An addiction is the physical and psychological need to use a substance, even if it has harmful effects on the body or mind. An addiction is a disease that keeps one in bondage to a point of death if they do not make a decision to seek treatment. Addictions cause a lot of pain and suffering for the addicts and their families as well. More than robbing an addict of their physical and mental health, addictions rob a family of their peace of mind.
Addictions affect the behavioral, psychological and physical state of both addicts and families. Statistics show that more than 50% percent of broken homes and divorces are as a result of alcoholism in the family. Alcohol is not the only drug abused. Today, many more people are using prescription drugs to get high. The most common occurrence of addiction is alcoholism for 51.5% of all drug addictions in the United States, with more than 80,000 people die from alcohol related complications.
Drug addiction is not just a preserve for teenagers and adolescents as movies put it. Adults are addicts as well. Families have been broken, lives have been destroyed and society has borne the adverse effects of drug addiction.
People can pass up addictions as just a habit because they are living in denial. However, this habit may not just be simple as it seems. The underlying condition of the so-called habit could be an addiction. Sometimes it might be challenging to tell whether someone is addicted or not because you may not be spending a lot of time with them to make implicit observations. Furthermore, addicts can be very secretive and evasive. We have seen parents who have been dumbfounded to find out that their children were hooked on drugs when it was too late. The ultimate regret was “I wish I knew earlier.”
The question is whether there is a possibility to tell if someone is addicted. Fortunately, there are signs and symptoms that clearly distinguish an addict from the rest of the population. It is necessary to be aware of a loved one’s addiction problem in order to help them find treatment. The problem with addiction is that if it is left untreated, it is accompanied by a myriad of other physical and social problems. Unfortunately, these problems can lead to an early grave.
Addiction symptoms vary from person to person due to the differences in genetic makeup but there are signs that are similar for all addictions. Furthermore, every drug has a different effect on the body. The symptoms of alcoholism may not be similar to those of a benzodiazepine addiction due to the different chemical compositions of the drugs. However, there are signs and symptoms that occur for all kind of addictions. If you suspect that your loved one is an addict, look out for the following signs:
An addict has a different physical state from that of an ordinarily healthy person. Their physique is not what you would generally expect to see. Some of the physical signs and symptoms of an addict are:
Addicts experience intense urges and cravings for the drug. These cravings increase as the drug addiction intensifies.
2.) Physical dependence
As an addict’s body becomes physically accustomed to the presence of the drug in the blood stream, physiological changes begin to occur when the substance is absent in the system. An addict’s body is used to the presence of a drug in the body system. When the drug is not there, the addicts begin to feel sickly and to function sub-optimally.
It is not surprising to find addicts using larger quantities of the drug to get high over a long period of time. This is because in that duration, their bodies become tolerant. Tolerance means that they need more of the drug to achieve an expected high.
4.) Withdrawal symptoms
Addicts experience withdrawal symptoms when they decide to stop using the drug abruptly either because they lack money to support their continuous drug usage or a fear of being caught. The severity of the withdrawal symptoms depends on the type of drug and the length of addiction. Some drugs like benzodiazepine have very severe withdrawal symptoms. Some withdrawal symptoms that you can notice are:
3.) Changes in sleep and energy levels
Drug addiction plays a significant role in the sleep cycle and energy levels of an addict. An addict can exhibit intense amounts of energy, to a point of doing things that normally they wouldn’t do if they were not high. For example, addicts of cocaine and methamphetamine show intense levels of body energy. More than just affecting energy levels, drug addictions give addicts a melancholic depression feeling accompanied with excessive sleep patterns. This can be found in addicts of depressants like benzodiazepines and prescription sedatives.
4.) Fluctuations in weight
Drugs have a direct correlation to body metabolism and appetite. Take for example alcoholics. Alcoholics lack an appetite most of the time. Drugs can cause severe weight gain or weight loss, depending on the type of drug. Drug addictions that occur in tandem to a drug addiction cause eating disorders such as anorexia.
5.) Loss of memory
Sometimes, you may be reminiscing on good old times with your family members but one person does not participate in the conversation because they have no clue of what those good times are. Substance abuse can cause blackouts especially with heavy usage over a short period of time. In such situations, the person may experience memory lapses or complete memory loss which becomes more severe as they continue in their addiction. Drugs affect the working of the brain, which means that they affect the functionality of the brain.
6.) Bloodshot eyes
Drug addicts have distinct bloodshot eyes and enlarged pupils. Bloodshot eyes are very noticeable in alcoholics especially. Furthermore, sleeplessness associated with drug abuse can cause bloodshot eyes or enlarged pupils.
