Identifying an AOD Problem

How do you know if your use – or someone else’s use – of alcohol or other drugs (AOD) has become a problem?

Often, students who experience harm from their use of substances (typically alcohol) don’t think it’s a big deal as long as their grades are not impacted. In fact, many students don’t consider the following kinds of consequences real "problems" or an indication of dependency:

  • Vomiting
  • Tolerance
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Desire to stop but have been unsuccessful
  • Impaired control (i.e. using for longer periods of time than intended, or using larger amounts than intended)
  • Continued use despite recurrent problems
  • Financial difficulties related to substance use
  • Blacking out
  • Loss or complication of relationships due to use

Students may not perceive these as problems because they (mistakenly) believe most other students do exactly the same thing (learn about alcohol and drug use among Cornell students). But consider this – if you were not in college and you saw someone drink or use with the same consequences, you would probably identify that as a problem.

Diagnosing a substance dependency is a complex process. A person's use of substances (alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs) can change over the course of a lifetime. You may even notice changes in your use over a semester. No single behavior or incident means that a person is dependent.

Consider taking this online assessment to learn more about your own use. Our BASICS program (Brief Alcohol Screening & Intervention for College Students) is another great way to evaluate your own alcohol / drug use in comparison with other students, and identify ways to help reduce your risk for developing future problems. (BASICS is free for students who elect to participate, or who are referred through Cornell’s Good Samaritan Protocol).

Resources for support

If you’re concerned about your use (or that of someone you care about), help is available. Please refer to our Alcohol & Other Drug Services page for information about the counseling and education services we offer (including BASICS), and the campus and community resources available to you.

Tips for talking with someone you’re concerned about:

  • Consult with friends and professionals
  • Wait to have the conversation when the person is sober
  • Choose your words carefully (and avoid labels), and focus on expressing your concern, verbally or in writing
  • Describe your observations and the effect it has on you
  • Be prepared for resistance (this is normal)
  • Set limits and take care of yourself

Find more tips and resources for support on our Concern for Others page.

Understanding the role of family history

When thinking about your own use of alcohol and other drugs, you may also want to keep in mind experiences other members of your family have had. Although genetics are not completely predictive, substance use problems tend to run in families, (e.g., sons of alcoholic fathers). Also, remember that even if no one in your family has an alcohol or other drug problem, it does not mean you are immune from experiencing one.