Addiction is characterized by the inability to stop using a substance despite negative consequences. Addiction differs from other drug or alcohol use in that it causes significant impairment in the person’s life, and it can’t be controlled by the individual. Those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol often report that their substance use feels “out of control.” They may want to stop using but feel unable to do so. Oftentimes, people are in denial about the problems substance use is causing and need the help of friends and family to recognize the problem.
As reported by Psychology Today, addiction is typically accompanied by tolerance and physical dependence. Tolerance occurs when the body adapts to the substance of use, and higher doses must be used to achieve the desired effects. This often contributes to dependence. The body can only function normally with the addictive substance, and will experience withdrawal symptoms when the substance is taken away.
Loved ones may notice changes in behavior related to these symptoms. The individual may need to drink or use drugs to excess in order to become intoxicated. In addition, the person may show signs of withdrawal – such as shaking and sweating – when going without the addictive substance.
According to Mayo Clinic, some normal teenage behaviors can be hard to distinguish from symptoms of substance use. Moodiness, rebellion, and changes in interests are common in adolescence and not necessarily signs of a problem. Parents and friends should look for multiple signs of addiction, beyond normal teenage behavior in this age group.
Addiction is pervasive, influencing all areas of an individual’s life. There are typically signs that family and friends can watch for that may indicate an addiction. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence lists various physical, behavioral, and social signs of substance abuse. The following steps will help you to recognize if your loved one is suffering from addiction.
How Can You Tell If Someone Is Addicted to Drugs or Alcohol?
Follow these steps to help find out
Step 1: Look for physical signs.
Drug or alcohol addiction can have devastating effects on physical health. Some of these effects can be observed by others in the person’s life. An individual suffering from addiction may show any of the following physical signs:
- Flushed skin
- Broken capillaries on the face
- A husky voice
- Trembling hands
- Blood in vomit
- Chronic gastrointestinal distress
- Symptoms of withdrawal when not using the substance
- “Track marks,” or marks left by injection drug use
- Dilated pupils
- Dramatic weight loss or gain
Step 2: Observe behavioral changes.
Addiction impacts every area of a person’s life. The individual will seek out and use drugs or alcohol even as the substance use negatively impacts health, relationships, and daily functioning. The behavioral changes that result from addiction are often the first signs of a problem that loved ones notice. The following behavioral changes may occur:
- Blackouts or memory loss
- Frequent arguments and fights
- Depression or mood swings
- Using drugs or alcohol to relax, improve mood, or aid in sleep
- Drinking alone, in the morning, or in secret
- Using substances more than intended or in spite of saying they won’t
- Neglecting friends, family, or activities that were once enjoyed, such as sports or hobbies
- Engaging in risky behaviors
- Telling lies
- Unexplained injuries or accidents
- Neglecting hygiene, grooming, and clothing
- Borrowing or stealing money with no explanation as to what the money is for
Step 3: Search for drug paraphernalia.
Parents of children who may be suffering from addiction may want to search their child’s belongings for drug paraphernalia. Everyone is entitles to some personal privacy; however, a child’s wellbeing is the responsibility of the parent or caregiver, and searching from drugs or alcohol may be warranted in some cases. Psychology Today recommends taking this step if you have reason to believe your child is using illegal substances.
If the person in question is an adult, it can be trickier to search for drug paraphernalia. While you don’t want to invade personal space, you can certainly look for such paraphernalia in shared living spaces. If uncertain whether or not to search the individual’s personal space, consult with a therapist or addiction professional beforehand.
The U.S. Department of Justice lists the following common forms of drug paraphernalia:
- Pipes: These can be made from various materials, including wood, glass, ceramic, plastic, and acrylic.
- Water pipes or bongs: These are often made of glass, and draw the smoke through water to cool it before it is inhaled.
- Miniature spoons: Spoons are often used to dissolve drugs in liquid before they are injected.
- Chillums: These are cylindrical pipes used to smoke marijuana
- Injection needles: These are used to inject certain drugs like heroin or crushed prescription painkillers (after the crushed substance has been mixed with water).
- Cigarette papers: These are used to roll joints filled with drugs that are then smoked.
Step 4: Watch for changes in daily life.
Changes in relationships often occur with excessive alcohol or drug use. Individuals spend more time with others who engage in substance use and neglect relationships with family and friends. Loved ones may notice that the individual is less social or secretive about how time is spent. New friends may appear in the individual’s life, with little explanation as to how they met.
Work or school performance typically declines when a person is addicted to substances. A student who previously performed well in school may experience a drop in grades and appear less concerned with schoolwork. Job performance may suffer, and an individual may have frequent problems with coworkers or supervisors.
Substance addiction frequently occurs with other mental health disorders, particularly depression and anxiety. If your loved one suffers from a mood or anxiety disorder, they may attempt to self-medicate with illicit drugs or alcohol. Since various mental health conditions put individuals at a higher risk for addiction, monitor your loved one for signs of substance abuse.