Drug abuse thrives in secrecy. By keeping their addiction under wraps, addicts are able to continue using while also benefiting from relationships with the people they love the most. This secrecy, though, enables the addiction to get worse and deprives the addict of the chance to get support from friends and family.
If you think someone you love may be addicted to drugs or alcohol, monitor his or her behavior carefully. Sudden changes in behavior that aren’t explained by something else often suggest drug use, even if these behavioral changes seem small. If your spouse hates her job but is suddenly a workaholic, for example, she might be staying late to use drugs or working overtime to fund her addiction. There’s no single symptom that guarantees a loved one is using drugs, nor is there any way to completely exclude the possibility. Knowing the symptoms, though, can help you intervene before an addiction escalates out of control.
Changes in Habits
Rather than focusing on a predetermined list of drug use symptoms, it’s helpful to compare your loved one’s current habits to their prior history. A dedicated lover of fashion who suddenly begins spending all day in sweats might be struggling with mental illness or a drug addiction, even though living in sweats could be normal for the fashionista’s best friend. Some common habit changes to monitor for include:
- Increased time away from friends and family.
- Changes in personal grooming.
- Appetite changes.
- A sudden change in hobbies. An addict who develops an interest in a time-consuming hobby might be using that hobby as an excuse to use drugs, while an addict who stops enjoying a previously beloved pursuit could be using drugs to fill the void.
- Changes in friendships or relationships.
- Unexplained career changes, such as suddenly resigning, changing career trajectories, or suddenly experiencing problems at work.
- Spending less time with children.
- Mistreatment of pets.
- Changes in driving behavior. Some addicts begin driving erratically, while others become excessively slow and cautious.
Most addicts attempt to keep their behavior secret. Some signs that your loved one might be using drugs when he’s in private include:
- Excessive trips to the bathroom.
- Spending all or most of the day in a private room; a teen who used to love family time but who now spends all her time locked in her room could be using drugs.
- Concealing bills, financial statements, or doctor’s visits.
- Lying about his or her whereabouts.
- Keeping friendships or relationships secret.
- Manufacturing excuses to leave family events, work on the weekends, or otherwise gain more privacy.
- Asking you not to tell loved ones you saw him or her, or encouraging you to lie about his or her behavior.
- Drug paraphernalia, such as syringes, pipes, pipe cleaners, rolling papers, large quantities of cash, or unfamiliar powder in the person’s room, car, or private possessions.
- Hiding money or financial decisions.
- Monitoring the phone, being concerned about phone calls, or constantly checking email or social media; addicts may be looking to score a fix or avoiding contact with people to whom they owe money.
Unexplained Health Problems
Addiction wreaks havoc on a drug user’s health. People experience health problems for a variety of reasons, but if someone you love has a variety of unexplained symptoms or experiences the sudden onset of a strange illness, it could signal drug use. Some clues that a person you love may have an addiction include:
- Circulatory problems, bruised arms, or damage to veins.
- Frequent nosebleeds, sinus problems, or a chronically runny nose.
- Unexplained gastrointestinal problems such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
- Changes in sleep habits.
- Dilated pupils, droopy eyelids, or reddened eyes.
- Ruptured blood vessels around the eyes.
- Respiratory problems.
- Unexplained cardiovascular problems.
- Skin infections and lesions.
- Communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.
- Hair loss.
- Changes in bone structure or face.
- Oral health problems, including damaged or missing teeth.
- Unexplained pains; the pain could be a ruse to get painkillers, or could be due to the systemic damage that some drugs cause.
- Organ failure, especially of the kidneys or liver.
Drugs fundamentally alter an addict’s personality, tricking her into believing that nothing could possibly be more important than the next drug fix. Any sudden change in personality or mental health is worrisome. The following signals can be indicators that someone you love has a drug problem:
- Increased conflict with family members, especially a spouse or children.
- Unexplained anger or aggression, particularly if the emotions come out as sudden unprovoked outbursts.
- Being arrested.
- Experiencing financial problems, particularly if there’s not a previous history of financial difficulties.
- Increasingly secretive behavior.
- Erratic behavior that is not better explained by something other than drug use.
- Excessive talking.
- Self-aggrandizement, strange beliefs, paranoia, and the adoption of conspiracy theories.
- Changes in work habits.
- Depression, anxiety, and other symptoms of mental illness.
- Memory problems.
- Changes in communication style; a previously introverted addict may suddenly be gregarious and friendly.
- Feelings of invincibility.
- Secrecy and dishonesty.
- Difficulty making decisions.
It’s up to you to use your knowledge of your loved one to evaluate his or her risk of addiction. If you love someone who has a previous history of addiction or who comes from a family where addiction is common, exhibiting several symptoms of addiction strongly suggests a substance abuse problem.