Warning signs that a loved one is struggling with substance abuse

If you’ve ever had someone close to you struggle with addiction, you will already be aware of the amount of pain it can cause not only for the sufferer, but for their friends and families as well. Addiction is one of the least-understood branches of psychiatry – still largely a mystery in terms of its causes, as well as potentially effective treatments. What modern research has made clear in recent years, however, is that addiction should be thought of as a disease – a medical problem and not a moral one.

The causes of addiction vary considerably, and are often not fully understood. They are generally caused by a combination of physical, mental, circumstantial and emotional factors.

So why is so much stigma and shame still suffered by those who have slipped into substance abuse? Many addicts don’t realise they have a problem, particularly if they are able to function in their everyday lives. Those who do realise may continue to hide their dependence at all costs, rather than reaching out to friends or family for help, often because of feelings of shame and hopelessness. It is for precisely this reason that everyone should educate themselves on the warning signs and symptoms of substance abuse, especially if you suspect that someone you care about may be abusing alcohol or narcotics. Remember, addiction can and does happen to anyone – regardless of age, race, social status and income. Here are a few of the most common signs of addiction to look out for if you suspect someone close to you might be struggling.

Physical Symptoms

  • Commonly displaying glazed or bloodshot eyes, sometimes accompanied by changes in the size of the pupil due to constriction or dilation
  • Abrupt weight changes
  • Bruises, infections and scars on the skin, particularly on the face or in areas where intravenous drugs enter the body (the crooks of the elbows or on the feet, for example)
  • Unusual smells on the breath, body or clothing
  • Deterioration of physical appearance and personal grooming habits
  • Tremors, slurred speech, or impaired coordination

Behavioural Symptoms

  • Drop in attendance and performance at work or in school
  • Loss of interest in favourite activities
  • Sudden changes in sleep patterns
  • An unexplained need for money and eventually, serious financial problems, often accompanied by borrowing and stealing
  • Secretive or suspicious behaviour
  • Sudden changes in friendship circle, favourite hangouts and hobbies
  • Frequently getting into trouble, including fights, accidents, and trouble with the law

Psychological Symptoms

  • Sudden or unexplained changes in personality and attitudes
  • Mood-swings, irritability or angry outbursts
  • Periods of hyperactivity, giddiness or unusual agitation
  • Lethargy, depression and lack of motivation
  • Paranoid or fearful behaviours with no apparent reason


What to do next

If there is someone close to you exhibiting some of the above warning signs, it is important to be tactful in your approach. It is vital to not come across as condescending, and acknowledging that you have your own weaknesses will show that your concern is not a personal attack. Although tough love may be a common approach, in some situations it is better to lead with love, by airing your observations in a supportive, loving way. Never attempt to threaten, bribe, or lecture a person into changing their behaviour. This rarely works and will only serve to make them even more defensive and secretive.

All research points to the fact that recovery from addiction requires readiness on the part of the addict, as well as a nurturing and supportive environment generated by those people around them. Recovery is an intensely personal journey that every recovering addict must take upon themselves. All you can do as a friend or relative is to let them know that help is available when they’re ready to make the change. – Clockwork Media

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