It is no surprise that the behavior of an addict changes. This is of course due to drug influence. Addicts seem to be more ‘risk takers’ than ordinary people and their behaviors are significantly different. Some of the behavioral changes that addicts portray are:
1.) Poor judgment
More often than not, we have seen drug addicts engage in risk y behavior. At times we may wonder why a person would do something very dangerous regardless of the consequences. Addicts have a sense of poor judgment. This means that they can do anything just to get the smallest amount of drugs in their system. We have seen drug addicts being portrayed as prostitutes or thieves in movies. Actually, this is the very situation in reality. Addicts have no sense of moral compass and if they do, their addiction has overwhelmed them to the point that they cannot resist engaging in such dangerous activities. They steal, lie, engage in unsafe sex, sell drugs, commit crimes all in the name of d=getting high. It is no wonder that most drug addicts end up in jail for committing criminal offences. Furthermore, they expose themselves to sexually transmitted diseases when engaging in unsafe sex.
2.) Drug seeking
Addicts spend excessive amounts of time and energy to find and get their choice of drug. Sometimes, alcoholics spend a lot of time in the local bar a couple of times a week. We may dismiss this as just ‘a beer with friends’ only to find out later that the person is actually an alcoholic.
3.) Neglecting responsibilities
One of the major tell signs for an addict is their level of neglect. You may find that addicts who happen to be parents have no morale to meet their responsibilities therefore neglecting their own children to ‘sort’ themselves out. Addicts do not care about personal or work obligations. Some addicts even prefer to meet up with other addicts instead of going to work. As a result many of them get fired or can never hold a steady job. If they are unable to hold down a job, they have no source of income yet they have a drug addiction to keep up with. Consequently, they will end up in crime related activities to make some quick cash for drugs. The cycle then continues.
Studies show that children from alcoholic families are most neglected. The lack of parental care and love affects them psychologically and emotionally to a point where they end up as alcoholics themselves.
4.) Mood swings
Addicts have noticeable fluctuations in their moods. Under the influence of the drug they may be happy and excited. When they are not under the influence of the drug, they can be agitated and aggressive. Drugs trigger different kinds of emotions. Furthermore, a drug addiction accompanied by a psychiatric or mental disorder can cause severe mood swings in an addict. Mood swings can be characterized by:
- Manic Hyperactivity
- Extreme Talkativeness
- Inability To Sit Still
- Uncharacteristic Sentimentality
- Heightened Anxiety
- Sullen withdrawal
- Extreme sleepiness
- Passing out incoherence
5.) Attitude and appearance change
The physique of addicts does not just change because of weight gain or loss. Addicts change their lifestyles, including dressing style and how they carry themselves. It may be the result of keeping unhealthy friendships or the influence of the drug itself. Whatever reason it may be, addicts have an attitudinal issue. People who had positive attitudes begin to exhibit negativity. They begin to be more aggressive and rude. They become another person. When you begin to see a shift in the character and appearance of your loved one, it is important to follow up on what could have been the trigger. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Moreover, addicts neglect their personal hygiene and often look rugged and dirty. They no longer bathe regularly or use deodorant. They stop combing their hair and brushing their teeth. They may even wear the same dirty clothes for days in a row or forget to wear or tie their shoes or button their shirt. Generally, they tend to have a rugged appearance.
6.) Loss of interest in the things they used to enjoy
Addicts see life in a different way. The addiction becomes a large part of their life. They no longer have time to engage in the hobbies they used to enjoy. Their interests in certain activities that they loved reduces drastically. In a situation where your loved one stops engaging in activities that they loved doing, the underlying issue could be a drug addiction.
7.) Suicidal behavior
As mentioned earlier, addicts can suffer from severe withdrawal symptoms if they decide to stop abusing a drug abruptly or progressively. This can be emotionally and psychologically draining for any addict. As a result, they may try to commit suicide. The situation is exacerbated if the addict has an underlying mental condition.
8.) Secretive behavior
Addicts thrive on secrecy. Some of the secretive behaviors they may exhibit are:
- Hiding or encrypting their cell phone
- Erasing text or phone calls
- Leaving without mentioning where they are going
- Locking you out of their room or vehicle
- Hanging out with new friends you never meet
- Deflecting when they are asked questions
The social life of addicts is quite different. They can be very secretive and evasive or keep very unhealthy relationships. The social tell signs of an addict are:
1.) Keeping unhealthy friendships
Birds of a feather flock together is not just a proverb that relates to smart people. Addicts flock together as well. In such company, they find solace in the fact that they are not the only drug addicts. Furthermore, they can share drugs among the company. Such unhealthy friendships begin to affect how an addicts acts. Their behavior and attitude changes. This is a red flag.
