When does a person switch from using a substance to abusing it? How much alcohol can one person tolerate? Is substance abuse even related to the amount of a substance one consumes? The issue is complex. Certain highly addictive drugs are legal when prescribed by a doctor and dispensed by a pharmacist, but they become illegal when procured on the street outside of the doctor’s and pharmacist’s awareness. Alcohol is legal for consumption by individuals of drinking age, but one can easily cross the line from recreational drinking to addictive drinking.

What is Healthy Drug Use?

Some might say this is an oxymoron: no drug use is ever healthy. There are responsible applications, however, such as taking painkillers following surgery or injury. When they are prescribed by a doctor and used according to the prescription, patients and their families can rest assured they are behaving responsibly. It is unlikely that someone concerned about addiction to morphine, for instance, is going to become addicted. A careless attitude puts a person at risk.

Drinking alcohol (widely considered a “drug”) is not problematic for most people. Many people drink wine, beer, and spirits at safe levels with a sensible attitude as part of a social event or a relaxing daily ritual. When one feels he needs a drink every night, though, even that single glass of beer could be a problem. Given time, that first beer might lead to several more, but it’s not the amount that matters: it is the attitude.

What is Unhealthy Drug Use?

Taking a substance which has been deemed “illegal” or which has been procured on the street through unlawful channels is a crime and also a sign. Anyone willing to go through those channels and take these risks just to take methamphetamines or heroin is likely to become addicted. There is never a good reason to consume meth, heroin, or cocaine.

Even patients taking narcotics for legitimate pain can slide into a substance abuse situation. They might lie to their doctors about the intensity of their pain. They might start looking for other sources of drugs, including doubling up on doctors or ordering them online. Turning to street sources is another possibility. Although the average individual taking opiates as prescribed will slowly wean off of them and stop taking these drugs altogether, a small group of patients will have a harder time learning to live without them.

Drinking socially is normal and usually causes no harm as long as one is prepared to take a taxi or walk home from the pub and doesn’t drink to the point where he becomes abusive. When an individual consumes enough alcohol to become aggressive or belligerent or has trouble walking and speaking, he has crossed the line. Another sign of an abusive relationship with substances is buying drugs or alcohol before paying rent or buying groceries.

Seek Intervention

As a family member or friend, you can probably tell when your loved one is reliant on a substance, even if you are in denial. His demeanor changes from calm and patient to agitated and aggressive. He will isolate himself, become unreliable, and be full of flimsy excuses for bad behavior. Most substance abusers have to ask for money to buy drugs or alcohol and to pay for necessities. If you agree, you are enabling. But desperate addicts are unpredictable when you refuse their demands. They adopt unusual hours: sleeping during the day and waking at night or even missing 48 hours at a time due to blackouts. Dark circles appear under eyes that don’t seem to really see you anymore.

If this is a child, spouse, parent, sibling, or close friend, you can do something to help. Call an intervention. Ideally you would consult a professional interventionist such as a counselor or social worker with experience handling substance abuse cases. She will talk to the worried parties as a group at least once before you meet to confront the abuser. This is to ensure everyone follows the same plan and also to ascertain safety issues. If violence is a concern then it’s too late for intervention: it could be time for householders to ask for assistance around safety.


After a successful intervention, your loved one is willing to seek help from a counselor, psychologist, or rehab facility. Depending on his condition, this individual might go through a period of medical detoxification followed by in-depth counseling at a facility or as an out-patient. This will involve group work and one-on-one counseling. Rehab facilities take a variety of approaches to treating patients based on whether they suffer from addiction alone or more than one condition (addiction plus depression, PTSD, or schizophrenia, for instance). A case of drug abuse following a prescribed course of opiates for surgery-specific pain could be an easy fix: there are no other contributing emotional factors. When someone is suffering from more serious mental health problems, addiction is probably a symptom, secondary to periods of high anxiety, morbid thinking, or hallucinations.

Consumers are given several choices. They can apply to a facility which is partially paid for and operated by a religious organization such as a local Salvation Army. They can pay for private, residential care that’s similar to a resort with horseback riding, gourmet chefs, organic food, and holistic treatments. Young substance abusers attend camps designed for the treatment of youth only: adults are present in a professional capacity and parents only visit at specified times during a 6-week or 3-month spell.

Substance Abuse Prevention

Once consumers leave these facilities they are not “cured” of addiction. Most people drink or take drugs again at least once after finishing therapy and many of those individuals will fall back into the trap of addictive behaviors. The only way to stop this from happening for certain is to prevent substance abuse. Education in schools is helping to reduce rates of substance abuse among adolescents.