Would you know how to tell if a loved one is abusing drugs? Most people would not want to picture someone they care about falling into drug abuse and addiction. This is an issue that affects all types of families, and it is not confined to people living in a certain area or who belong to a specific socioeconomic group. Anyone can become an addict, and drug abuse includes recreational drugs and prescription medications.
Some people use either or both of them while showing only a few negative consequences giving friends or family members cause for concern. For most others, using drugs causes bigger problems at work and at home, as well as damaging the user’s sense of self-esteem.
Most Common Signs a Loved One Is Abusing Drugs
The signs of drug abuse may not be immediately obvious to you. More than likely, you will start to notice some things about your loved one over time that don’t seem to make sense. People who are abusing drugs can be very good at hiding their habit so that it will not be apparent to the people closest to them.
If something about your loved one seems “off” to you, don’t immediately discount it. Once you start to notice the same or similar symptoms happening repeatedly, you may be dealing with someone who is abusing drugs. Be alert for the physical, psychological and behavioral signs of drug abuse. The more signs you notice, the more likely it is your loved one may have an issue with substance abuse.
Here are many of the physical signs of drug abuse:
- Changes in appetite, such as eating more or less than usual
- Sudden weight gain or loss
- Lack of personal hygiene and grooming
- Pupils appear larger or smaller than usual
- Bloodshot eyes
- Lack of coordination and clumsiness
- Slurred speech
Here are many of the psychological signs of drug abuse:
- Unexplained mood swings and irritability
- Periods of unusually high energy or giddiness
- Lack of interest in people and activities that used to be important
- Anxiety or even episodes of paranoia
- Depression or anger
Physical Warning Signs of Commonly Used Drugs
Each type of drug produces different physical effects in users. If you ever become concerned about the possibility that a loved one may be addicted to drugs, you will want to know what type he or she is using. Here are a few common warning signs for each drug.
- Glassy, red eyes
- Loud talking
- Giddiness, inappropriate laughter shortly after smoking, followed by drowsiness/sleepiness
- Loss of motivation and interest in work/school
- Weight gain due to getting the “munchies,” i.e. wanting to eat
- Or weight loss from excessive sleeping
Also known as “uppers,” this category includes amphetamines, cocaine and crystal meth.
- Dilated pupils
- Excessive talking
- Depression once person “comes down” off the drug
- Sleeping for long periods of time once the “high” wears off
- Going for long periods of time without eating or sleeping
- Lack of appetite leading to weight loss
Also known as “downers,” this category includes Valium and Xanax.
- Trouble concentrating
- Lack of coordination
- Contracted pupils
- Needle marks
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive sleeping
Opioids: Prescription Pain Medications
This category includes Oxycontin, Vicodin, Lortab and Norco.
- Euphoria followed by drowsiness
- Poor coordination
- Slowed breathing
- Difficulty making decisions
This category includes LSD and PCP.
- Dilated pupils
- Irrational, bizarre behavior
- Mood swings
- Hallucinations and possible aggression
This category includes aerosols, glues and vapors.
- Watery eyes
- Difficulty with memory and thoughts
- Rashes around the nose and mouth
- Changes in appetite
- Lack of muscle control
Someone who is using inhalants may also suddenly start buying more of these types of products. If you start to see a lot more cans stashed in your home or garage, or they turn up in your trash more often, it could be a sign of a problem that needs to be addressed.
Why Do Some Drug Users Become Addicted While Others Don’t?
Some people try drugs either out of curiosity or because their friends are experimenting with them. They may be looking for a way to self-medicate because they are dealing with stress or living with a mental health challenge such as anxiety or depression.
With regular use, marijuana can be addictive. Approximately 9 percent of people who use marijuana will develop a dependence on it, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. When users start experimenting with the drug in their teens, the likelihood of developing a dependence grows to 17 percent. When marijuana is used daily, it increases to between 25-50 percent.
Prescription medications are widely used to treat a number of ailments. Many people take them as directed by their doctor. However, the 2010 NSDUH (National Survey on Drug Use and Health) found approximately 2.4 million people in the U.S. used prescription medications non-medically for the first time within the past 12 months. This figure works out to about 6,600 new people per day.
More than half of the respondents who admitted to using prescription drugs for non-medical purposes were teenage girls (aged 12-17). The survey results found young people, seniors and women may be at particular risk for prescription drug abuse.
The path from drug use to addiction is not something that can be measured at a certain number of days or weeks, or even a level of use. It is more like a slippery slope that a person can slide down over time. When a person continues to use drugs in spite of the negative consequences of continuing the behavior, then the drug use may be developing into an addiction.
