People have used substances throughout history. Substances can be both positive and negative.
Some substances are used as medicine, like prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Other examples of substances are coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, cannabis, and illegal drugs.
The term ‘substance use’ refers to the use of drugs or alcohol. There are varied levels of risk that come with using any substance.
Why do people use substances?
There are many different reasons; someone may use alcohol to wind down at the end of a busy week. Or someone who has been injured may use opioid medication to manage their pain.
Not all substance use is harmful – some people who use substances do not experience challenges. If alcohol or other drugs is causing harm to you or others, it could be a sign of a substance use challenge.
For those who struggle with substance use and addiction, it is often the result of circumstances, not personal choices. Addiction is a health condition.
It’s possible to experience mental health and substance use challenges at the same time. For example, someone dealing with stress, anxiety, depression or another mental health challenge may use alcohol or other drugs to cope with how they’re feeling. This is called a concurrent disorder.
Signs that substance use may be problematic
Even if you use substances occasionally, it is important to be aware that they can become a habit or affect your life, at any age.
The signs of a substance use challenge depend on the type you use and how that substance affects you. Substance use challenges can include the use of alcohol and other drugs. And substances affect people in different ways.
There are some signs that you may be experiencing a substance use challenge. Alcohol or other drug use may begin to affect your daily life and activities. You may physically or emotionally need substances to get you through your day. Some other signs to watch for are:
- With alcohol, you have blackouts; need to drink more to get the same effect; notice changes in your personality. You may deny that you are having a challenge.
- With other drugs, you need more of the drug to feel “high” and take more of a drug over longer durations of time; you spend a lot of time trying to get the drug; you notice changes in your behaviour; you are moody or have problems sleeping.
Sometimes people are not aware they have become dependent on a substance until they experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop using alcohol or other drugs.
Staying safer and finding support
Using substances in moderation and practicing harm reduction can help keep you safer.
If you are concerned about your substance use, or about someone you know:
- Try a self-assessment tool to understand how substance use might be affecting your life.
- Have courageous conversations – learn how to talk about substance use with loved ones.
- Talk to your doctor or call 8-1-1 for non-emergency health information and help navigating services, or contact the Alcohol and Drug Information Referral Service.
Types of Substance Use
Understanding what substances are, and how they can affect you, can help you stay mindful of your use.
There are many different types of addiction. People can become addicted to alcohol or other drugs, and behaviours.
Many activities in life involve some level of risk, but there are ways to reduce the harm that can come to you when doing these activities.