at the age of 18 trying to outrun a train through three towns in NC (in the late 40s). He said he would have beaten that train too if the engine hadn’t blown up in his father’s car!

My Dad’s denial about his problem with alcohol started as young as 18. When you get arrested and blow up your father’s car due to alcohol, that’s a problem! My Dad, like many who abuse drugs and alcohol, was what we consider a “functional alcoholic”. He had a highly successful career working for Southern Railroad. Drinking with co-workers and entertaining contractors was a part of the gig.

His alcoholism continued to increase year over year. By the time I was in high school, he was what I considered to be a full-blown alcoholic. Although still successful at work, home was a different story. He never hit us, but he became a Dr. Jekyll/ Mr. Hyde when under the influence. He would tear the house apart and get into terrible fights with my mother. He shot a light out over my head one night when I was 17.

At the age of 45, he quit drinking. My mother had started going to Al-Anon and had stopped enabling him and engaging in his tirades. After his third DUI, he realized he could no longer drink. Back then, you could still pretty much “buy” your way out of DUIs in smaller southern towns, and he did. Still, he quit.

At the age of 17, about to leave for college, I began a totally different relationship with my dad. For several years after he stopped drinking and would be late getting home, I worried he had relapsed. I began to know the real Walt Tolley, and what an awesome man he truly was. I also realized that he came from a long line of alcoholics. His addiction was a disease.

So how do you know when your own use is a problem? It’s fairly easy to ascertain. You need to just ask yourself just one simple question. Is my use of alcohol or drugs interfering or negatively impacting any of the following?

  • Relationships
  • Finances
  • Ability to hold down or keep a job.
  • Problems at work
  • Family conflict as a result of drug use or drinking.
  • Legal issues

If the answer to that question is yes, then chances are you have a problem with drugs or alcohol.

We have a pervasive problem in this country with the abuse of alcohol, illegal drugs, or the abuse of prescription drugs.

  • In 2021, over 10,000,000 individuals misused Opioids.*
  • 7 in 10 deaths from overdoses are from Opioids.
  • 1 in 10 Americans over 12 years old suffer from alcohol use disorder.
  • There was a 60% increase in alcohol consumption during the Covid lockdown.
  • Drug use went up among 8th graders by 61% between 2012 and 2016.
  • 62% of teenagers in 12th grade have abused alcohol.
  • 50% of teens have used an illegal or abused an illegal prescription at least once, probably that they found in their home.

The good news is that if you answered yes to any of those situations where drugs or alcohol are causing problems in your life, there is help, and hope. There are many levels of treatment available, ranging from traditional AA meetings, outpatient therapy, intensive outpatient, partial hospitalization, residential and detox. A good substance abuse assessment will help you and your loved ones figure out if you need treatment and if so, what level of treatment. For those who are physically addicted, some type of medical detox may be indicated. Detox though is not treatment. Detox only helps you withdraw from the physical effects of the substance(s) safely and more comfortably. Continued treatment is usually needed to help deal with the underlying causes of the addiction.

If you need an assessment, or know you have a serious problem, Waypoint is here to help. Even if you are not ready to engage yet in treatment, our admissions team can talk with you or a family member and help you figure out what is the best option based on your current situation.

Don’t let years of your life go by letting drugs or alcohol ruin your life. I was lucky with my dad. I had a sober, awesome father from the time I was 17 until he died a few years ago at the age of 90. Don’t allow denial or a fear of getting help continue to prevent you from talking with someone or getting help. Every day is a new chance to turn things around!

Sobriety: Live your Best Life!