Addiction is a sneaky disease, and no one wants to believe it could happen to a loved one. Yet addiction inflicts damage on millions of people every day. Anyone from any walk of life can become addicted, but with treatment, a lifelong recovery is possible. For many families, the key is early intervention — and that’s why knowing what to do if you recognize the signs of abuse is essential.
Recognizing Drug Addiction in Loved Ones
As a family member of someone who may be addicted to drugs, you have a unique opportunity to look for certain signs. Although drugs can cause different physical symptoms in each individual, the behavioral side effects are similar.
An individual who has a substance abuse problem might:
- Deny, lie and hide. Denial, and lying about or hiding drug abuse, are the most common behaviors caused by addiction. An addicted person will continue to deny drugs are a problem even when abuse is obvious.
- Spend more and more time getting, using and recovering from drugs. If your loved one starts ignoring healthy activities or people to focus on getting high instead, a drug abuse problem is beginning.
- Try to quit. Your loved one might try to quit cold turkey or simply cut back for a few days or weeks, but drug use always seems to start up again.
- Have problems fulfilling important responsibilities. Whether at work or at home, getting things done right becomes more and more difficult for the addicted person.
- Keep using drugs even though they cause problems. Drug use that interferes with health, wealth or reputation is drug abuse — if drug abuse causes a problem, it is a problem.
- Take more drugs, or combine drugs, to get the same high. Increasing the dose, or mixing drugs together or with alcohol, can be fatal.
- “Lose” or forget drugs. Many addicted people claim to lose prescription drugs so they can get more from another doctor or pharmacy. This practice is called doctor shopping, and it’s illegal.
- Develop withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can vary depending on the type of drug. If your loved one feels sick or anxious after spending a few hours sober, they’re experiencing withdrawal — and it’s a major sign of addiction.
Physical and Psychological Symptoms of Drug Abuse
Drug abuse takes a terrible emotional and psychological toll, but it also damages physical health. You might notice physical or psychological symptoms such as:
- The flu. Did you know that opiate and opioid withdrawal is similar to a terrible case of the flu? Fever, chills, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea and achiness can last several days or longer when your loved one can’t take drugs.
- Agitation or anxiety. As the body rids itself of drug toxins, the brain reacts by releasing certain chemicals that can create excitability and irritability.
- An intense desire to use drugs again — not just to get high, but also to relieve withdrawal symptoms — will grow and persist.
- Problems with digestion or constipation.
- Nodding off. Some drugs, such as heroin and painkillers, cause users to fall asleep at inappropriate times.
- Changes in sleep patterns.
- Changes in appetite.
- Signs of depression include insomnia, an inability to concentrate, decreased energy level, loss of interest and a persistent sadness or negative outlook.
Helping a Loved One With Drug Addiction
Although the desire to stop using drugs must come from within your loved one, you can help him or her face reality. You can help your loved one by:
- Keeping a record. Write down when your loved one’s drug use results in a problem, including what happened afterward.
- Having a private conversation. Choose a quiet time where you can speak to your loved one alone. Share your concerns, and talk about quitting. Stay calm, even if your loved one denies using.
- Talk to a trusted friend or family member to share observations. If others who know your loved one feel the same way as you, a problem is more likely to exist.
- Ask for help — especially if you think you or someone else may be in danger. Always have a plan to escape if you are at risk.
- Consider intervention. A professional interventionist can help you plan an intervention and may convince your loved one to get help.