An addiction isn’t something that crops up overnight. People who work with addicts say it typically starts with recreational use, and over time, in some people, repeated use or behavior can progress into a need to use regularly – even though it puts one’s health, safety, relationships, career, education and finances on the line. Over a period of time – this varies from person to person – the addicted person feels compelled to compulsively seek out a substance or behavior due to very strong cravings. Because addictive substances and behaviors give a “high” or euphoric feeling, if your loved one is addicted, he/she will not be able to just stop using. Addiction takes away the ability to choose to stop, even if your loved one desperately wants to.
As you probably know, it can be very difficult to recognize early on that your friend or family member is involved in drugs or another addictive behavior. You should also know that your loved one is unlikely to admit to a problem. Addicts tend to cover their tracks. But there are a variety of signs that you might be seeing now – even ones you may have brushed aside, not wanting to believe that an addiction could be at play. See how many of these common warning signs of addiction, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, that your loved one may have:
- A shift in mood, attitude and motivation
- A new friends and new hangouts
- Poor performance at school or work and/or being absent
- Secretive behavior such as lying
- Sudden weight loss or gain
- A sudden, unexplained increase in spending
- Bloodshot eyes or enlarged pupils
- A giving up once-favorite pastimes and hobbies
- Strange body odors; trembling hands
- Unusual changes in sleeping patterns or schedule
In addition, you may notice that your loved one now has angry outbursts and is more volatile or unpredictable. He/she may be inattentive and not follow through on assignments or obligations on time or at all. You may find your loved one making secretive, unexplained phone calls or cash withdrawals, concealing what’s on his/her computer screen, or creating new bank or online accounts. His/her schedule may change frequently, often without your knowledge. Your loved might also be sleeping more or suffering from insomnia, choosing to wear sunglasses often, making an effort to cover up unusual breath or body odors and in general is changing in ways you cannot explain, excuse or understand.
It’s also possible that your loved one is not paying the bills, asks to borrow money or is taking or stealing money from you and others. You may notice your partner, friend or relative feeling more melancholy and depressed (these can be psychological symptoms of withdrawal). And then there are common physical symptoms when an addict tries to quit a substance; these withdrawal symptoms may include muscle aches, vomiting, sweating, trembling, fever, insomnia and/or diarrhea.
If these signs are confirming your suspicions rather than allaying them, you may wonder what you should do now. Before you confront your loved one, take some time to cool down, so you’re more level-headed and you’re sure to get your facts straight. It’s understandable if you’re feeling angry, nervous and afraid. But a first conversation with a loved one will go better if you first figure out what you want to say and what you’re feeling.
Take a Closer Look
If your loved one is your spouse, a minor child or a friend or partner who lives with you, you may have access to bank and credit card statements, phone bills and paystubs; all may contain useful information to confirm absenteeism, cash withdrawals or unusual spending patterns. Be sure, too, to look over your shared phone bills; there may be a pattern of outgoing or incoming calls, 800 or 900-numbers that look suspicious – and you may decide to call those numbers yourself to find out more about your loved one’s behavior if you’re not sure:
Start a journal. It can help to start recording when your loved one leaves for his/her job or classes and when he/she return and to check activity on computers you share. By simply checking the browsing history on a shared computer, you can gain a lot of insight into what your loved one may be up to, whether that may mean online gambling, video gaming, pornography or excessive shopping, for example. That said, many addicts learn to hide their behavior well, so you may find that he/she has cleared their browsing history, so it isn’t easy to find out details of how they spend their time online.
Trust your instincts. Investigate if you suspect there is a problem based on other signs you’ve seen over time, especially if that behavior is worsening. It’s best to have solid information, as much as you can, before you talk to your loved one; without some factual information, you may be swayed by your loved one’s likely denials. Remember, addiction is a disease that causes people to act out of character; simply put, addicts will lie and cover their tracks so they can keep using. But by having evidence in front of you, it will be easier to see through lies or attempts at deception.
Be aware of suicidal behavior. If you find out that your loved one may be contemplating, planning or attempting suicide, call 911 immediately. Another resource is the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at (800) 273-TALK. If your friend or family member is experiencing withdrawal symptoms from stopping a drug or alcohol, it’s wise to seek medical attention as soon as possible, as certain medications and drugs can cause dangerous side effects when stopped cold turkey and should be medically monitored.
Make an appointment with a medical professional. Even if you don’t have any emergency medical concerns, it’s still a good idea to reach out to a doctor or counselor for proper screening for addiction. If a professional confirms your suspicions of a drug addiction, mental health problem, compulsive behavior or process (behavioral) addiction, your loved one’s physician may be able to advise him/her one on treatment. You may also decide to enlist the help of an interventionist who can guide you through the process of confronting your loved one about his/her problem; this can be particularly effective in getting the person you love into treatment as soon as possible and on the way to a healthier, sober life.
Sources: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.); Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.