Reducing Substance Use

Sometimes you start to think about your substance use in a negative way, you find you are using more than you want to, or not feeling great all the time, or start to see some consequences you didn’t expect, like feeling run-down, being late for work, or having an argument with a friend.

Other times you recognize that your substance use is significantly impacting your life, you may have tried to cut back or quit using, but are unable to. You are not alone. Substance use disorders (SUDs) can range in severity from mild to severe and can affect people of any race, gender, income level, or social class.

Warning Signs

Some early signs of problematic substance use can be:

  • Using substances to feel comfortable in situations, to fit in or to make friends
  • Using substances without the oversight of a healthcare professional to deal with anxiety, depression, or emotions
  • Using substances to deal with stress or trauma
  • Increasing frequency or amounts of substance use
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  • Tolerance to or need for increased amounts of the substance to get an effect
  • Binge drinking, (roughly defined as a large amount of alcohol in a short duration of time; 4-5 drinks in 2 hours or a sitting for adults and 3-4 drinks for a youth)
  • Missing work or school because of use
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  • Using the substance in dangerous situations, such as before or during driving a car
  • Substance-related legal problems
  • Continuing to use a substance even though you no longer wish to use it or have tried to stop using it
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  • Withdrawal symptoms that happen if you decrease or stop using the substance
  • Spending a lot of time to get, use, and recover from the effects of using a substance or substances
  • Use that interferes with friendships, family relationships, or both
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Deciding to Change: Real People, Real Stories

Substance use disorder (SUD) can happen to anyone. It is a progressive, chronic condition that changes a person’s brain, making it difficult to stop. What starts as a way to feel comfortable in a situation, to fit into a group, to have fun with friends, or to deal with uncomfortable feelings, strong emotions, mental health or pain, can become a compulsive need to use more. SUD is treatable with counseling and medication.

Wherever you are on the spectrum of use from no use (abstinence) to managed use or sobriety and recovery – one thing is clear– less is better. You will feel better – less irritable and anxious, more focused with improved sleep, lower blood pressure, more motivation and money and so much more.

There are many reasons people decide to cut back on their substance use.

Meet Real People Who’ve Reduced Substance Use in Their Own Lives

Have you been thinking about your relationship with substances? You are not alone. Lots of people are looking for ways to shrink the thumbprint that substances like tobacco, alcohol, and cannabis have on their lives and well-being.

Explore the stories below to learn how people in your community are confronting substance use in their lives and changing their lives.

Better Now: Life Without Substance Use

Meet Justin, Dylan, Kim, Chad, and Tonya—five New Hampshire residents in long-term recovery from substance misuse. They let us in on how they knew it was time for a change and what life looks like on the other side of their substance use disorder. Their stories inspire us with hope that recovery is possible for everyone.

Justin's Story
Justin is a 44-year-old Executive Chef who grew up in the rural part of New Hampshire. While school came easy to him, and he played sports, he still found himself feeling bored a lot of the time. A number of people in his family were ‘big drinkers,’ and he experienced a lot of anxiety as a teen. He started drinking at 14 years old because it made him feel better.

Looking back, Justin identifies a number of warning signs. He was aware that he needed to change his behavior since it was progressing. He was drinking all day long, never feeling drunk, but continued to black out. His marriage ended when his son was young. He had multiple car crashes while driving while intoxicated and several incarcerations.

JustinDuring one incarceration, Justin began to teach himself coping techniques to better manage his anxiety. He was able to focus on these coping techniques, because there was little else to do. Justin faced the fear that accompanied his anxiety and was motivated to build on these successes when his prison time was over.

Today, Justin works on his sobriety, and the factors that support it. He is fortunate to have an employer that recognizes his need for balance in his life and to keep his work hours manageable. He sets ambitious goals like hiking all forty-eight of New Hampshire’s 4000+ foot peaks and running ultra endurance races that can range up to 160 miles.

Justin has been sober for almost eight years. This has allowed him to be more present for others, especially his son. He enjoys sharing his story with others, and believes that everyone in recovery, even if they took a different path to get there, finds that their lives are better now.