Some people are more likely to become addicted to drugs than others. Genetics plays a role, though simply because a person has a family history of addiction does not mean he or she will become dependent. Social environment is also a factor, as is an individual’s mental health. It’s not uncommon for mental health concerns, such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and drug abuse challenges to overlap, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
How Does an Addiction Develop?
Looking for ways to tell if someone is abusing drugs is only half of the proverbial battle if you are concerned about a loved one. You also need to learn about the disease of addiction and exactly how a person goes from being a recreational or occasional/experimental user to having an addiction. The more you can educate yourself, the better you will be able to help a loved one in this situation.
Addiction is a chronic disease that changes the brain chemistry of those affected by it. One of the characteristics of addiction is compulsive behavior. A person who is truly addicted to a drug no longer has a choice about whether he or she wants to use it.
When someone takes a dose of a drug, it causes the brain to release increased levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine. The higher levels of dopamine are felt as pleasurable sensations, or the “high” the drug provides. The brain remembers the experience and wants to repeat it.
If a person continues to use the drug, his or her brain develops a tolerance for the dose that used to produce the pleasurable sensation at the beginning. A higher dose of the drug is needed to feel anything close to the same level of pleasure that was experienced at the outset.
Some users find they have to keep taking the drug in order to feel normal or they don’t experience pleasure unless they have taken drugs. These sensations are due to changes in the brain chemistry that interfere with the user’s ability to think logically, control his or her behavior, and make good decisions.
The influence the drug has over the individual is so strong he or she will find ways to rationalize his or her behavior or go to great lengths to deny the addiction even exists. Some people who have substance abuse challenges may:
- Hide evidence of their drug use from their family and friends
- Blatantly deny the amount of time they spend on their addiction
- Refuse to acknowledge their drug use is controlling their life
What to Do When a Loved One Is Abusing Drugs
Here are a few tips for what to do next when you believe a family member is abusing drugs.
1) Don’t Enable Your Loved One
Once you recognize the signs a family member is addicted, you will need to think about your next move very carefully. The worst thing that you can do is to make excuses for your loved one or hope it is simply a “phase” he or she will simply outgrow or move past if you give it some time. If you start doing things for your loved one he or she can and should be doing for themselves, you are helping the addiction to continue.
Don’t do things for your loved one such as:
- Calling in sick for him or her
- Giving him or her money to buy drugs
- Allowing him or her to have access to your car to go to get drugs
- Driving him or her to a location to buy drugs
2) Getting Angry Won’t Help
Dealing with someone who has a substance abuse problem can be incredibly frustrating, especially if you and your other family members have been let down numerous times by someone you love. It’s difficult to watch someone you love making poor choices and hurting friends and family to support his or her habit. Your best approach when trying to discuss the situation with your loved one is to stay calm. If you start to get really frustrated with the situation, break off your conversation and start again another time.
3) Don’t Wait for Your Loved One to Hit Rock Bottom
You may have heard you need to wait until your loved one hits his or her “rock bottom” before you can talk about addiction and getting help. This is not true. An addiction is a life-threatening disease, and if it is left alone, it will only get worse over time. There is no perfect time to talk to your loved one about getting help, which means you don’t stand to gain anything by waiting.
4) Approach Your Loved One When He or She Is Sober
If you want to talk to your loved one about getting addiction treatment, broaching the subject when he or she is high is probably not the best time. Find a time when you can speak quietly when you are not going to be interrupted.
Start the conversation by saying how much you care for your family member and you have been concerned about how he or she is doing. Talk about the signs of drug use you have seen without being judgmental. From this point, you have a couple of options:
- Tell your loved one you are concerned for his or her health and you would like them to see a doctor for a physical. If your loved one agrees to be seen by a doctor, you can make an appointment and offer to go along to ensure the appointment is kept.
Some people may be more likely to consider going to treatment after a discussion with a health care professional. The doctor will be able to explain to them the current state of their health and what is likely to happen if they continue using drugs. If the doctor recommends finding a drug treatment facility, that may be the nudge in the right direction your loved one needs.
- Ask your loved one if he or she has ever thought about going for treatment. You may hear, “Yes, but …” and some excuses why he or she can’t go to treatment. If you are able to find out what specific reservations your family member has for avoiding going for help, you can address them.
It may be a matter of contacting a treatment center to ask questions about the specific treatment offered or making arrangements so your family member can take time off work to get well. If you are able to take away the barriers to treatment your loved one puts up, you can encourage him or her to get help for drug addiction.
5) Find Help for a Loved One Addicted to Drugs
It’s natural you will want to keep the people who are close to you safe. Now that you know how to help a family member or friend addicted to drugs, reach out to JourneyPure Emerald Coast for help. Our unique approach to treatment gives clients a combination of freedom and flexibility you won’t find in other facilities.