Drug use is not inherently an issue, but misuse and addiction are conditions that are cause for concern. Here are tips to manage use.

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Perhaps you’ve long used prescription meds to manage a chronic condition or you’re prescribed pain medication after surgery. You could even use some drugs socially or recreationally to help calm your mood.

For whatever reason you partake, you might’ve had the thought: “Are there any steps to avoid addiction?”

That’s a loaded question. Short answer? Substance use can be managed so it doesn’t turn into misusesubstance use disorder (SUD), aka addiction, are conditions that require intervention.

In 2018, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that 53.2 million folks 12 or older in the United States used substances not as prescribed or not prescribed to them. Because drug use is so common and has the potential to be harmful, we’ll cover how to potentially curb a shift from substance use to misuse.

One 2017 research paper defined substances as any sort of compound that affects the mind (psychoactive) and can potentially cause problems for your health or social relationships.

They’re separated into the following categories, all having the capacity to be misused or foster an addiction.

  • alcohol (including beer, wine, and liquor)
  • nicotine (chewing tobacco, cigars, and cigarettes)
  • cannabinoids (marijuana)
  • depressants (including benzodiazepines, such as Xanax and barbiturates)
  • stimulants (cocaine and meth)
  • hallucinogens (including MDMA)
  • Opioids (pain relievers, including Vicodin)

Use, misuse, and addiction

In wanting to generally avoid your substance use interfering with daily life, you might want clarity with terms often used interchangeably. To clarify:

  • Misuse. Using substances in higher than recommended amounts or medications outside of their intended purpose.
  • Tolerance. When your body adapts to a substance, needing more to get the former effect.
  • Dependence. This can happen organically, even with prescription drugs taken as directed. Your body has adapted, so it needs the substance just to function. Withdrawal symptoms can also occur here if the substance isn’t repeatedly consumed.
  • Addiction. The continuance of substance use despite the negative consequences. Gambling and gaming addictions are possible too, not just substances.
  • Substance use disorder (SUD). These treatable addictions are related to a drug, psychoactive herb, or alcohol, to the point that it has a negative impact on your life. In a 24-hour day, much time is spent using or preoccupied with the next use.

Substance use can lead to misuse for anyone, but there are some people who have an increased risk of developing a disorder:

  • Coming from a lower-income neighborhood doesn’t mean you have a greater chance of substance use or misuse. But people with more income and education have better access to medical facilities and clinical support.
  • Black people, members of LGBTQ+ communities, and monolingual Spanish speakers within the United States are less likely to have adequate health insurance. This tends to decrease these communities’ chances for intervention and medical support.
  • Genetic factors cause some people to be more susceptible than others to SUD.

Although we cannot generally “prevent drug addiction,” there might be some approaches you can incorporate daily to keep your treatment plan or recreational substance use moderated:

Identify your wants vs. needs

Do you need comfort or to cope with something that happened? Often folks turn to substances to mask emotions they may need to cope with holistically. For many, access to substances to manage mental health or pain symptoms may be easier than accessing healthcare services.

Get to the root of your desire to partake at the moment

Is it boredom? To increase enjoyment or soothe stress? A 2017 study explained family conflict is one of the primary causes for substance use in young folks.

Set your daily limit before you start using: Write it down in plain sight

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that you might want to jot down the limit recommendations for your particular substance, or what your personal limit was the last time you participated, and keep that on your phone or somewhere visible to you.

Consider a nonpartaking accountability partner

Is there someone in your inner circle you can trust to check in with, similar to how people recovering from SUDs do? Do you have someone who can give you a private signal if you’re about to partake more than what you intended to, perhaps?

Start your day with a body scan

You can increase self-awareness with a body scan. The meditation allows you to observe any pain you might be experiencing — physically or mentally — as well as your thoughts. If your thoughts when you awake go straight to your substance, you may want to reach out to a professional. If caught early, treatment could be mild.

Stick to the substance’s intended purpose

If your substance is for physical pain for example, try keeping it reserved for that purpose. If it’s for sleep, you can store it in a secure place you’ll only access at bedtime.

Avoid overlapping substances

Most substances’ desired effects are worsened with alcohol. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that polysubstance use like mixing stimulants (uppers) with depressants (downers) can be extremely dangerous and damaging to your organs.

Stay mindful of mental health conditions

Mental health conditions are typically treated by a combination of medication and psychotherapy. These medications can have harmful reactions if overlapped with other substances. Skipping doses to take other substances can have negative outcomes as well. For example, Cannabis can spur episodes of psychosis in some mood disorders.

Outside of physical pain management or treatment for disorders, substance use for pleasurable purposes is common and isn’t inherently harmful. The use of varied substances is changing and becoming more commonplace.

For example, cannabis usage is being legalized in varying capacities throughout the United States. Psychedelics like psilocybin are in the research stages to be used for microdosing in both personal and clinical settings for therapeutic effects. The hallucinogen Ayahuasca has long had cultural roots within Amazonian communities for introspective experiences.

Teens might partake out of curiosity, experimentation, peer pressure, or to cope with stress and trauma in their home life.

Sometimes folks use when they don’t know how else to cope, or the chosen coping method might “feel better” in the short term than holistic treatments. The risk for harm is elevated if you use a controlled substance (think opioids or benzodiazepines) for pleasure, or to self-medicate a mental health symptom, with another substance like alcohol.

There are important distinctions between substance use, misuse, and addiction. If you’re looking to maintain substance use without progressing into misuse or further, harm reduction has the potential to keep you safe without shame.

If you’re someone who engages in substance use and you’re concerned about the direction your engagement has taken, you have options. You can always reach out to a mental health professional, or attend a local or online support group with individuals who are navigating similar thoughts and feelings.