Addiction or Coping Strategy? (Part II)

Do you have issues with substances? Because of the way drinking and drugs are seen as part of normal youth life, it can be hard to tell if you have a problem, or if you’re just doing the same as everyone else. However, research shows that most young people assume that others drink more than they actually do, and thus underestimate their own drinking in comparison.

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Here’s a handy check list to help identify if addiction may be occurring:

·         Do you feel like you need, rather than just want the substance?

·         Does hanging out with your friends inevitably involve drinking or taking something?

·         Are you uncomfortable with the impact alcohol/drugs is having on your relationships with friends, partners, siblings or your parents?

·         Do you ever decide to stop drinking/taking drugs, only to find yourself having had another session?

·         Do you ever do things you’re not comfortable with, as a result of drugs or alcohol?

·         Have you noticed yourself spending less time on other activities you enjoy because of your alcohol or drug use?

·         Do you struggle to enjoy yourself without substances, or worry if you know you won’t have access to them for a while?

·         Do you end up having to hide, defend or apologise for your use to friends or family members?

·         Is there a history of addiction in your close family? (Genetics and social learning puts you at a higher risk of becoming addicted if this is the case)


If any one of these seems familiar, it’s something to take seriously. Even if you’re not sure that your use of alcohol or drugs is a problem at this point, it is important to consider the impact of any of the above may be having on your wellbeing.

If you’re a parent reading this, and you’re concerned about your teen, you need to be willing to think about your own relationship to alcohol and substances as well. And to approach things in a non-judgemental manner – expressing concern without condemnation, and setting boundaries without being punishing. While being clear what is and isn’t acceptable, and seeking help for your teen if you feel unsure the problem can be handled at home, it’s important to try to understand that there are reasons behind substance use. Usually, a person who is showing addictive behaviour is trying to escape deep pain or fears, and they will need support to address these – especially when they try to cut down or stop using alcohol/drugs.

Therefore, it’s also relevant to think about your own relationship with feelings, and how your family deals with emotions – especially unpleasant ones. Family counselling is often a helpful step towards resolving any unhealthy patterns in communication or interaction that contributes to the addiction problems.  However, it is likely that your teen will need individual professional support as well, so they can explore all the aspects of their experience that are causing them to engage in the unhealthy behaviour, and learn how to manage their experiences differently.


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Lauren Casey