There is no perfect method for preventing substance abuse and addiction. There are, however, ways to reduce your risk of developing a substance use disorder. We’ve taken the time to pull together eight actions you can take and share with those you care about.
8 Ways to Reduce Your Risk
Preventing substance abuse and addiction starts by recognizing the factors that increase your risk of potentially developing a substance use disorder. Most people begin to abuse an addictive substance, like alcohol or drugs, due to stress. In today’s world, stress takes on many different forms – some of which are not always obvious.
Genetics and environment play a huge role in whether a person has a predisposition for misusing a substance or developing an addiction. The following eight actions can help you evaluate your risk factor and reduce it.
#1: Know Your Family History
The National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence (NCADD) is dedicated to the study of substance abuse and addiction. They have found that a person whose family has a history of substance abuse is 50% more likely to develop a substance use disorder and experience mental health issues.
There isn’t a specific gene that makes a person more likely to suffer from addiction. But there are genetic and biological factors that predisposition some to being more vulnerable to addiction.If someone in your family has (or is) struggling with substance abuse or an addiction problem, you risk factor increases. Know your family history and learn more about it if able.
#2: Know Yourself
What makes you tick?
Knowing how and why you react in the ways you do is important. It grants the ability to focus on and grow strengths while recognizing and addressing weaknesses.
For example, do you tend to use alcohol to unwind, destress, or cope with certain situations? If so, recognize that this practice could increase your risk of a substance use issue. By knowing yourself and understanding the potential danger, you can act to reduce your risks. How? By paying attention to your alcohol use habits and evaluating them regularly.
#3: Be Careful During Transitional Times
Transitional times for adults include obvious and not so obvious times of stress. For example, obviously stressful times can include loss of a job, divorce, and the death of a loved one. Less apparent times of stress can include starting a new job, getting married, and moving.
Transitional times for a child or teenager look a little different. Attending a new school, starting a new school year, a first job, moving, and parents divorcing are all transitional times.
The risk of abusing a substance climbs when a person is weathering a transitional time.
Ultimately, interim times involve both positive and negative stress. When stress ramps up, the risk of substance abuse also increases. Keep a close eye on how you cope during these times, and if alcohol or drugs (prescription or otherwise) are involved, be aware of how and why they are being used.
#4: Recognize Mental Illness
It is very common for people who abuse substances to suffer from mental illness. In many cases, these people have never received treatment for the mental illness they suffer from. They may not even realize they have one.
Substance use disorders, which include substance abuse and addiction, are mental illnesses in their own right – regardless of choice.
Mental illness is an uncomfortable topic shrouded in stigma. In fact, it’s perfectly normal if you avoid discussing it or even forming an opinion about it. But if you’re serious about reducing your risk of developing a substance use issue, you must recognize it.
Take a positive step and read Mental Illness: Why the Term Shouldn’t Scare Us.
The fact is…
- Mental illness is real.
- It is very common for people who abuse a substance to have a common (and very treatable) mental illness.
- Using prescription drugs can cause drug dependency and even addiction – even when following all medical direction.
- Mental illness is as much your fault as a cold or the flu.
- Ultimately, what matters is recognizing mental illness and seeking the correct treatment.
#5: Strengthen Your Self-Esteem
How we feel about ourselves shapes everything. It impacts our attitudes, behaviors, and our choices. Self-esteem plays a large part in many of life’s major decisions.
Low self-esteem has been linked to an increased risk of substance abuse in young adults, but it isn’t limited to them.
No matter your age, how you feel about yourself will strongly influence what you choose to do and how likely someone else will affect what you do.
Having low self-esteem increases the chances of developing mental illness, such as depression or anxiety. According to Self-Esteem-School.com, roughly 50 million Americans suffer from a diagnosable mental illness ranging from depression to an eating disorder, and 85% of the world population is affected by low self-esteem.
If you are one of these people, do not despair. You can boost your self-esteem by practicing self-love, working to change your thought patterns, and seeking help from a qualified mental health professional – such as a counselor.
#6: Take a Self-Evaluation Regularly
What are your alcohol and drug habits?
The thing about habits is we often develop them without taking much notice of them. For example:
- It’s easy to have a habit of drinking a glass of wine each week, but do you notice when you regularly drink greater amounts or more frequently?
- Do you notice if your habit with an over-the-counter or prescription drug changes?
- If you use a drug like marijuana, is the amount you use and/or how frequently you use it changing?
While an increase in the amount or frequency of alcohol and/or drug use isn’t a guarantee of a substance use problem, it is a precursor. No one actively tries to develop a problem; it happens over time. Usually, a little bit at a time.
You can counter the development of habits that increase your risk of a substance use issue by conducting regular self-evaluations. Think of it like an annual physical; a way to check on your health and adjust as needed to remain healthy.
If you drink alcohol, use our free guide. Do I Have a Problem With Alcohol? It includes a self-evaluation.
If you use over-the-counter, prescription, or other drugs, you can conduct your own self-eval by honestly answering questions like these with all the time, most of the time, sometimes, rarely, or never:
- Am I using this substance when I am stressed, anxious, or depressed?
- Does part of me expect this substance to alleviate, mask, or solve how I feel?
- Am I using this substance more than I used to or taking it more frequently?
- Do I feel like I need this substance or like I can’t function without it?
- Am I using this substance for something other than its intended purpose?
- Do I hide when or how often I use this substance?
Grade your answers using the following key:
- 4 points for each all the time answer
- 3 points for each most of the time answer
- 2 points for each sometimes answer
- 1 point for each rarely answer
- 0 points for each never answer
If you score 6 points or higher, you may want to take a closer look at how you’re using the substance in question and discuss this with a qualified medical professional you can trust – like your doctor or a substance abuse professional.
A self-eval is not a replacement for a qualified assessment by a medical professional, but it can help alert you to a developing concern.
#7: Find Healthy Ways to Manage Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety are two huge contributing factors to the want (even “need”) to use an addictive substance, especially alcohol. The best way to decrease your risk of abusing a substance due to stress and anxiety is to reduce them. But that’s easier said than done.
Finding healthy ways to manage stress and anxiety takes time. What works for your friends or family may not work for you. The good news is there are lots of healthy ways to cope. Some ideas to try include:
- Exercise: Hit the gym or take a stroll. Exercise is the act of moving. It doesn’t have to be strenuous. Some people find a vigorous workout helpful while others prefer a quiet walk in the park. Yoga is another great option, and you can do it from the privacy of your home if preferred.
- Creating: Letting the imagination run wild can be a good way to destress and combat anxiety. And the ways to create are endless. Pick up a hobby. Try making art or writing or singing or dancing. Paint, photograph, or draw. Sew, knit, or crochet. Let your imagination pick a new way to express itself.
- Relaxing: How do you relax? Explore meditation, reading, keeping a journal, scrapbooking, joining a local club or group, visiting a bookstore or local establishment. You get the idea.
#8: Focus on Balance
You can actively reduce your risk of substance abuse and addiction by focusing on balance. There’s nothing wrong with drinking alcohol or taking a prescription or using a legalized drug, but it should be done in moderation. As Thomas Merton says…
“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.”
Balance is forever shifting in life. We all lose it at times, but we can all get it back. Use these tips to reduce your risk of developing a substance use issue. If you feel you’ve lost balance or need help, reach out to a qualified professional.