Use or Abuse? Diagnosing Dependency

Dependence on alcohol or other drugs is a widespread problem. Many times, people don't recognize it. Chemical dependency is simply the inability to control the use of some physical substance—not being able to quit, and not being able to limit how much is used. If you have a dependency problem, recognizing it can help you to move towards a happier and healthier life.


You might think of a chemically dependent person as someone who can't live without their drink or drugs, who is often drunk or stoned, who uses every day, or is irresponsible, immoral, weak-willed or even evil. The fact is, a person can be chemically dependent without showing such obvious signs, and dependency can cause serious problems in a person's life. We are gradually beginning to realize that a person's genetic make-up may affect his or her chances of becoming dependent, and that dependency is often a physical condition that cannot be cured by willpower alone.

Symptoms of Dependency

Here are some signs that might indicate a chemical dependency problem in you or someone you love:

  • Trying to cut down or to quit using some substance, and failing at it.
  • "Blackouts," or lapses of memory, after use.
  • Using the substance while alone, or hiding the evidence of use.
  • Using the substance to forget about problems or worries.
  • Doing things while "under the influence" that cause regret afterwards.
  • Not being able to enjoy an event without the substance.
  • Using much more than other people in a social gathering.
  • Neglecting responsibilities in order to use the substance.
  • Family, friends, or employer expressing concern about substance use.
  • Being willing to do almost anything to get the substance.
  • Financial or legal problems from using the substance.

Problems Caused by Dependency

Chemically dependent people often act unwisely or inappropriately while under the influence of their drug. They may act in ways that will embarrass them later, such as by telling dirty jokes at a party. They may endanger their health and lives, and the lives of others, by having unsafe sex, or by driving while intoxicated. They may lose their jobs or families as people around them are hurt by their actions.

What to Do

Recognizing that there is a problem is the first step towards recovering from chemical dependency. If you think you might have a problem of this type, here are some steps you can take:

  • Acknowledge the problem openly.
  • Limit time spent with people who encourage drug use, or who believe that dependency is a problem of weak will.
  • Seek professional help from doctors or therapists who deal with chemical dependency and recovery. You might benefit from counseling or a recovery program at a hospital or private clinic.
  • Seek out the support of people who are recovering themselves. Many 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous are available for various types of dependencies. Your employee assistance program can help you find these and other helpful resources.

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