Substance Use and Stigma – When to Seek Help

According to the Mayo Clinic, a substance use disorder, sometimes called drug addiction, is a disease that affects a person’s brain and behavior, which leads to inability to control their use of a legal or illegal drug or medication — including substances such as alcohol, marijuana, or nicotine. When a person is experiencing a substance use disorder, they may continue using the drug despite harm that it causes for their physical or mental health, interpersonal relationships, their work, or other aspects of life. But how do you know when substance use becomes a problem, and what are the barriers to seeking treatment?

What are the signs that substance use is becoming a problem?

Perhaps contrary to popular belief, a substance use disorder may not necessarily overlap with physical dependence or the amount of the drug or alcohol consumed. In fact, a substance use disorder is defined by the problematic relationship a person has to a drug or alcohol. This relationship may include:

  • Feeling that you have to use the drug regularly, daily or sometimes even multiple times a day
  • Multiple unsuccessful attempts to cut back on drinking or drug use
  • Over time, needing more of the drug or alcohol to get the same effects
  • Not meeting obligations and work responsibilities, or cutting back on social or recreational activities because of drug or alcohol use
  • Continuing to use the drug or alcohol, even though you know it’s causing problems in your life or causing you physical or psychological harm
  • Spending a good deal of time getting the drug, using the drug, or recovering from the effects of the drug

“Even if you’re unsure if you or a loved one may have a problematic drinking or drug habit, I would still encourage you to consult with someone regarding any questions or concerns you may have,” said Sasha Kelley, Director of Outpatient Programs at Skills of Central PA. “I’ve often heard individuals in treatment state that they wish they would have sought out support sooner. With the stigma of drinking and drug use, many individuals do not seek support or treatment until their use has escalated and created significant legal, health, or relationship concerns.”

“EVEN IF YOU’RE UNSURE IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE MAY HAVE A PROBLEMATIC DRINKING OR DRUG HABIT, I WOULD STILL ENCOURAGE YOU TO CONSULT WITH SOMEONE.”

What is the impact of stigma on seeking treatment for substance use disorders?

“Many people struggling with substance use or abuse will try to hide their substance use or keep it a secret from others, especially their loved ones. This is often due to fear of judgement, or how others may react. Sometimes, people drink or use drugs to cope with underlying mental health symptoms, such as anxiety or depression.” Kelley added, “Drinking specifically is widely understood as a social activity, and for those struggling with problem drinking, it can be quite scary to recognize this as a problem. Additionally, people may not know where to turn for confidential screening and support.”

Despite these challenges, Kelley remains hopeful about the possibility of recovery for those who seek treatment.

“You do not have to struggle in silence. If you’re not ready to open up about your struggles to close friends or family, seek an outside support. Here at Skills, we offer support in a collaborative manner. It surely isn’t an easy task to overcome a substance use disorder, but you don’t have to tackle it alone.”

“IT ISN’T AN EASY TASK TO OVERCOME A SUBSTANCE USE DISORDER, BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO TACKLE IT ALONE.”

Seek Treatment With Skills

Walk-in assessments for problem drinking and substance use disorders are available on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Skills office located at 123 Main Street, Suite A, Portage, PA 15946. Services are also available via telehealth; please call 814-713-8289 to discuss this option.


If You’re Experiencing A Crisis

Are you in crisis and need help immediately? Please call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.