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How to Spot Addiction in a Friend or Loved One

Addiction is defined as any substance use that causes impairment in one or more areas of a person’s life such as: work, relationships, social interactions, or other important aspects of a person’s typical functioning. Addiction is often characterized by someone being unable to stop their use despite unwanted consequences (i.e., legal consequences, relationship stressors, etc.). Oftentimes people who struggle with addiction report that they feel “unable to control it”.
how to spot addiction in a friend or loved one

Oftentimes they may have made attempts to quit which were unsuccessful. Other times the person may be in denial about their substance use being an issue and may become defensive or angry when confronted.

Psychology Today, and the DSM-V report that addiction is associated with tolerance and physical dependence as well as withdrawals when the substance is absent. Tolerance happens when a person requires more of the same substance to acquire the desired effect.  Dependence is defined as a person needing the substance to function normally, which can often contribute to the withdrawals one experiences at the absence of the substance.

It is common for loved ones to notice significant changes in behavior or the person who has become addicted. For example you may notice that your loved one needs to drink far more than they used to experience intoxication. Also it may be common to notice that your loved one is showing signs of withdrawal such as: social isolation, fatigue, shakiness or sweating at the absence of the substance, etc.

Addiction may be more complex to recognize in a young adult or adolescent as it may be more difficult to distinguish “typical teenage behavior” from “addictive behavior”. Changes in interests, moodiness, and rebellion are not sure signs of addiction as many teens experience these symptoms in the normal progression of development. It is important to look for multiple signs of addiction beyond “normal teenage behavior” with persons in this age group.

How to Know if Someone is Addicted to Drugs or Alcohol

  1. Look for Physical Signs
    – Headaches
    – Insomnia
    – Shakiness in the absence of alcohol or drugs
    – Chronic upset stomach
    – “Track marks” – marks left at injection site(s)
    – Weight gain or loss
  2. Observe Behavioral Changes
    – Telling Lies
    – Drinking alone, in the morning, or in secret
    – Neglecting self-care and hygiene
    – Borrowing or stealing money with no explanation
    – Neglecting friends, family, and other activities or interests
    – Using drugs or alcohol to “relax”, improve mood, or aid in sleep
    – Depression and mood swings
    – Frequent fights and arguments
    – More aggressive behaviors
  3. Notice drug paraphernalia
  4. Watch for changes in day-to-day life

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