Every person who is addicted to alcohol or drugs began as an occasional recreational user. Substance abuse is insidious, however, and addiction can develop over a period of months or even years. What was once casual abuse can easily become a life-threatening dependency — and even when serious consequences develop, the person who is addicted can’t stop. Many one-time casual abusers wind up losing their families, their careers and their homes — however, with intervention, that doesn’t have to happen. Even the most seriously addicted people can come back from a lifestyle defined by substance abuse to lead satisfying, productive lives.
Learn how to identify the signs of addiction to drugs or alcohol, and find out what you can do to help your loved one get the treatment he or she desperately needs.
The Behavioral Signs of Substance Abuse
Every substance produces a specific range of symptoms that mark abuse. For example, someone who abuses an opiate painkiller may look and behave quite differently than someone who is addicted to cocaine or molly. Nevertheless, there are certain behavioral, psychological and physical signs that are common among those who abuse alcohol or drugs. Because physical and psychological symptoms can take time to develop, learning the key behavioral markers is the best way to identify someone who is addicted or becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol.
As substance abuse increases, you’ll notice your loved one spending increasing amounts of time alone or with a new crowd of people. Old friends, pursuits or hobbies will become less important. Your loved one may disappear for extended periods of time without a suitable explanation, and may fail to show up at important family events. Professional or scholastic problems may develop or increase in frequency and intensity. You may notice valuables or money disappearing or getting lost. People addicted to drugs and alcohol lie about how much and how frequently they use, and they are powerless over addiction. You can expect to hear promises to change that will amount to nothing. Your loved one will say and do anything to continue using, including stealing, switching to a harder substance (such as changing from prescription painkillers to a street opiate such as heroin) and neglecting basic hygiene.
The Psychological Signs of Substance Abuse
Alcohol, designer drugs, stimulants, opiates, sedatives, psychedelics — they all produce a different high. When recreational abuse becomes addiction, however, your loved one will develop a pattern of behavior that is easy to identify.
First and foremost, watch for severe mood swings that may occur with alarming frequency. When high, your loved one will appear relaxed, happy or excited. As the substance fades and the high begins to wear off, your loved one will become increasingly, and sometimes suddenly, depressed, anxious, exhausted and irritable. Fits of violence and rage are also possible. Abusing some drugs — such as PCP — can produce severe psychological symptoms such as schizophrenia, which can take months to abate, even following a prolonged period of abstinence.
The Physical Signs of Substance Abuse
The human body is not designed to withstand a constant influx of drugs and alcohol and abusing these substances can cause severe, lasting damage when left untreated. On the surface, your loved one’s weight may change drastically. As sustaining substance abuse becomes increasingly important, your loved one will also neglect basic hygiene, including oral care, hair care and skincare. Diet and exercise habits will deteriorate. Sores, serious dental problems, needle (track) marks and acne may appear, depending on the substance abused.
As bad as the outside of the body may appear, what’s happening inside is worse. People who are addicted to cocaine suffer from serious heart problems. Substances that cause physical dependency — such as alcohol and opiate painkillers — change brain chemistry and damage internal organs. Serious gastrointestinal and circulatory problems are also common with prolonged substance abuse. The only thing that can stop the physical damage, which can be life threatening, is a commitment to lifelong abstinence.
Talking to Your Loved One
As obvious as your loved one’s problem may seem to you and your family, unfortunately, the addict is usually the last to understand that substance abuse has taken over his or her life. People who are addicted to alcohol and drugs are extremely sensitive and usually in denial; therefore, if you plan to confront your loved one, taking the time to carefully plan the conversation is wise.
Prepare yourself in advance that your loved one may become extremely angry, accusatory or defensive. Your loved one might make threats. Don’t approach your loved one when he or she is high — instead, wait for a sober, quiet moment and deliver your thoughts gently. Avoid criticism, and express your love and hope that getting help will be a top priority in the days ahead.
Call 12 Keys Rehab
At 12 Keys Rehab, we help people every day who are addicted to alcohol and drugs get clean. We can help your loved one, too, including staging an intervention that will encourage your addicted family member to get help. Call us anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and we will tell you more about our holistic addiction recovery program that will heal your loved one’s mind, body and spirit.
You don’t have to be a slave to addiction. Call 12 Keys Rehab now and find your path to freedom, starting today.