John comes home late one night, his breath reeking of liquor. His eyes are bloodshot red. He says nothing and falls into bed, passes out. Was he drunk again?
Loretta’s mood is swinging drastically. One morning she’s warm and fun-loving. That same afternoon she is cold, distant, and completely disinterested in the world around her. Some evenings she disappears completely, never letting you know where she’s been. Is Loretta misusing drugs?
Nancy has recently recovered from a minor surgery. She often talked about how effective her prescribed pain medication was, how great it made her feel. Now, the bottle is empty and Nancy is asking how she can get more of the same pills. Has she developed an addiction?
These are challenging questions. It’s difficult to stop and ask ourselves if we might be grappling with an addiction. When these questions arise about our loved ones – people just like John, Loretta, and Nancy – they can become even more challenging.
How can you tell when someone in your life is struggling with substance use? What are the signs? How can you be sure?
This post will shed some light on what to look for if you’re worried about someone you love. The warning signs of addiction are varied, but when enough of them become apparent it’s important to take note and seek professional help.
This list was originally compiled by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency and adapted here. (The NCADD describes itself as: “the leading advocacy organization in the world addressing alcoholism and drug dependence.”)
Signs of addiction in a loved one:
- Loss of Control: Your loved one uses substances more than they want to, for longer than they intended, or despite telling themselves (or you) that they wouldn’t do it this time.
- Neglecting Other Activities: Your loved one spends less time on activities that used to be important to them (hanging out with family and friends, exercising, pursuing hobbies or other interests); a drop in attendance and performance at work or school are especially common signs to watch out for.
- Risk Taking: Your loved one seems to have become more likely to take serious risks in order to obtain their substance of choice.
- Relationship Issues: People struggling with addiction are known to act out against those closest to them, particularly if someone is attempting to address their substance problems, so it’s important to be sensitive to your loved one’s state of mind when reaching out to help them; complaints from coworkers, supervisors, teachers or classmates tend to increase with further drug usage.
- Secrecy: You may notice your loved one going out of their way to hide the amount of substance consumed or their activities when drinking or drugging; there may also be unexplained injuries or accidents.
- Changing Appearance: Look out for serious changes or deterioration in hygiene or physical appearance – lack of showering, slovenly appearance, unclean clothes, bloodshot eyes.
- Family History: A family history of addiction can dramatically increase one’s predisposition to substance abuse; consider carefully your own family’s history when you’re concerned about another family member’s potential addiction.
- Tolerance: Over time, a person’s body adapts to a substance to the point that they need more and more of it in order to have the same reaction; for example, you may notice your loved one drinking more alcohol than usual.
- Withdrawal: As the effect of a substance wears off, you may notice your loved one experiencing symptoms such as anxiety or jumpiness; shakiness or trembling; sweating, nausea and vomiting; insomnia, depression, irritability, fatigue, loss of appetite, and headaches.
- Continued Use Despite Negative Consequences: Even though it is causing problems (on the job, in relationships, for one’s health), your loved one continues their substance use; this is a strong indicator of addiction.
The NCADD also offers an addiction self-evaluation. Their online quizzes ask a series of questions to help you determine if your substance use has developed into abuse. There is a quiz for alcohol, drugs, and one designed specifically for teenagers. Any of these may be a useful tool to help you better understand your own substance use or that of a loved one.
If the signs point to addiction, it’s important to remember that professional help is available. Contact Willingway at any time for a consultation.