When drug addicts are not in the company of other addicts, they may choose to isolate themselves. They may be afraid of the stigma from friends and family. They may also be trying to hide their drug problem from the family. Sometimes an extreme introvert is not just a personality but is a function of isolation.
Sustaining an addiction is not a cheap endeavor. It costs a lot of money. Addicts spend large amounts of money on their addictions. It is possible to find that an addict has drained out their bank account just to support an addiction. Furthermore, they do not meet their financial obligations. They may not be able to pay rent or any other bills on time. When asked, they have no valid reason of how they spent their money because they are ashamed of coming cleaning about how they spent all they had on drugs. Addicts accumulate huge debts because they are constantly borrowing. They steal valuable items and sell them off for drug money. Addicts always find excuses to ask their loved ones for money.
After you have confirmed your suspicions of an addiction problem in your loved one, you may wonder what step to take next. It is important to cool down before you confront the person. Feelings of anger, fear and anxiety are expected so it is important to be level-headed before you have that discussion with your loved one. If you are not sure about the addiction status of the person:
- Start a journal to keep track of your loved one’s activities and their behavioral changes
- Trust your instincts and investigate if you suspect a problem. Before you confront your loved one, make sure you have all the information so as not to make misjudgments.
- Be aware of suicidal tendencies especially if your loved one is suffering from withdrawal symptoms. It is important to seek medical help in such situations.
- Reach out and make an appointment with a medical professional for proper addiction screening. If the professional confirms your suspicions of an addiction problem with your loved, charter a course of treatment as soon as possible. If you are not sure you will be able to convince your loved one to seek treatment if they are an addict, ask for help from an interventionist to guide you through the process of confronting the person.
The problem with drug addiction is it is a progressive chronic brain disease. Drug addicts tend to become worse overtime if they keep using the substance. Furthermore, relapses are very common among addicts. A drug addiction develops overtime so as a concerned family member, you can help in preventing the problem before your loved one becomes drug dependent. Every addiction follows a five stage process:
- Regular use
- Risky use
- Drug addiction
- Drug dependence
You can begin fixing the problem at the recreational or experimentation stage. At this point, the person is just using the drug for curiosity purposes and stopping can be significantly easier than when the problem has advanced to the drug dependence level.
You should also be aware that there are factors that increase the risk of your loved one becoming an addict which you need to deal with even after you handle the problem at the experimentation stage. These factors are:
- Easy access to drugs or other substances
- Family history of addiction
- Stressful and traumatic life events
- Personality traits e.g. Aggression
- Lack of knowledge about the harmful outcomes of substance abuse
- Diagnosis of co-currently occurring mental disorders
Risk factors cannot be simply helped or changed especially if it involves traumatic experiences such as rape, incest or physical abuse. Another factor that cannot be helped is a dysfunctional home. However, this does not mean that the situation is hopeless. It is possible to intervene in the earlier stages of addiction development and have as significant impact in their lives. This will depend on your level of strength and closeness with the relationship of your loved one.
As a parent or caregiver of a loved one you recently discovered has an addiction problem, it is important for you to adjust your parenting style by creating a strong family bond. Such bonds help children avoid developing an addiction down the road. Authoritative and indulgent parenting style is more effective for adolescents. Such a parenting style involves bolstering self-esteem, getting involved, offering support during transitions, attending anti-drug programs together and supporting healthy choices.
You can help your loved one to reduce the chances of developing an addiction by helping them to:
- Learn how to deal with past hurts and trauma, recommending counselling or therapy
- Improve self-control if they have impulsive tendencies because such behaviors are predictions of later problems
- Feel accepted despite their choices and experiences because substance abuse is associated with low self-esteem, discrimination and trauma.
- Choose healthy friendships and social situations
- Get informed about the dangers of drug use
As family members, we may be tempted to hide the addiction problem of a loved because of fear of stigmatization. But what does your addicted family member stand to lose if you do not help them seek treatment? These are the benefits of early medical intervention for a drug addict:
- Relapse Prevention
- Medical Stabilization
- Aftercare Support
Treatment of a drug addiction has different options; outpatient rehab, inpatient rehab, teen rehab, gender based rehab and dual diagnosis rehab. You have a variety to choose from as you decide on which form of treatment is suitable for your loved one. The drug rehab process will need you as family to support your loved one. The detoxification, behavioral therapy, medication and aftercare will be more fruitful is you offer support as a family member. You should realize that helping your addicted loved one is not just helping them but is helping you as well.
There is no sure way for your loved one to be safe from addiction, but the advice given above will help you identify if your loved one has an addiction problem and how to help if that is the case. Do not assume that the addiction will affect the addict only because it will surely affect you as well. When time is far much gone for preventive measures, seek medical professional help as soon as possible. It is better late than never.