You and Substance Use: Stuff to think about...and ways to make changes
Tips and tools
It took time for you to develop your current substance use pattern, so it may take time to change it (if indeed it needs changing).
In this section:
Some people can make a decision to change their lifestyle and then simply go ahead and do it. They can quit smoking or go on a strict diet or buy a plane ticket south without any reservation. But most of us need time to adjust to new ideas.
That said, it’s important to know that you can start the change process and see positive results right away. For example, you will likely feel different if you cut back on the amount of cigarettes you smoke in a day, or reduce the number of times you drink in a week.
If making even these small changes are not yet possible, you can start thinking about why such changes might be difficult for you. Perhaps there’s something about your relationship with change that’s worth exploring. Maybe what’s getting in your way of reaching your full potential has something to do with your perception of yourself or others. Who knows!
Whatever it is that may be making you resist healthy changes can be figured out. It just might take you longer than someone else.
One strategy for getting your world back in order is to focus on the healthy things in your life that you want to continue doing or do even better and more often. It could be playing tennis, eating a low-calorie diet or learning a new language. If you’re really serious about following through on your healthier goals, any substance use that conflicts with your plan will likely change on its own. (It’s hard to play a mean game of tennis when you smoke. And alcohol has a funny way of packing on unwanted pounds, usually around your middle. And too much of any drug—or too little sleep—can affect your ability to remember things, especially foreign words and phrases.)
The stronger the network of supportive people in your life, the easier it will be for you to maintain healthy patterns and make positive changes.
Draw your own web.
Write your name in the middle of the diagram below and label the inner circles with the people in your life who fit in different categories. Use the bubbles beyond the inner circle to brainstorm names of people connected to your inner circle, people who may also be able to help you in some way. Draw lines between the people who know each other to form a kind of web of support. Now think about how your web can support you.
More than any other high-risk trigger, your emotions may play the biggest role of all in how you operate as a human being, especially if you’re sensitive or sensation-seeking by nature. If you’re like many people, your substance use may be a coping behaviour.
Functions of substance use:
- feeling accepted
- relieve craving
- feel relaxed
- high feeling/creativity
- feel better
- social comfort
- get to sleep
- wake up
My substance use most often functions as:____________________
FUN but healthy activities that serve the same function:____________________
Take a walk
Play outside with your kids
Ride your bike
Play tennis or frizbee or hackey sack with a friend
You can prepare for success by making a list of things that might make changing difficult. If you know that it’s going to be tough to resist, say, smoking a joint after work, plan ahead so you can manage the rough parts with minimal grief.
Think about what might happen when you first cut down or quit, and think about things you can do to lessen the blow. It could be a healthier alternative activity. It could be to call a friend who has cut down or quit herself. It could be to yell or punch a pillow or mumble “you can do it, you can do it” 20 times. It could be to reward yourself for each and every time you stick to your plan for, say, two whole weeks. (A twoonie in a jar for each time you did NOT smoke a joint after work could get you that rockin’ CD or pair of sandals you wanted.)
People who are successful in business and sports often say they see themselves making money or winning a championship before they actually do it. That’s one of theways they prepare themselves for the big sales pitch or sold-out game. You can do the same thing with changes you want to make in your life, whether it has to do with reaching a personal goal, building or repairing a relationship, or changing your drug use.
Imagine what it feels like to be a person who doesn’t smoke. (Imagine no more smelly clothes, no more money down the drain, no more hustling to find matches and a place to light up, no more inconvenient cravings! Ah, the freedom.)
Imagine what it would be like to be able to have one drink once a week or so, and only if you feel like it. (No more bingeing followed by hours in bed recovering the next day. No more feeling the 5:00 p.m. tickle for a beer with the boys every day. No more putting so much money down the toilet—literally!)
Sometimes it’s hard to come up with ideas for new activities that can either help you move toward safer use of a drug, or take its place altogether. If this describes you, try revving up your imagination with the chart below:
Some people like to formally declare when they’re going to start their “new lifestyle.” (Think New Year’s Day.) They figure that by announcing to themselves and others that they’re somehow locked in to the idea and can’t get out of it. (Unfortunately, this isn’t true. You usually need to work at it for a while to make it real.) Other people need to go one step further and write it all down in an action plan or a letter to themselves or even a contract. Others don’t need to do any of the above. They know in their heads what to do and need only to GO FOR IT!
You know yourself better than anyone else does, so you know what will work best. If you really don’t know, think about other times in your life that you’ve tried to make changes. How did you do it? Did it work? If “yes,” you have your answer. If “no,” try using the tools in this booklet.
Sometimes it’s easier make a new start when you make new friends who don’t use substances (or don’t use them the same way in the same amount that you were using them). Besides taking up a new hobby to meet new people, you could try connecting with like-minded people on social networking sites or internet forums. Or you could meet new faces in a local church, sport group or other wellness-related organization.
As you take steps toward change, you need to find a way to be as positive as possible. (No, you don’t have to turn into PollyAnna or Ned Flanders or Simon Smiles-a-lot!) Keep in mind that it took time for you to develop your current substance use patterns, and it’ll likely take you some time to develop and fully adjust to a different lifestyle.
Just don’t give up on your decision to cut down or quit using a substance, even if you don’t always feel motivated to put the work into being successful. Instead give it your all for as long as you can.
If you have a slip and go off your plan one day, don’t be too hard on yourself. Think about why it happened, and plan for how you’ll handle the same situation if it happens again.
Instead of wasting time and energy feeling angry or disappointed with yourself, focus on new solutions that will help you stay on track. Keep your eyes on your future and keep trying to put your plan into practice.
Your personality is an important factor in why and how you use substances. For instance, if you’ve been the dare-devil, sensation-seeking type since birth, you’re more likely to take bigger risks with the type and amount of substances you use than people who have always been on the careful or shy side.*
But saying you’re a risk-taker is not the same as saying you have an “addictive personality.” (Most substance use experts deny there is such a thing anyway.) What it means is that if you require a lot of stimulation and excitement, you can serve yourself well by channeling your energy into risky but healthy activities, such as rock-climbing or other extreme sports (as opposed to risky but unhealthy activities, such as drinking a lot, or combining substances for a new high).
Many people have learned to use their risk-taking personality to their advantage by choosing exciting careers that other people wouldn’t dare to take on. (Think firefighter or tree faller or high-wire circus performer!)
*Shy people can develop substance use problems too. In fact, sometimes shy people end up using alcohol and other drugs as a way of breaking free of their shyness. They may enjoy the social confidence some drugs give them. But using for this reason can lead to problems—a shy person may start feeling like they have to use drugs in order to socialize. They also run the risk of sometimes overdoing it to overcome their social anxieties.
Are you the risk-taking type? The shy type? How would you describe your personality?
About the author
The Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, formerly CARBC, is a member of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information. The institute is dedicated to the study of substance use in support of community-wide efforts aimed at providing all people with access to healthier lives, whether using substances or not. For more, visit www.cisur.ca.