Identifying Substance Use Disorder in a Friend or Loved One

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that nearly 19 million Americans currently struggle with substance use disorder. Alongside them are entire communities of friends and loved ones that are uniquely empowered to guide them toward help through early identification of signs. Every day, Recovery Unplugged witnesses the impact that addiction has on families, as well as social and romantic relationships; however, we have also seen the power of these relationships in the intervention, treatment and recovery processes.

If you suspect that someone you care about has fallen victim to substance use disorder, here are some signs of which to be mindful.

Common Physical Warning Signs:

  • Deterioration of Physical Appearance and Hygiene
  • Sudden and Extreme Changes in Weight
  • Slurred Speech, Impaired Coordination, and Tremors
  • Sudden and Extreme Changes in Appetite and Sleep Patterns
  • Rashes or Marks on the Skin
  • Dental Issues

Common Behavioral Warning Signs:

  • Neglecting Professional, Academic, or Family Responsibilities
  • DUI or Other Legal Trouble Related to Drugs of Alcohol
  • Constant and Unexplained Need for Money
  • High-Risk Behavior While Under the Influence or in Pursuit of Drugs
  • Continuing to Use Regardless of Consequences
  • Using to Avoid Withdrawal Symptoms and to Avoid Feeling Emotions
  • Inability to Stop Using
  • Drinking or Using Alone or Hiding use from Others
  • Making Excuses or Rationalizations Regarding Drinking or Drug Use

Common Psychological Warning Signs:

  • Sudden Anxiety, Depression, or Sense of Fear
  • Lack of Motivation or Drive
  • Sudden Bursts of Energy or Fatigue
  • Sudden Mood Swings, Increased Irritability, or Angry Outbursts
  • Displaying Anger when Questioned about Substance Use

What Should I Do?

  • Speak up. Talk to the person about your concerns, come from a place of love without being judgmental. The earlier addiction is addressed and treated, the better. Be prepared for excuses and denial, let them know what behaviors they are displaying that are concerning you.
  • Take care of yourself. Don’t get so caught up in someone else’s drug problem that you neglect your own needs. Make sure you have a support network to confide in. Stay safe by not putting yourself in dangerous situations.
  • Avoid self-blame. You can support a person with a substance abuse problem and encourage treatment, but you can’t force them to change. You can’t control your loved one’s decisions. Let the person accept responsibility for his or her actions, which is an essential step along the way to recovery.

What Should I NOT Do?

  • Attempt to punish, threaten, bribe, or preach.
  • Avoid making emotional appeals that may only increase the user’s feelings of guilt and compulsion to use drugs.
  • Cover up or make excuses for your loved one or shield them from the negative consequences of their behavior.
  • Take over their responsibilities, leaving them with no sense of importance or dignity.
  • Argue with the person when they are high.
  • Take drugs with the drug abuser.
  • Feel guilty or responsible for another’s behavior.

It’s critical that you remember that you are not alone and this is not your fault. Feelings of guilt or shame can often immobilize us and render us unable to take action. Regroup, get your head in the game and start taking whatever steps you can to save your loved one’s life.