Someone with a substance abuse problem does not walk into a room with a blinking neon sign over their head that says "addict." The signs are usually far more subtle, especially when the addiction is to illegal drugs rather than more readily accessible ones. It is helpful to know the signs to look for when trying to pinpoint whether or not someone has a problem. Substance abuse can lead to severe and detrimental effects to the addict and to those they love. If you address the addiction early, often it can be easier to manage within a recovery program rather than down the line when years of bad habits have had time to develop, which will also improve your overall lifelong recovery.
One of the first things you should assess is whether or not this person has a family history of substance abuse. While it is not a guarantee that if there is a family history, they will be an addict too, it does increase their chances. However, that does not mean that a clean family tree absolves them of a future addiction problem either. Family history is just good information to have on hand.
Have you noticed a sudden loss in weight? Perhaps they no longer keep up their hygiene routine like they used to. Maybe it appears as if they have stopped doing their laundry or you have seen them in the same outfit several days in a row. These are all indications that they have prioritized a substance over their daily duties.
Have you caught them in a lie, perhaps multiple times? Do they say they cannot come to a certain function because they are too busy, but you later find out they never left the house? Have they had a suspicious amount of accidents or injuries but seem unable to say what happened and try to evade the question? Keeping secrets is an unfortunate side effect of substance abuse because an addict will do anything to hide their addiction for fear of retribution.
Often, when asked a simple or everyday question, they will get unreasonably defensive. Perhaps you made a joke at a holiday party that they should be "cut off" after they made a silly misstep but they do not see it as a joke and instead get indigent. Maybe they say things like they "can stop whenever they want." If situations like this frequently occur enough to pique your interest, they might have a substance abuse problem and may need your assistance with recovery. Often, this is a cry for help.
Tolerance occurs when you need more and more of a substance to have the desired reaction. Suddenly going from one to two beers, may not be cause for concern initially. However, if you notice it has gone from a couple of beers on the weekends to harder and harder liquor over a shorter period, that could be serious cause for concern and a red flag that there might be a substance abuse problem present and that a recovery program might be needed. No one likes seeing a loved one in pain or suffering from addiction. You may find this a difficult topic to broach with them but is an incredibly important one. You could end up being the vital lifeline that they need to seek help and start them on their path to recovery.
Sydney DeZinno is a writer from Tucson, AZ. A graduate of the University of Arizona, she an active advocate that is passionate about addiction recovery and helping those in crisis.
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