People with substance use disorder (SUD) frequently try to hide their symptoms and downplay the problem. If you suspect that a friend or family member may need drug rehab, you should look closely for potential warning signs. A loved one’s substance abuse can cause significant stress and damage not only to themself but to the people who love them.
Identifying the signs of SUD can be a challenge in some cases. It can also be challenging to notice the signs if you don’t know what to look for. The sooner you learn about the signs and symptoms of SUD, the quicker you can try to get someone you love the help they need.
Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
Substance abuse affects brain functioning; it is a chronic, chemical, medical brain disease. With this in mind, it is crucial to know that drugs and alcohol affect a person’s ability to think clearly and impair judgment.
SUD can affect a person psychologically, emotionally, physically, and in their personal relationships. Identifying the signs and symptoms of SUD is the first step in helping your loved one receive the treatment they need.
Psychological Symptoms of Addiction
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse(NIDA), “Drugs interfere with the way neurons send, receive, and process signals via neurotransmitters.” Drugs and alcohol interfere with three major parts of the brain – the basal ganglia, extended amygdala, and prefrontal cortex – which are necessary for life-sustaining functions.
The changes that occur in the brain drive compulsive substance abuse and cause psychological changes. Psychological symptoms you may notice in your loved one can include:
- Sleep pattern changes
- Levels of confidence change
- Change in personality
- Suicidal ideations or self-harm
Emotional Symptoms of Addiction
When using substances, a person can experience changes in emotions that create erratic, unpredictable, and manic behavior. Frequently, when a person is struggling with SUD, there will be a change in behavior and attitude, which is different from their usual self.
Common emotional signs of SUD you may notice in a loved one include:
- Physical abuse
- Verbal abuse
- Loss of interest
Physical Symptoms of Addiction
Drugs and alcohol have a profound effect on the body. The physical symptoms experienced may be different from person to person, depending on the substance they use. With this in mind, common physical signs of SUD to look for:
- Uncoordinated and loss of balance
- Sexual function diminishes
- Stomach pain or cramping
- Sleeping too much
- Weight changes
- Bruises or cuts
- Eyes dilated or red
Symptoms of Addiction in Relationships
Substance abuse affects the person who is using it, but it also affects everyone in contact with them. Relationships can shift and change when a loved one is struggling with SUD.
Common relationship changes may include:
- Arguing that sometimes includes violence
- Feeling provoked when people bother them
- Unable to hold conversations
- Distancing themselves from people they care about
- Marital problems that are new and sudden
- Financial mismanagement
- Missing responsibilities
Education About Addictive Substances and Their Effects
Different substances will have different effects on an individual. Learning about drugs and alcohol and the effects they have on a person can also help you identify that a loved one may be struggling with SUD.
Alcohol is a commonly abused substance. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 14.1 million adults over the age of 18 had an alcohol use disorder (AUD) in 2019. If your loved one is abusing alcohol, you may notice the following signs:
- Secretive behavior
- Being under the influence at inappropriate times
- Slurred speech
- Coordination problems
- Smelling like alcohol
The opioid epidemic has been sweeping the nation. In 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared a public health emergency, after 42,000 deaths were reported in 2016 due to opioid overdose. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the opioid crisis has only worsened. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “There were 91,799 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2020, a 30% increase from 2019, which began accelerating in March 2020.
Due to an increase in opioid abuse in the United States, your loved one may be struggling with opioid addiction. Common signs of opioid abuse include:
- Poor coordination
- Slower breathing rate
- Scabs, sores, or puncture wounds due to IV use
- Pupil constriction
- Changes in personal appearances, such as weight loss
The most commonly abused sedatives are benzodiazepines, including Valium, Xanax, Klonopin, and Ativan. In 2015 and 2016, 5.3 million people reported misuse of benzodiazepines.
Common signs a loved one may be addicted to sedatives include:
- Slurred speech
- Unsteady walking
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory lapses
Stimulants can include prescription medications, such as Adderall or Ritalin, or illicit substances, such as cocaine or methamphetamine. Stimulant abuse is widespread, and common signs your loved one may be struggling with a stimulant addiction include:
- Diminished appetite
Sparking Conversation About Addiction
If you think your loved one may be struggling with addiction, the first step is to have a conversation. Discussions surrounding substance abuse can be challenging, as your loved one may not be ready to hear what you have to say.
Even if your loved one does not respond well to your attempts at a conversation, you can open the door for future discussion. If your loved one knows you are willing to help them, they may come to you when you are ready.
The best way to start a conversation with your loved one is to focus on your own observations. You may start the discussion with statements such as, “I wanted to check in with you because you haven’t seemed like yourself lately.” If your loved one is open to discussion, you can ask them questions about how long they have been struggling and how you can best support them. From there, you can let them know you are there and willing to help them whenever they are ready.
How to Help Your Loved One
Helping a loved one seek treatment for their addiction can be challenging. They may not be willing and ready to seek help. The most important thing to remember is you cannot force them to seek treatment; you can only be there for support.
Until your loved one is ready for treatment, the best thing to do is seek help for yourself. Support groups such as Al-Anon or Nar-Anon can help you find a community of people who understand your struggles. Remember, you cannot pour from an empty cup.
When your loved one is ready for professional treatment, facilities across the nation are prepared to help.
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