Addiction is a very powerful disease. It makes those affected by it lie to themselves and those around them.
People with substance abuse issues tell themselves that they either don’t have a problem or that they can keep their drug or alcohol use under control. They get very good at hiding what they are using and how often they are doing it.
It can be challenging to figure out if your loved one has an addiction since this is the type of issue that develops over time. Even if you suspect that your loved one may be struggling with substance abuse, you may hesitate to bring up the subject until you are certain. There are many potential signs of addiction that on their own may not be significant. Once you put them together, a pattern may emerge that points to a substance abuse issue requiring a drug or alcohol treatment program.
Physical Signs of Addiction
Changes in physical appearance can be signs of a substance abuse problem. Some of these changes may also be linked to mental health concerns, such as depression or anxiety.
- Sudden weight loss or gain. While anxiety or depression can cause changes in appetite, drug use can lead to someone with a substance abuse problem to eat more or less than usual.
- Lack of interest in appearance. Someone who neglects their appearance (stops showering, brushing teeth, etc.) may be depressed. They may also be lethargic from drug use.
- Bloodshot eyes. Changes in pupil size can also be due to drug use.
- Itching and scratching. Excessive scratching and picking at the skin may be associated with a drug problem.
- Skin discoloration. Excessive alcohol use may lead to changes in complexion due to liver or other internal organ problems.
Behavioral Signs of Addiction
Changes in behavior may be due to job stress, personal issues or mental health concerns as outlined above. They may also be indicators of a substance abuse issue, though. The more signs a person displays, the more likely that something is going on that needs to be addressed.
- Secretive behavior. Someone who has a substance abuse problem may be suddenly “unavailable” in ways that are unusual for them. They may lock themselves in their room for hours or have times when they disappear from home without explaining where they’ve been.
- Mood swings. Drug and alcohol abuse can make someone be quite irritable. If you are used to dealing with someone who was even tempered and now flies off the handle for what seems like minor incidents, chemicals may be the underlying reason.
- Lack of interest in social activities. If your loved one used to enjoy spending time with family and friends and now suddenly wants to stay at home and keep to themselves, the underlying reason could be substance abuse. They no longer want to socialize because it will interfere with using their drug of choice.
- Missing money or unpaid bills. Sudden financial difficulties in the home can be linked to a drug or alcohol problem. It costs money to pay for a substance abuse issue, and people will divert funds that would otherwise be used for household expenses to fund their drug of choice.
- Establishing new friendships. Sudden changes in friendships, especially when the new friends enjoy drinking or using drugs, can be a red flag that your loved one is also involved in this type of behavior. If old friends are being dropped in favor of the new ones, the new friends must have something to offer that your loved one considers attractive.
Psychological Signs of Addiction
These signs of a substance abuse problem can’t be taken on their own as “proof” of an issue. They can also indicate a mental health concern or another issue your loved one may be dealing with. The best way to evaluate the situation is to think of these signs as “straws;” when you have enough straws to make a “broom,” substance abuse may be the issue.
- Defensiveness. A person who has an issue with substance abuse will deny that they have a problem and become angry and defensive about it. Denial is part of the disease of addiction; however, someone who doesn’t have a substance abuse problem may also become defensive if they feel they are being unfairly accused of having a problem.
- Difficulty focusing. People with substance abuse problems may have attention difficulties or find it hard to carry on a conversation. This is also one of the symptoms of depression, and someone who is depressed may be trying to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs to try to treat their own symptoms of mental illness.
- Paranoia. Someone who is paranoid (feeling worried or fearful) may be under the influence of substances or have an untreated anxiety issue — or both.
How to Talk to Your Loved One About Addiction
If you are concerned that your loved one may have a substance abuse problem, talk to them at a time when they are most likely to listen. Don’t approach them when they are drunk or high. Tell them what you have noticed and that you are concerned about them. You’re not alone in this.
We can start you on the road to recovery.