You’ve noticed things are off with your loved one. Some changes are obvious, others not so much. You’re beginning to suspect substance abuse and you want to help, but you’re at a loss. What do you do?
Familiarizing yourself with the warning signs of substance abuse is a crucial first step. Know the three types of signs—physical, behavioral, and psychological—and how to spot them.
1. Physical Signs
- Disregard for personal appearance: disheveled look, unkempt hair, etc.
- Lack of energy or motivation
- Unusual odors on breath, clothes, or body
- Slow or impaired coordination or speech
- Use of eye drops to hide red and bloodshot eyes, dilated or smaller pupils
- Slowed reaction time
- Changes in appetite
- Sleep changes: insomnia, sleeping too much
Substance abusers show a mixture of these signs of drug use, but some physical signs will depend on the type of drug. For example, marijuana produces euphoric feelings, difficulty concentrating or remembering, and an increased appetite. Synthetic drugs may cause hallucinations, vomiting, chest pains, or confusion. Users may suffer panic attacks, become unusually sociable, or have a spike in energy. An extreme symptom is psychotic or violent behavior. Drug users snorting or inhaling drugs often have red or runny noses and/or nose sores.
2. Behavioral Signs
- Secretive behavior: lying or hiding where they’re going, avoiding visitors
- Withdrawing from family or friends or a drastic change in relationships
- Financial difficulties: repeatedly asking for money without an explanation or a vague or unlikely reason, missing money and/or valuables
- Poor work or academic performance, repeatedly calling off or skipping work without notice, loss of interest in work, significantly lower grades
- Paranoid behavior
- Changes in friend groups, activities, and interests
- Risky behaviour: getting into fights or accidents, being arrested, engaging in illegal activities, etc.
3. Psychological Signs
- Sudden change in personality
- Mood swings, acting out, irritability, or agitation
- Lethargy or absentmindedness
- Anxiety or fearfulness for no apparent reason
- Bouts of hyperactivity, periods of laughing or giddiness
Different drugs can have different effects on people. For more information on signs and symptoms related to specific drugs, visit Mayo Clinic’s website.
How To Support Your Loved One
It’s also possible that the substance abuse problem may be obvious to you but not to your loved one. It’s important to show your support in ways that show you care. Substance abuse and addiction are very complicated and painful for those suffering from them. Although your desire to help is sincere, your loved one may not see it that way. Remember to be cautious and sensitive. Here are just a few suggestions.
What To Do
Talk To Your Loved One
Explain that you’re concerned in a non-judgmental way. Be honest but not aggressive when you cite specific things that have been worrying you, such as unexplained financial difficulties or a withdrawal from family and friends. Be prepared—it’s not uncommon for users to get irritated or defensive when confronted about their condition. On the other hand, they may be so deep in denial that they’ll just blow off your concerns or make up excuses. Offer to get your loved one help. Whether it’s taking them to a doctor, going along to a substance abuse meeting, or helping them find a substance abuse recovery program, it’s important to demonstrate your support during this rough time.
You can only do so much on your own, and you can’t control your loved one’s actions. Ultimately, users need to accept responsibility for their addiction. Recognize your limitations. You aren’t a professional; you are a concerned loved one.
Take Care Of Yourself
Supporting a friend or family member who is suffering from substance abuse can be an emotional and draining process. You need support, too. Establish a support system that includes friends and a professional, like a counselor. Keep yourself safe. Don’t put yourself at risk by getting into dangerous situations like following your loved one to a drug deal or party.
Define Your Boundaries
Taking your loved one to a weekly appointment is reasonable; repeatedly bailing the user out of jail is not. In fact, enabling destructive behavior only impedes progress. In the long run, giving money to people suffering from substance abuse or getting them out of trouble only hurts them more. Sometimes, the best way for them to learn needs to be the hard way.
What Not To Do
Threaten Your Loved One
Physical threats and psychological mind games are not methods for curing your loved one’s struggle with substance abuse. Threatening to disown your loved one for not getting clean or just attending rehab is far from healthy, and resulting to physical violence only creates more problems. Making them feel guilty for their addiction can also be psychologically damaging. Some users already feel as though they’re beyond help, so pouring guilt on them will only make them feel worse and increase risks of suicide.
Take Away the Drugs
When you hide or throw away a user’s drugs, you’re making the problem worse. It’s not only detrimental to your relationship, but it can be fatal. Your loved one will turn against you and most likely go to extreme measures to get more.
It’s easier said than believed, but it’s important to remember that you are not responsible for your loved one’s actions. It’s not your fault. Make sure you’re available for your loved one should it come time to lend a shoulder, but don’t feel as though it’s your job to bail your loved one out of jail or cover up mistakes the user has made as a result of the addiction.
Do you suspect a loved one is suffering from substance abuse? The professionals at High Focus Centers are here to help you both. We provide individual, family, and group counseling as well as in-patient substance abuse recovery programs. Contact us for more information on how to get the help you need!
Featured photo credit: Credit: craigCloutier via imcreator.com