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Warning SignsProgession of UseWhy Keep Using?

Nobody ever starts using substances with the intent to misuse them. People start using drugs and alcohol for a variety of reasons, whether it's curiosity, wanting to relax, or simply the belief that substances are a way to have more fun.

Unfortunately, there's a reason so many campaigns like this exist. A large percentage of those who start using substances for fun misuse them, which can ruin lives, families, and futures.

Warning Signs

If you drink or use drugs,
have you ever:

  • Used alone or with people who also use excessively
  • Downplayed or concealed substance use to others
  • Chose substances over other responsibilities and relationships
  • Felt guilty after substance use
  • Engaged in risky behaviors after use, such as driving
  • Felt edgy or uncomfortable when sober
  • Decreased performance/attendance at work and school

The presence of any one of these can be a sign of substance misuse and should be addressed by a medical professional. You can start by talking to your pediatrician or a counselor.

If you are worried about someone,
have you seen:

  • Decreased performance/attendance at work and school
  • Increased spending
  • Frequent lying
  • Signs of use, such as abnormal or impulsive behavior, red or dilated eyes, etc.
  • Increased isoloation
  • Getting "into trouble"
  • Changes in social groups and activities
young woman with arms folded
Progression of Addiction

As seen in the quirky video above, and the text below.


When misuse starts, that's often all it feels like: fun. Drugs and alcohol seem to be a cure for feelings of discomfort and unhappiness. Misusers often experience high levels of positive emotion initially, so then they use more often.

They often use in excess, but often evade major consequences. If they use in social situations, they might be "the one who needs to be babysat," or they might seek out friends who use as much as they do. Unfortunately, this quickly turns into... ▼

Fun with Problems

Maybe substance use leads to problems with family, school, or the law. Maybe they drive under the influence, or they hurt relationships, or themselves, when they use. The user increases substance intake even more as they chase those first initial positive feelings, which decrease over use with every drug (including alcohol!).

The misuser might recognize that they are using excessively and set limits for their use, like "I'll only drink beer!" or "only on the weekends!", but usually breaks those limits soon enough. As consequences increase, fun decreases, turning into... ▼

Just Problems

Someone is kicked out of school, loses a job, or is behind bars. They feel depressed and might even consider suicide. They have few loved ones left who can tolerate their use. At this point, substance misuse can cause negative consequences that last a lifetime.

Unfortunately, many misusers wait until things get bad to reach out for help. But at this point, misuse is very difficult to quit and the misuser may have already lost so much. If you see someone misusing, intervene as soon as possible, even if you don't think the problem is "that bad".

Why do people keep using?

A source of confusion and exasperation for the people around substance misusers is wondering why the misuser continues to use excessively even in spite of negative consequences. There are many possible reasons for this.

Substance misusers often struggle to build positive emotions on their own, and rely on drugs and alcohol for artificial feelings of relaxation or joy. While treatment can help teach people how to build natural positive emotions, many misusers are reluctant to enter treatment.

When consequences enter a misuser's life, the misuser may see substances not as the problem, but as the solution to negative feelings. 

Other substance misusers experience the phenomenon of craving. When sober, a misuser may feel uncomfortable or irritable. They can experience, either in waves or persistently, a hunger for a drink or drug that is difficult to ignore. Once intoxicated, they often continue to crave substances, which can lead to the misuser seeking higher and higher highs.

Many substance misusers convince themselves that they can use in moderation. Even if they've "overdone it" a thousand times, they tell themselves that they will use moderately tonight, because to admit they can't is to risk losing their drug of choice.