Maybe something seems just a little off to you.
Your friend or your child or your spouse is acting oddly. Every now and then you think you smell something—maybe alcohol on the breath or smoke in the clothes—that seems wrong. Now and again, you think you notice bloodshot eyes and not just when your friend or your sibling or your parent has missed sleep. You’re getting worried. But you’re also worried about confronting your loved one with your suspicions of drug or alcohol use. What if you’re wrong? They’ll be offended or angry or both, right? Do you want to risk your relationship over what might seem like a minor change in behavior, an unusual smell, or irritated eyes?
The short answer: Yes.
Watching for the Warning Signs
The indicators of a substance abuse disorder are varied, sometimes subtle, and sometimes difficult to distinguish from other stressors in a person’s life.
Still, there are a number of physical signs that might suggest a loved one has a problem:
- Weight gain, weight loss, and/or limited appetite
- Difficulty sleeping
- Bloodshot eyes and/or dilated or constricted pupils
- Unusually poor hygiene and/or unusual smells on the person or on their clothes
- Slurred speech, decreased coordination, and/or involuntary shaking
Similarly, there are identifiable psychological and behavioral signs of addiction:
- Legal and/or financial problems
- Mood swings, lack of motivation, hyperactivity, and/or anxiety without a clear cause
- More conflict in relationships and/or a sudden change in social group
- Increased risk-taking to procure drugs or alcohol, and/or needing them to fend off withdrawal
- Neglecting responsibilities (school, work, family) and/or hobbies that were once important
- Increased tolerance, tendency to start with large doses, and/or loss of control of intake
- Family history of substance abuse disorders
It is true that many of these symptoms and signs may arise from situations that have nothing to do with addiction—stress at work or at home, puberty, untreated depression, trauma, more—but even if that is the case, a conversation is warranted. If your concerns about substance abuse prove unfounded, you still may be able to provide emotional or other support to someone going through a difficult time and help them find the professional support they might need.
Get the Conversation Started
It probably won’t be easy, but the first step to helping your loved one is to share your observations about physical, behavioral, and psychological signs of addiction you’ve witnessed. The key—and the challenge—is to foster a nonjudgmental atmosphere. Expressing your love and concern is important and may help defuse a potentially uncomfortable situation.
But even if you approach the conversation with all the right motives and employ the perfect tone, your loved one may still become defensive and uncommunicative. They may even start avoiding you or becoming even more secretive about their behavior. It is possible—even likely—that you may need the help of a trained interventionist to help you effectively help your friend or family member.
Don’t Hesitate—Even If You Aren’t Sure
As noted above, you might misinterpret the signs and find yourself in an awkward conversation with someone who is not suffering from an addiction. Even so, you might be able to help that person with whatever situation is troubling them and leading to the symptoms or behaviors you have observed.
And that potential awkwardness is a small risk compared to the damage that can be caused by substance abuse. It might be tempting to wait, to see if things get worse, or to see if you can spot some incontrovertible evidence that will make you feel more confident when you confront your loved one. It might seem like a good idea to wait until a person hits rock bottom before you try to intervene, but it truly is not. Instead, those battling substance abuse disorders are best served if they receive treatment early, before things get increasingly dire.
When Your Loved One is Ready, We’re Here to Help
Once you’ve helped your loved one realize his or her need for help, Wooded Glen Recovery Center in Indiana stands ready to provide support—not only for the person in recovery—but also for friends and family who will help provide a foundation for lasting sobriety. Talking to a loved one about a suspected substance abuse disorder may be daunting—but it may also be one of the most important conversations you ever have. When the time comes, we’re here to ensure your loved one gets the treatment they need to thrive.