After the excess of the holiday season, the new year often brings resolutions about personal health and wellness. One popular resolution: cut back on drinking. In fact, between 15% and 20% of Americans participate in Dry January, a trend where people choose to abstain from alcohol use throughout the month or at least cut back significantly on substance use.

And while the benefits of abstaining and/or relying on substances less throughout the year offer many benefits, it can be incredibly difficult to recognize and overcome substance dependence and substance abuse.

If you’re looking to cut down on substance use, Heart of Iowa Community Services (HICS) can walk you through some options. If you’re concerned about a loved one’s substance use and don’t know where to start, we can help with that, too.

What are substance dependence and substance use?

First, let’s understand what these mental health and physical health conditions are.

Substance use (substance abuse):

Substance use disorder, which can be diagnosable, is a medical term for a pattern of using a substance — like prescription medication, illicit drugs or alcohol — that causes significant problems to their physical, mental or emotional wellbeing.

This could include suffering relationships, disruptions in daily life, missing work or school, interference with social situations and more.

Substance dependence: Substance dependence is when someone is physically dependent on a substance — such as alcohol, nicotine, illicit drugs or medication — in a way that their body adapts to it and develops a tolerance to it, so much so that they experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using it.

These conditions could be symptoms of another mental health condition as substances are often used by people as a coping mechanism or are part of learned behavior.

Who experiences substance use disorder?

There is often a lot of shame that comes with substance dependence and substance use, which can prevent individuals from recognizing and addressing these issues. However, these conditions are incredibly common.

Nearly 17% of the U.S. population ages 12 and older met the criteria for having a substance use disorder in 2021, including 29.5 million people who were classified as having an alcohol use disorder and 24 million people who were classified as having a drug use disorder, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Young adults ages 18 to 25 were the most likely to have a substance use disorder in 2021, according to the most recent data.

How to recognize substance dependence and substance use

It’s important to recognize the symptoms in yourself or in a loved one. While making excuses for yourself or enabling a loved one can be the easiest option, know that judgment-free help is available if you do notice these symptoms.

  • Using or drinking larger amounts or over longer periods of time than planned.
  • Feeling like you must have a drink or use a substance in order to feel calm or complete.
  • Making excuses or changing your behavior significantly to use a substance or hide substance use.
  • Continually wanting or unsuccessfully trying to cut down or control use of drugs or alcohol.
  • Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from a substance.
  • Ongoing drug or alcohol use that interferes with work, school or home duties, and other personal or social activities.
  • Using drugs or alcohol even with continued relationship problems caused by use.
  • Giving up or reducing activities because of drug or alcohol use
  • Taking risks with yours or others’ safety, like driving under the influence.
  • Continuing to use even when you notice the substance adding to physical or mental health problems.
  • Developing a tolerance or the need to use more drugs or alcohol to get the same effect.
  • Having withdrawal symptoms if you do not use the substance.

What to do if you are experiencing substance use disorder

Substance use disorder is certainly treatable, and it’s possible to be in recovery. The first step to taking back control is to admit that you may have a problem and that you need help. Secondly, reach out to a mental health and community services provider like HICS.

Through individual therapy, group therapy or a combination of therapies, we’ll work with you to address the mental health conditions that may have contributed to substance use or have arisen because of substance use. We can also work with you to improve and repair relationships. If you could benefit from transitional housing as your begin your journey to recovery, we also can connect you with local providers in central Iowa like Inside Out Wellness & Advocacy.

Take the first step by reaching out at We’re here waiting with helping hearts.