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How to Identify Substance Abuse in a Loved One

Do you think that a loved one might have a substance abuse problem? Here are the most common signs of substance abuse to keep an eye out for.

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Identifying Abuse

Are you worried that a loved one could be struggling with drug addiction or alcohol abuse? Learning the signs of addiction can help you determine whether they are battling an addiction so that you can get them substance abuse treatment as soon as possible.

Answering the tell-tale questions that point to a drinking or drug problem can be a challenge, however. How do you know when casual drinking becomes more than just that? Are the changes you are seeing the result of drugs, or is your child just being a teenager?

While a professional opinion is always your best bet, it is easier to identify substance abuse in a loved one if you know what you are looking for. These are just some of the physical, mental, and emotional signs that could indicate substance dependence.

When Drug Use Becomes Addiction

Not every person who takes drugs—either prescription or illegal—develops a substance abuse problem. Some people can take prescription or recreational drugs without developing a dependence on them. However, others can get sucked into addiction after just a few uses. It can be challenging to recognize whether a loved one’s use has turned into abuse, as the tipping point between the two is not clear cut.

So, what is substance abuse, and how does it differ for substance use

The key here is that addiction and abuse are actually less about the type of substance, the amount taken, and the frequency of use. It is, in fact, more about how the substance is affecting the person’s everyday life. Substance use becomes substance abuse when it has a negative impact on work, home, school, hobbies, relationships and more.

Physical Changes

There are undoubtedly physical changes when people become addicted to drugs or alcohol. Their mind is often so centered on acquiring and taking their drug of choice that they forget to do everyday things that would ordinarily contribute to their physical health and wellness.

Keep an eye on your loved one’s eating habits; they could forget to eat regularly or eat more than they usually do, and this will result in drastic weight loss or weight gain. They may also forego their usual daily hygiene habits—showering less often, brushing their teeth less, wearing dirty clothes, etc.

Changes in the body will depend on the drug of choice but may be accompanied by dilated pupils, skin color variations, sores on the body, track marks, loss of coordination, unexplained cuts and bruises, and red/broken capillaries. 

Behavioral Changes

Of course, everyone has behavioral changes every now and then, but addicts are often unpredictable and their behavioral changes are more frequent and noticeable. This could be something as simple as a lack of interest in things that they used to enjoy like hobbies and sports; active people can become lazy and unmotivated.

However, it can be a lot more erratic and manic. Addicts can display bouts of crying, violent mood swings, hysteria, anxiety, and depression, as well as irritability. Keep in mind that drug abuse often occurs alongside mental health issues and those that are predisposed to diseases like schizophrenia and manic depression are likely to display much more severe symptoms than before the substance abuse began.

Change in sleep patterns is another big indicator when it comes to recognizing a substance abuse problem. Sleep routines often become very erratic, such as falling asleep mid-conversation or sleeping at odd hours of the day. How these patterns change depending on the type of substance they are using.

For example, stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamines will most likely keep people awake late into the night, but they will have a massive crash once the drugs wear off. However, users could keep taking large amounts to avoid the crash and sleep very little. Opiates like prescription painkillers and heroin, on the other hand, will slow the body down and will make users drowsy and sleep for longer periods than usual.

Relational Changes

Substance abuse does not just impact the user—it has an overall effect on those around them too. The way that addicts interact with and behave with those they have close relationships is an accurate indicator if you are trying to determine whether your loved one has a substance abuse problem.

Close family relationships or friendships can often descend into violent arguments. Addicts often perceive normal conversations and interaction as provocations from others, and this will cause them to become defensive and argumentative. They will often struggle to hold conversations that came to them easily in the past too.

Addiction also causes people to isolate themselves, and they could suddenly distance themselves from long-held relationships. Family, friends, and spouses/partners will notice them retreating and refusing to interact on the same level that they once did.

One of the most significant issues when it comes to the deterioration of relationships is the constant need to ask for money. In the beginning, people will be more than happy to help in most cases, but they begin to pull away when the user starts to ask more frequently; they are unlikely to pay back any money that they have borrowed and become agitated when refused more. It is at this stage where addicts usually turn to petty theft from loved ones.

What to Do for Your Loved One

It is important to keep in mind that substance abuse does not have to determine the rest of your loved one’s life. Getting them into drug rehab is an utmost priority if you think that they need drug addiction help. However, not everyone is willing to seek drug addiction treatment, and may deny that they have a problem. The best that you can do is talk kindly and gently to your loved one and try to get them to seek the professional help that they need.

Getting help is the first step on the journey to recovery, and it’s undoubtedly the hardest and bravest one that an addict will take. If you suspect your loved one has a substance abuse problem and you are seeking help, do not hesitate to get in contact with us.

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