Dylan's Story

Dylan’s struggle with substances started the first time he tried alcohol. He loved it and its effect. While he was smart and a good student in school, he was plagued with high anxiety and self doubt. He did not have support at home as both his parents and sister struggled with addiction during his childhood.

DylanIn high school, Dylan went to a party with no intention of drinking. Despite making a fool of himself and getting sick, the first time he drank, he felt a perfect sense of relief. He loved it and got more immediately. His addiction moved from alcohol to weed to street drugs. Within a year, he dropped out of school, lost his scholarships, had a new group of friends and was facing serious legal charges for distribution.

Dylan was offered a deal to do treatment or face prison time. He went to an inpatient treatment program, then to a sober living house where he met other people who understood his reasons for using substances. They understood the pain and hurt. While in treatment he had safety, shelter and food – giving him the time to work on the reasons why he felt so broken. They showed him a way out. Dylan worked on getting better and recovering. He went back to school, saved money and worked. All charges were dropped. Despite the progress, Dylan continued to struggle with depression and his addiction – overdosing several times and nearly losing his life.

Dylan credits the friends he made in treatment with getting him back into treatment. Since then, he has consistently not used substances. He is strongly committed to helping others who want to change and believes motivation and a desire to change is the “magic substance”. Dylan currently manages three sober living houses where he lives a modest life. Most of his income goes back into improving and expanding the residences.

Kim's Story
Kim works at Archways NH (Greater Tilton Area Family Resource Center). She has 3 kids and owns a home. She is in a long-term relationship for 3 years and has been substance free for 4 years. She started using multiple drugs at 16, by 18 she was using opioids and at 20 she was using IV heroin. She had several attempts to stop using different types of MAT over the years. Ultimately the sublocade™ shot helped her. She then began to attend groups and volunteer to help others. She describes her risk factors as her brother introduced her to marijuana, then she started using XTC. XTC helped her lose weight, which made her more outgoing, she made more friends and it became a lifestyle. She experienced homelessness with her children, her children were removed, and she was jailed. She knew this time was different because “I chose it for myself.” She wasn’t doing it for others or for DCYF.
Chad's Story
Chad started using drugs at 11 years of age. He liked them and liked being the life of the party. He was happy using at the time, but realizes it was a mask. He married young and had his 4 children young. He had a messy divorce and often times did not know who or where his children were. For the next 8 years – He used crack cocaine which led him down a dark path where he was homeless – living in a crack house that caught fire. He nearly lost his arm in the fire. He was subsequently arrested and jailed. He was able to not use for 1 year, but then started partying again and quickly led him back to heroin and cocaine. But then he stopped and prayed to God for help. He was able to get into the Teen Challenge for 15- months and then subsequently work for it for 10 years. Now, he has a relationship with his kids and he is the guardian of his grandson.
Tonya's Story
TonyaTonya works at Archways NH. She described living with depression as a very young girl (since 5) and when her father died in 2009, her depression worsened. Her doctor prescribed her benzo to deal with the depression. Then while working as a LNA, she hurt her back. Her doctor prescribed her painkillers. For 10 years she misused both to deal with the physical pain and the pain of an abusive intimate relationship, the rejection of her family, and other abusers and multiple suicide attempts. She started to recover when she realized, “I only need myself. I matter, so I took my life back. I chose to stop.” Slowly she weaned herself off the pills. Music was a big part of her recovery – she could relate. She says today, “Recovery is amazing. I have friends, a clean house, my license, my children.” Her motto: “Live each day as if it were your last.”
Jorge's Story
In high school Jorge lost his brother in a car crash. Then, he lost his father to cancer. His mother was devastated and struggled with depression. Jorge felt like he had to be strong for her, so he moved on, never really grieving his loss. He was a good student and athlete. He felt worthless despite all the good things happening in his life. He numbed out by drinking and smoking weed with friends, but he often ended up in tears after using. His girlfriend at the time pointed this out and encouraged him to talk with the school counselor. He was scared at first, but then realized he had nothing to lose. Counseling helped him realize substance use did not fit into his future goals and taught him healthy ways to let off steam and relax.

