Not all signs of substance use disorder are obvious, however, you know your loved one personally and believe that they may be struggling. Seeing a loved one weather challenges can lead to an emotional response. These kinds of emotions: fear, anxiety, anger, can make it difficult to pause and consider the facts of the situation before acting. It can be difficult to recognize if someone is actually using substances in an unhealthy way or see if there are other possible explanations. Being sure you firmly believe this is the case is vital before moving forward with any conversation.
What Things Can I Look For?
In the setting of a 12-Step meeting, you may hear many stories of people who were never able to “control and enjoy” their habits. There are often, however, stories of those who were able to successfully hide and “manage” their substance use for years on end. This stands to show that there is not a classic or even typical profile that someone with a substance use disorder can be fit into. For some, there are motivating factors that make keeping substance use a secret from others such as families, jobs, or feelings of shame and guilt. As a result of this motivation, some may moderate their use in a way that makes it less noticeable to those around them.
For these individuals, the markers often used as an indication of substance use, such as legal trouble or dramatic changes to personal habits and hygiene, don’t always apply. What indicators can be observed in cases where use is “better” managed?
- Changes to emotional reactions – Something to look for is a noticeable change in the way a person reacts emotionally to situations. Perhaps someone who has normally been able to capably deal with situations has an increase in irritability or anxiety. Conversely, someone who is more prone to panic begins to respond in a more mellow or apathetic way. These changes could be a sign of substance use.
- Lethargy, mania, or increased time spent “sick” – Those with substance use disorders often try to manage their use by abstaining while in the company of those they wish to hide it from, leading to the potential for withdrawal symptoms. Something that can be observed of an otherwise healthy loved one is an increase in them being ill, and also if these illnesses always appear to have the same symptoms, repeatedly. Additionally, depending on the nature of the substance being used there may be a noticeable change in energy level. Research is important here to understand what different substances can affect.
- Weight changes – If the weight of a loved one shifts dramatically, particularly if a sudden drop in weight is observed, this may be a sign that supports the theory of substance use. As this might not always be the case, make sure you are aware of any other life situations that could be going on. Those who struggle with alcohol specifically may experience weight gain, even if their diet hasn’t appeared to change, as they are consuming more empty calories.
- Changes in the level of social interaction/engagement – If you have a loved one that has always participated socially then suddenly appears to withdraw from social engagements or connections, it could be a sign of substance use. Those who suffer from the noticeable changes of substance use, such as a decline in physical appearance, may choose to withdraw to avoid allowing others to see this. Others may just not be as capable of maintaining the social and emotional connection they have to others and may slowly engage less and less.
- Trouble keeping up with otherwise ordinary responsibilities – If someone you love suddenly seems to have issues with paying bills, or begins to gather traffic citations, or perhaps loses a job they have held for years, this could be a sign of substance use. As substance use progresses, those who formerly managed to fulfill responsibilities may slowly lose their grip on different priorities. These kinds of situations often lack an otherwise reasonable explanation and can be observed in those suffering from substance use.
It’s important to get a full idea of what’s truly going on in the life of your loved one before relying on any of these possibilities as clues to discovering substance use. Sometimes, if life has thrown unexpected or difficult situations at the person in question, some of these things may happen even without the aid of substances. Mental illness or stress can cause major changes in life and habits and should be considered whenever asking these questions about your loved one. No matter the nature of these changes, loving and kind support should be the ultimate goal. Arming yourself with knowledge and facts before entering into a conversation gives another person the love and understanding you hope to meet them with. Be prepared for any conversation to be a dialogue and be prepared to hear the loved one out about what is going on in their life. If you feel your suspicions have been substantiated, being willing to open the door to the conversation could save someone’s life.
Ashley Addiction Treatment is an innovative treatment program located on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. Ashley provides support for professionals seeking help with addiction. We are able to help people with co-occurring disorders and offer confidential treatment programs to meet your needs. Please reach out to us today at 800-799-4673.