Do You Have A Problem With Drugs or Alcohol?

With the prevalence of alcohol and drug abuse so high, it stands to reason that most of us will know someone, at some point in our lives, that we suspect is struggling with addiction. So how do you know if your loved one (or you) might have an addiction? Here are some signs of problem use:

Drinking more or longer than you meant to (“I was going to stop drinking by 8pm, but before I knew it, it was midnight and I still had a drink in my hand.”)

You tried to get sober, but it only lasted a few hours or days


You have engaged in risky behavior while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol more than once (for example: driving while impaired, engaging in risky sexual behavior, etc)


You need to use more and more of the substance to feel the same effects (this is also known as tolerance)


You continue to use alcohol or drugs, even though you know it is making another physical condition worse (for example: continuing to vape/smoke cigarettes even though you have lung cancer).


You spend a lot of time using drugs or alcohol, thinking about using, preparing to use, and recovering from your use


You experience conflicts with family, friends, and co-workers over your drug and/or alcohol use, but you continue to use at the same rate anyway


You used to enjoy other things (movies, football, skiing) but you rarely – or never – engage in those activities anymore because your alcohol and drug use takes up so much of your time


You experience symptoms of withdrawal (nausea, hallucinations, tremors) when you stop using your substance(s) of choice


You have gotten in trouble with the law more than once or twice because of your use


Identifying signs and signals of alcohol and drug use and abuse is difficult. Whether we are trying to assess ourselves or someone else, it can be a tricky process that involves honesty and candor. It’s important to remember that only a mental health, substance abuse, or health care professional can accurately and thoroughly complete the diagnostic process.

What Happens When You Drink Or Drug Too Much?

Problematic use of drugs and alcohol can impact just about all areas of your life and functioning. There are obvious risks of over-using drugs and alcohol that are associated with:
Relationship problems
Disruptions in education
Difficulty maintaining employments
Economic problems
Legal troubles/encounters with the criminal justice system

Drug and alcohol use can also cause many physical and mental health problems, including:

Changes in appetite
Trouble sleeping
Changes in blood pressure
Change in mood
Psychosis
Heart attack
Stroke
Cancer
Lung disease

Additionally, when you spend much of your time impaired by alcohol or drugs, it can effect your ability to make healthy, sound decisions. Impulsivity and poor decision making are common when under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These poor decisions can lead to other health-related problems such as:

HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and other communicable diseases
Poor nutrition
Being at higher risk for trauma or violence

Lastly, drug and alcohol abuse is costly! In fact, it is estimated that alcohol and illicit drug use cost the United States about 160 million dollars each year in lost work productivity, health care costs associated with addiction, and crime.

Addiction – It’s a BIG Problem

Alcohol and drug addiction and abuse are an unfortunate part of life for many Americans. Whether it’s by personal experience, or through watching a friend or loved one struggle, millions of Americans have an experience with drug and/or alcohol addiction each year.

In 2014, more than 16 million adults – that’s about 7% of the population – met criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder. Another 5 million American adults admitted to engaging in risky alcohol use that could lead to addiction in the future.

Alcohol is the most heavily used drug in the United States, followed by marijuana. And unfortunately, recent surveys have found that illicit drug use is on the rise in the United States. Illicit drugs include: marijuana, prescription drugs used other than as prescribed, cocaine, heroine, methamphetamines, etc.

Most people use drugs for the first time as teenagers, and more than half of illicit drug users begin their drug use by using marijuana. Drug use tends to be highest among teenagers and those in their twenties, but recent data suggests that drug use is increasing in people in their fifties and sixties as well.

Drug and alcohol use in children and teens is on the decline overall, with one exception: vaping. As of 2018, vaping among young people had increased dramatically, with 17.6% of 8th graders, 32.3% of 10th graders, and 37.3% of 12th graders admitting to vaping at least once in the last year.

Talking to Kids About Mental Health

Here’s the bad news: Many millions of children in the United States deal with some type of mental illness. Here are some numbers:

9.4% of children aged 2-17 years (approximately 6.1 million) have received an ADHD diagnosis.
7.4% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 4.5 million) have a diagnosed behavior problem.
7.1% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 4.4 million) have diagnosed anxiety.
3.2% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 1.9 million) have diagnosed depression.

Source: Children’s Mental Health

That’s a lot of kids! But here’s the good news: stigma around mental illness and psychological disorders is decreasing as more programs take aim at eradicating incorrect assumptions about mental health disorders and their treatments.

One of the best ways we can combat stigma around mental illness is by talking to our kids early and often about mental health and illness, as well as psychological treatment. The more we normalize these types of discussions, the better. Here are some tips for talking to your kids about mental health:


Be open about your own emotions. One way to help your kids become used to sharing their emotions, is by sharing your own on a regular basis. In a developmentally appropriate manner (i.e., using simple brief concepts with young kids, and progressively more complex words and concepts with older kids), try talking clearly about your own feelings: “Geez, that hurt my feelings when I didn’t get invited to Jenny’s birthday party,” or “I’m feeling a little overwhelmed with all the work deadlines I have this month,” or “I am so proud of the hard work you put into that homework assignment”


Be open about how you manage your psychological health. Try sharing with your kids what you do to manage your mental mental health. Sharing things like: “I’m going to be taking a walk this evening. It was a tough day at work, and the fresh air helps me feel less stressed.” or “I am feeling a little down today, I think I might call Grandma. Talking to her always helps me feel better.” Again, we want to keep these conversations developmentally appropriate, and our kids aren’t our therapists. However, sharing the healthy strategies we use to manage our emotions will provide them a template for when they need strategies to manage their own psychological health.


