No one wants addiction to become part of their relationships.
We tend to invest our happiness in our routine and resist anything that threatens that routine. So when a loved one starts pulling away or acting strangely, it might be difficult at first to accept that they might be dealing with a problem much larger than a temporary glitch in their system.
When we live with a loved one, we come to know their typical behavior. We understand that moods and behaviors can cycle from day to day, week to week, or month to month. We want to give our loved ones room to “flow” without always questioning every little change. However, if you notice that a change in mood or behavior continues instead of “flowing” back to normal, or if the change is drastic in nature, it might be time to consider whether your loved one has a deeper problem.
The first thing to do is ask. “What’s going on with you?” you might say. “You seem especially [sad, angry, anxious, etc.] lately.” If your loved one brushes you off or responds in anger, that might be a sign he or she is trying to hide something more serious than a bad mood.
If you become concerned about whether substance abuse might be involved, look for some of the common physical and behavioral changes listed below.
- Problems at work or school, including missing work or school
- Drastic efforts to isolate from you and/or the family
- Spending more money than usual (you might even find money or household items missing)
- Changes in friends or activities
- Violent or abusive behavior
- Drastic mood changes (from euphoria to depression to extreme anxiety)
- Neglected appearance (could include unusual odors or body odor due to lack of hygiene)
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Drastic energy changes (overactive or underactive)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Involuntary eye movements, dilated or constricted pupils, bloodshot eyes
- Nasal congestion and/or rash around nose and mouth (with use of inhalants)
- Impaired coordination, memory, judgment
- Paranoia and hallucinations
The substances we can become addicted to are many, and the signs and symptoms differ slightly with each. You can find signs of abuse associated with specific drugs at the Mayo Clinic website and many others.
So what do you do if you suspect your loved one might be struggling with addiction? If you’re nervous about confronting your loved one, remember this: if they’re not abusing a substance, they will not be offended that you asked. Remember, too, that if they’re trapped in substance abuse, they’re not doing it to hurt you. Addiction is a disease. If your loved one lashes out at you, it’s not because they don’t love you. It’s because they’re stuck and they’re afraid and they don’t see a way out.
If you discover that your loved one has a substance abuse problem, and if they are not willing to accept help for it, the best thing for you to do is seek help for yourself. Talk to your doctor or therapist. Search for and attend an Al-Anon meeting in your area. Let others who have been through this tell you how to care for yourself and how to handle the situation.
Finally, watch your loved one for severe reactions and overdose. Seek emergency help if your loved one shows any of the following signs:
- Changes in consciousness
- Trouble breathing
- Seizures or convulsions
- Chest pain or pressure
- Severe headache
- Extreme paranoia or confusion
- Any drastic physical or psychological reaction