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Am I Using (Fill In The Blank) Too Much?

Matthew Cuddeback LCSW

First and foremost, we all have our own substance we use and sometimes misuse. For many it’s caffeine, alcohol, or food. For many others its prescription meds, marijuana, or opiates. For others still it might not be a substance, it might be a behavior such as going to the gym, or risky sexual behaviors.  It is good, when discussing this issue, to recognize that we all have our own base level struggles here. So, let’s start from there and ask ourselves if we are using something too much to be healthy.

The information above is truly important to build on when looking at our own substance use. We absolutely tolerate or even encourage some substance use while condemning others and refuse to address this problematic dynamic. We all laugh or indulge in fun banter about needing that cup of coffee or needing that drink at the end of the day. We also, as a society, will instantly judge the person who is struggling with an addiction to rock cocaine or heroin. It is important to recognize our own prejudices and preferences as well as societal judgements in this regard. Here is the next big thing, you can have healthy relationships with most if not all of these substances. Once we have done some of that unpacking, we then clear the way for a non-judgmental assessment of our own substance use, because judgements and shame play a huge part in how we address our substance use.

Let’s look at a few questions to ask yourself about your substance use:

  1. Why Are You Wondering If It’s Too Much- When a client tells me they are wondering if they are relying on a substance this is my first question. What makes you think this? Why is it on your mind? Did someone mention it to you? Do you feel you are using more than your values say you should? Is it an extrinsic force suggesting you are struggling? Understanding where this question comes from can be a big clue to what’s going on.
  2. Has It Interfered With Your Daily Life- Then I ask if it’s something that interferes with your regular schedule or relationships? Are you often late to work because you are frequently hungover? Did your relationship with your friend sour because of problematic use? Do you have an upcoming drug test for a new job that will come back positive? Understanding how your substance use impacts the regular routines, relationships, or schedule can be a good clue into whether there is something wrong or not.
  3. Do You Feel Okay With It? This ties back into what I mentioned at the start, there are so many judgements we, and others make about substance use. How do you feel about it? Maybe you are smoking weed more than usual, is that okay with you? How much is too much? Is it okay in certain amounts or certain situations, but not others? This not only ties our substance use into our values, but it also tells us a bit more about our own motivations.

The questions above don’t give you the full picture, but they are a good way to start to get a sense of whether you might have a substance issue or not. If your values say you are not overusing, then it’s likely you are not. If a friend tells you they are worried about your substance use, pay attention, it doesn’t mean they are right that you are using too much but they are giving you feedback worth processing. If you are frequently late to engagements because of using a substance it can be a clue something is off balance. However, underlying all of this is an incredibly important factor in substance use and that is shame. Shame is often what leads to substance misuse or overuse, and shame is often what keeps us from making progress with it. We all use substances, understanding where our concerns come from are a great first step to healthier living.

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