Make talking about mental health an everyday thing. We don’t need to talk about the state of our kids’ mental health every single day, but it’s best if it can be a pretty regular occurrence – say, a couple of times per week, for example. We want to get to a point where speaking about emotions and mental health is just as easy and normal as talking about the soccer team, your favorite TV show or the new super hero movie you want to see. Here are some questions to get you started:
”What are you excited about these days?”
“What’s on your mind right now?”
“How would you describe your mood today?”
“What are you worried about?”

The possibilities are endless, and each family needs to find their own, unique language for talking about mental health. But here’s a quick tip: Try asking questions that are open-ended, these tend to produce much more interesting conversations than those that can be answered by a simple “yes” or “no.”

Some ideas about mental health resources

A big part of my job is connecting people with resources for helping and maintaining good mental health. The mental health system in the United States in enormous, not very well connected, poorly understood, and hard to access. There are a lot of resources out there (many are even very low cost or free!) but they can be hard to find if you’re not immersed in the mental health community. And really, who is?

I’ve compiled a list of some resources that I have found helpful over the years. Do you have more to add? Let me know!

Mental Health America – This is a large non-profit organization that supports Americans living with mental illness. I love their list of support groups – the include groups for about a million different concerns all over the country. Check it out.

Medicare – Medicare is the government-sponsored health insurance program for older Americans. Millions and millions of Americans use their Medicare coverage everyday to access health care of all types. Did you know Medicare also covers mental health treatment? Check it out to find a provider.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA): SAMHSA is an amazing group that has an overwhelming amount of helpful information on their website. I actually find myself using SAMHSA’s information about mental health disorders and treatment all the time. I recently found this very useful list of treatment providers who can assist people who emerging serious mental illness – and believe me, providers like this can be hard to find! Check it out!

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI): NAMI is a nation-wide organization providing support to folks dealing with mental health issues. They actually offer many wonderful diagnosis-specific support groups around the country. They have a comprehensive list here.

What resources am I missing?

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Are you a podcast listener?

I love listening to podcasts! I took me a while to get into it, but now I’m hooked. You know what’s also fun? Being on a podcast! I have gotten the opportunity to be on several different podcasts over the years, and one of my favorites is Produce for Kids’ podcast: The Healthy Family Project. If you haven’t heard it yet, it’s worth a listen!

They have a number of new episodes up, including Food as Medicine and How to Get Kids in the Kitchen – along with their huge collection of awesome, healthy and easy recipes. Check it out!

Want to hear one of my interviews? Check out this one about promoting healthy body image in kids:

New Office

Just a reminder that I have moved my office to:

671 Mitchell Way

Suite 109

Erie 80516

All contact info is the same:

stephaniesmithpsyd@gmail.com and 303-828-3080

Here are some photos from my new place:

Main Lobby
Waiting room – Come on in and have a seat!
My new (little!) office. Cozy and quiet, with views of Stop and Save (!!) and the occasional critter outside the window. Welcome!

Using Your Employee Benefits for Mental Health Care

Accessing and paying for mental health care can be tricky. Many mental health professionals do not work directly with insurance, and those who do can have very long wait lists. But did you know that there are some other ways you can pay for mental health care with the assistance of employer-run programs?

  1. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). These programs are offered by many employers (large and small). EAPs allow employees to see a contracted mental health professional for 3-10 sessions per year free of charge. Yes, free! Too often, employees don’t know this is a benefit to which they are entitled. So ask your manager or HR department for more information.
  2. Health Savings Accounts/Flex Spending Accounts/Medical Savings Accounts. These aren’t technically a benefit as this is money that you put away pre-tax to use for approved medical expenses. So, your employer doesn’t (usually) give you the money for the accounts, but many do facilitate the opening of such an account. Again, ask your manager or HR department for details.

Need more ideas about how to make the most of your employee benefits? Check out my recent article over at Health eCareers:

Photo credit: Health eCareers

Jealous of Your Co-Workers? How to Cope

Have you ever felt jealous of a co-worker?

Maybe they:

Are more appreciated than you

Have moved up the ladder faster than you

Seem to have more of everything (money, success, friends, possessions) than you

Appear better at their job than you

Photo Credit: Health eCareers

Whatever the specifics, it’s actually not all that unusual to have feelings of jealousy – particularly at work as we spend so much time with our co-workers. But what can you do to tame the green monster?

Check out my recent article over at Health eCareers for ideas about to 1) decipher why exactly you’re having jealous feelings 2) what to do about them.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

To read the entire article, head over to Health eCareers

Photo Credit: Health eCareers