Today, at 28 years old, Jorge is a personal trainer and fitness coach inspiring others to overcome their personal trauma and motivating them to embrace health and wellness. He doesn’t drink at all, because it just doesn’t fit in with his lifestyle.

Phoebe's Story
Phoebe is a single, 29-year-old woman who works as a nurse in a local hospital. During the pandemic, her hours were long and exhausting. Her time at home was very lonely. She found she could no longer do the social things that recharged her during her time off because of the COVID restrictions. She did not have any work/life balance during COVID. She worked long hours under very stressful circumstances. Like many health care facilities, they were short staffed, and many people were dying.

What used to be for Phoebe an occasional drink after work, started to slowly turn into a regular occurrence. One beer turned into two or three, then more. At first she thought nothing of it— friends were scheduling regular happy hours over Facetime. It seemed normal and acceptable. In fact, she thought it was safer— she did not have to drive. This evening ritual turned into having a beer as soon as she got into the car after work. The day she realized she needed to stop was when she arrived at work still intoxicated from the night before. That was the breaking point. She couldn’t control how much she drank anymore. She was afraid of losing everything—her car, condo, boyfriend and job and even worse—of hurting a patient.

When Phoebe looked back, there were several early warning signs. Growing up, her mom misused alcohol and wasn’t available as a parent. When younger, Phoebe did not use drugs or drink much, but when she turned 21, she started going out to bars with friends. For many years she would often end up binge drinking and blacking out. At 25 she went back to school to get her nursing degree and during that time, stopped drinking.

Phoebe’s employer played a powerful role in her transformation to recovery. She used the Employee Assistance Program to find a treatment program, and the employee insurance covered her treatment. She took time off using Family Medical Leave.

Winter's Story
Winter is a 25-year-old restaurant worker. As a teenager, they lived with several friends until high school graduation because Winter’s mom did not like that they was in a same sex relationship. In high school, no one really noticed if they was drinking occasionally and smoking weed every day.Winter started working in food service at an early age, and there was always alcohol around and available. That’s when they started to drink more heavily.

Winter has several factors placing them at greater risk of SUD. Growing up, Winter was surrounded by people who used substances – both parents struggled with substance use. Winter’s parents divorced when Winter was 6 years old. By 11 years old, Winter was smoking cigarettes. No one was monitoring their activities and friends. Winter described themselves as an angry, hostile, and defiant teen with poor performance at school. Substances helped quell those strong emotions. These strong negative feelings were also mixed up with depression.

A turning point for Winter was a car crash resulting in a DWI and reckless conduct charge. The probation required regular drug screening. While in the hospital, they went through withdrawal. It was the first time anyone talked to Winter about their substance use and depression. The staff helped Winter get into treatment and addressed the depression with medication. Winter continues to go to AA meetings and support others in the recovery community.

Video Discussion GuideBetter Now: Life Without Substance Use can be used in a variety of ways to start a conversation about what we can all do to support the people in our lives who are challenged with substance use. The video can be shown in a group setting or one-on-one, at a gathering of people in-person or virtually. Download this video discussion guide to further the conversation in your homes, schools, workplace, and community.
Better Now: Life Without Substance Use - Video Discussion Guide


For more information about excessive and underage alcohol use and prevention campaigns, follow the links below.

YA Supports and Help – State, local, non profit and community organizations have opportunities and resources to offer to support you in achieving your goals. From taking care of your physical and mental health to buying your first home, you have support. Explore these three areas for resources to help support the unique challenges facing young adults.
substance misuse

YA Recovery Resources – At every stage in life you experience stress, anxiety, loneliness, and hopelessness from time to time. Sometimes, it’s tempting to engage in strategies that will give quick relief but might create bigger problems for you down the road. Find what’s right for you— take time to explore a variety of different things suggested in these resources.

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