Signs of Substance Abuse in a Loved One

It can be hard to determine when casual alcohol or drug abuse leads to problematic use.  It’s even harder when you’re concerned that this is happening to a loved one.  You’re worried about their health and safety, but probably also concerned about the consequences of approaching them about it.  How will they react?  Will they be angry?  What if you’re wrong and you hurt their feelings or insult them?  It’s a difficult position to be in.

The first step is to evaluate whether your loved one is exhibiting some of common signs inherent in substance abuse.  While every case is different, most substance abusers or addicts will demonstrate some of the following symptoms.  

Dilated pupils or bloodshot eyes – Their pupils may appear larger or smaller, or eyes appear bloodshot or glazed rather than bright and clear.  This is a common physical reaction to alcohol and many other substances. Sometimes individuals will try to hide it by wearing sunglasses.

Increase in the amount and frequency of the substance –  They seem to be consuming the substance more often, even if there are negative consequences like missing work and other obligations.  They’re also consuming it in larger quantities, partially due to a build-up of tolerance because they’ve been consuming it for so long.

Abrupt loss of weight – Many substances have a direct impact on a person’s appetite and metabolism, often resulting in a sudden and dramatic weight loss or gain.

Not caring about personal grooming habits – He or she may stop showering, dressing nice and paying attention to personal hygiene.  Appearance and grooming no longer seem to be a priority.

Demanding more privacy and being secretive – The desire to keep their substance use a secret may lead to hiding the substance, being evasive about where they were or who they were with, secret phone calls, outright lying, or other unusually elusive behaviors.

Uncharacteristic mood swings – Major mood swings, angry outbursts, volatile and unpredictable behavior are characteristic of abuse. Many drugs have a direct impact on the user’s psychological well-being and emotional state.

No longer enjoying the things they enjoyed – The overpowering need to constantly seek out and feed their addiction may take precedence over everything else, including activities they formerly enjoyed.  This may extend to a withdrawal from social networks and family members as they become more isolated.

Financial problems – The mounting cost of the alcohol and drugs may lead to financial struggles.  In dire cases, it may lead to stealing money or valuable items from loved ones to get quick cash for drugs.

Loss of productivity at work or school – Individuals may start skipping school more frequently, showing up late for work or dismissing career obligations.  Someone who was formerly responsible and career driven may seem to no longer care.

Lethargy & change in sleep patterns – He or she may seem tired more frequently, have diminished energy levels and may appear depressed.

If you are concerned that a friend or family member has a substance abuse or addiction problem, don’t feel like it’s on your shoulders to “fix” the person.  Express your concerns and offer to help guide them to a healthcare professional.  While it can be an emotionally charged conversation, remember to offer support, not judgement.   And most importantly, remember that you can ask for help.  There are counselors, treatment professionals and support systems all around you.  Our clinicians at Recovering Champions are always available to speak to those who are concerned that a loved one may be in trouble.