How to Know When It’s Time to Go to Rehab

Deciding to get help for drug or alcohol addiction can be one of the most important decisions you ever make. However, it can be challenging to know when it’s time for you or a loved one to seek professional help. Our guide can help you recognize the signs that indicate someone needs rehab.

When Does Drug or Alcohol Use Become Addiction?

sad woman suffering from addictionNot everyone who uses alcohol or drugs develops an addiction, and there is a difference between drug use, drug misuse, and substance use disorder. For the purpose of this piece, addiction and substance use disorder will be used interchangeably.

In order to know when drug or alcohol use becomes an addiction, it is helpful to note the differences between drug use, drug misuse, and addiction.

  • Drug use: Encompasses any form of illegal drug use, such as the use of cocaine or heroin.1
  • Drug misuse: Describes the use of substances in unintended ways, such as over-consuming alcohol and unhealthy use of prescription medication.1 This can include ingesting substances in unintended ways (snorting instead of swallowing medication) and taking medication that isn’t prescribed to you.
  • Addiction: References a substance use disorder, a treatable, chronic medical disease that results in a person’s inability to manage the impulse to use drugs and alcohol despite drugs and alcohol causing significant problems in the person’s life.1

The decision to use drugs and alcohol is voluntary initially.1 However, chronic use of drugs and alcohol can lead to an impaired ability to exert self-control, a hallmark characteristic of addiction. 2 Substance use disorder changes areas of the brain that are critical to judgment, decision-making, learning and memory, and behavior control in ways that reinforces the use of substances.

Signs that Casual Drug or Alcohol Use Has Become Addiction

While the symptoms of addiction can vary from person to person, there are common signs someone needs help with addiction. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition (DSM-5), there are several criteria that a person must exhibit to meet the requirements for a substance use disorder, the clinical diagnosis for an addiction to drugs or alcohol.

Criteria used to determine the presence of addiction according to the DSM-5 include:1

  • The substance is taken in larger quantities or over a longer time than initially intended.
  • Unsuccessful attempts to reduce substance use, a desire to decrease substance use, or difficulty controlling the amount of substance use.
  • Spending a significant amount of time obtaining, using, or recovering from substance use.
  • Experiencing a strong desire or craving to use substances.
  • Failure to take care of responsibilities at home, work, or school due to substance use.
  • Using substances despite experiencing social and relationship problems as a result of use.
  • Abandoning important recreational, social, and occupational tasks due to substance use.
  • Repeatedly using substances in physically unsafe situations, such as driving.
  • Continuing to use substances despite experiencing physical or physiological problems resulting from or worsened by substance use.
  • Experiencing tolerance, which is characterized as a need to increase the dose or frequency of use of substances in order to achieve the desired effect or experiencing a decrease in the drug’s effect with the same amount of substances used.
  • Having withdrawal symptoms after cessation of drug use or continuing to use substances to avoid or alleviate withdrawal symptoms.

Meeting two or more of the criteria in a 12-month period constitutes a mild substance use disorder. Meeting additional criteria raises the severity of the SUD to moderate and then severe.

Only a licensed medical professional can diagnose a substance use disorder. If you notice the symptoms listed above in yourself or someone you love, they may be signs it’s time to seek treatment for addiction.

How to Know When Someone Needs Rehab for Drug or Alcohol Misuse

If you have little to no experience with addiction, it may be difficult to recognize the signs that someone needs rehab. Signs that someone needs help with addiction can be seen in a person’s behavior, physical appearance, and cognitions and can include:3

  • Bloodshot eyes.
  • Small or large pupils.
  • A decline in physical appearance.
  • Sudden changes in appetite or weight.
  • Sleep pattern changes.
  • Engaging in risky behaviors such as driving impaired.
  • Legal problems related to substance use.
  • Unexplained financial problems.
  • Neglecting personal responsibilities at home, at school, and at work.
  • Poor performance at work and school.
  • Drastic and sudden changes in new friends, social activities, and hobbies.
  • Suspicious or sneaky behavior.
  • Changes in attitude and personality.
  • Mood swings, which include frustration, anger outbursts, and irritability.
  • Paranoia, fear, and anxiety.

Fortunately, professional help is available to address the signs and the underlying causes of addiction.

Rehab vs Self-Help Addiction Treatment

Many interventions effectively treat addiction. When confronted by the need for treatment, some people may try to stop their substance use on their own while others may enroll in a professional treatment program. There are key differences between these approaches.

For those who try to end their addiction through participation in self-help (or mutual-help) programs alone, this may involve attending 12-Step groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous daily or several times a week.

Research supports the efficacy of self-help/mutual-help groups to reduce alcohol and other drug use among individuals with substance use disorder.4 Research also suggests that AA and NA participation can benefit people in ways similar to professional treatment by: 5

  • Boosting coping skills.
  • Increasing confidence in one’s ability to stay in recovery.
  • Bolstering recovery motivation.
  • Facilitating changes in people’s social networks that support their recovery.

A recent review of studies on AA and similar 12-Step groups concluded that they can be as effective as other established treatments for alcohol use disorder, however, more research is needed on individuals with other types of substance use disorders, as well as on individuals who have never sought professional treatment.6

Self-help/mutual-help groups may be especially helpful when they accompany professional addiction treatment as they can support the skills learned in professional treatment. 7 These groups also add an extra layer of community and social support in the recovery process.

Professional addiction treatment is structured and offers various settings that range in intensities. Facilities like our rehab center in Tampa offer multiple types of addiction treatment at varying levels of intensity to align with your recovery needs.

Some of the benefits of professional treatment include the following:

  • Patients receive medical support and medical interventions and services, such as medication, to help during the treatment process.8 This can be especially beneficial for those with co-occurring disorders.9
  • Formalized medical detoxification in a licensed treatment facility can help manage withdrawal and reduce the risk of dangerous withdrawal symptoms.10
  • Evidence-based therapies support a patient’s recovery by helping them develop the skills they need for long-term sobriety.11
  • Many treatment facilities also offer family support for helping a loved one with addiction.
  • Aftercare, or continuing care, planning begins the first week of treatment to ensure patients feel prepared when the time comes to leave the facility.

How To Help Someone Get Into Addiction Treatment

River Oaks rehab building with flowers and fountain in courtyardDeciding to seek professional help can feel overwhelming. However, addiction is a treatable disorder and recovery is possible.1 If you love someone struggling with addiction:12

  • Set aside time to talk in private about your concerns.
  • Be honest and direct.
  • Acknowledge and validate their feelings without judgment.
  • Offer to help and remind them that treatment is effective and available to them.
  • Be patient and remember that change takes time.

Whether you are looking for inpatient rehab near Tampa or outpatient addiction treatment near Tampa, River Oaks Treatment Center is here to help. We understand the impact addiction has on the person struggling with addiction and the entire family.

We offer resources and support as you help a loved one with addiction and encourage them along their recovery journey. Call us at and start the admissions process today.

You can quickly verify your insurance coverage for rehab by completing our confidential . Depending on your coverage, your insurance provider may help with handling the cost of rehab.

When there are signs that someone needs help to reduce their drug or alcohol use, don’t wait to get treatment. Help is available for you or your loved one.

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We are here to help you get sober and learn how to stay that way. Let us help you get started with the rest of your life! Retreat to the sunny climate near Tampa, Florida for a stay at the gold standard of treatment facilities. At River Oaks, we offer customized care plans to help you on your recovery journey at our beautiful Hillsborough County campus.