Myth: If someone I loved was struggling with addiction, it would be obvious to me.
Addiction is a serious disease that can affect almost every aspect of an individual’s life—you may assume that if your spouse, close family member, or college student was struggling with substance abuse, then you would know about it. The truth is that most people with addiction learn to be very good at hiding their disease from others. Refusal to recognize addiction, both on the part of individuals and their loved ones, is one of the top reasons that this serious condition goes untreated. According to the National Study on Drug Use and Health, nearly 22.7 million Americans needed treatment for a problem related to drugs or alcohol in 2013, but only 2.5 million of them received residential treatment. Put another way, only 11% of people who were struggling with substance abuse got the help they needed.
Truth: If your friend or family member is struggling with addiction, the best thing you can do is to help them get treatment.
No one wants to learn that someone they love is abusing drugs or alcohol. You may have noticed behaviors or signs that you have dismissed in the past, unsure if they could really mean addiction. Or, you may have no idea what to look for.
The best way to definitively diagnose addiction is with the help of a medical professional. However, the US Department of Health and Human Services has identified some symptoms and behaviors that may suggest an individual is abusing substances. Understanding the signs can help you know if you should reach out to a loved one who may be suffering from addiction:
- Being secretive and defensive about behavior: Remember that people who struggle with addiction often feel tremendous shame. Your loved one may try to hide their problem because they know that you would not approve, or that you would be worried about their safety. If your family member is evasive about where they were, or makes unexplained phone calls and cash withdrawals, these may be signs of a substance abuse problem.
- Mood Swings: Drugs and alcohol are mood-altering substances that can affect brain chemistry over long periods of time. Any major changes in disposition—especially frequent and unexpected mood swings–could suggest that your loved one is abusing drugs or alcohol.
- Physical Changes: In addition to affecting mood, drugs and alcohol also interfere with bodily processes like sleep and metabolism. Changes in weight and appetite are common for people who abuse alcohol and drugs. So is insomnia, or conversely, bouts of drowsiness, lack of energy and sleeping at unusual times.
- Loss of Energy and Motivation: Abusing drugs and alcohol can be extremely taxing, both emotionally and physically. A person who is addicted to substances spends a lot of time feeling physically run down and mentally hazy— all of which sap motivation. If your loved one has lost interest in things they used to love, it could be a warning sign.
- Stealing, Selling Possessions, Unexplained Spending: Addiction is extremely expensive. An individual who drinks a pack of beer each day might spend about $3,300 in a year! Other substances are even more expensive. If you loved one seems strapped for money it could suggest that they are supporting an expensive habit. In fact, the financial cost of addiction is one of many reasons that seeking treatment is a good investment in your loved one’s future.
If any of these symptoms sound familiar to you, trust your instincts. As hard as it is to admit that your loved one has a problem, honesty is the only way to a better future.
Okay, I recognize the signs of addiction–what should I do?
First, realize that you are not alone. With more than 20 million people suffering from a substance abuse disorder nationally, there is an exponential network of spouses, mothers, fathers and friends who love someone with an addiction. Organizations like Al-Anon Families, Intervention Support, and the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids provide some free resources that can help you prepare to talk to your loved one about their suspected substance abuse.
Having a conversation about addiction is not easy, but it is essential to help your friend or family member admit that there is a problem. Just as importantly, it helps them understand that they have options and your support to treat their disease.
Many people who are desperately seeking help for themselves or their loved know that treatment exists, but they may not know how to access it. At Ranch at Dove Tree, we can help to guide you through the process even if you don’t know what questions to ask.
We offer a range of treatment options on our beautiful rural campus and in facilities nearby. Ranch at Dove Tree approaches every resident with compassion, clinical expertise, and the understanding that substance abuse is a complex disease that is unique for every individual.