Drug and alcohol abuse can affect anyone, but it’s often difficult to face the situation if it’s your loved one that you suspect may be caught in the grips of addiction. Learning to recognize the signs and symptoms of drug and alcohol addiction, however, can be the important first step in helping the person you love achieve sobriety. Keep in mind that many drug and alcohol addicts will try to conceal the signs of their abuse and minimize their problems; that’s why it’s so important that you pay attention if your friend or loved one is displaying any of the warning signs below.
Some of the most telltale signs of drug and alcohol abuse are physically evident in your loved one’s changed appearance. Eyes that are bloodshot or glazed and pupils that are dilated or constricted can indicate abuse of a wide range of substances, from marijuana to heroin. Unexplained weight gain or loss, unusual hair loss or thinning, and unusual body odor are also common symptoms of substance abuse.
Other physical signs of addiction may be present. Changes in sleep patterns and appetite frequently occur with substance abuse, and coordination and speech may be affected.
As an addiction to drugs or alcohol intensifies, signs of such abuse typically start to appear in a person’s behavior. You might notice your loved one neglecting their responsibilities, such as failing to show up for work or experiencing a drop in their grades at school. Unexplained financial issues–particularly if accompanied by an increase in borrowing or stealing–can signal escalating drug use. Engaging in behaviors that seem suspicious or overly secretive, changing friend groups suddenly, and getting into trouble more frequently can also be key behavioral signs of addiction.
Beyond changes in physical appearance and behavior, addiction can manifest through unusual and sudden changes in personality and disposition. Many substances from alcohol to opioids can cause significant psychological changes when abused, from increased irritability and mood swings to periods of paranoia and overwhelming anxiety.
Depending on whether the substance your loved one is abusing is a stimulant or a depressant, other changes can occur; stimulants like cocaine and crystal meth can cause hyperactivity and agitation, while depressants like heroin and prescription opioids can lead to lethargy, decreased motivation and a “spaced out” appearance.
If the signs and symptoms listed above match the changes you see in your friend or loved one, what can you do to help them face their addiction to drugs or alcohol? The first step is speaking with them and sharing your concerns without judgment. Tell them the signs of drug or alcohol addiction that you’ve noticed them display, and encourage them to seek professional help. At the same time, accept that you can’t force your loved one to change; offer them support but avoid blaming yourself for their choices.