The holidays are coming, and you might find yourself interacting with a loved one whom you have not seen in a while, especially given how the pandemic has kept many people distanced from friends and family for much of the past two years. With all of the stress caused by the pandemic, more people have turned or returned to substance abuse. Here is how you can identify if any of your loved ones might have developed an issue with alcohol or other substances.
Substance Abuse Red Flags
The Mayo Clinic shares a number of potential warning signs that a person has moved beyond recreational substance use to a problematic level of dependence:
- Craving and being fixated on getting the drug
- Needing more of the drug to get the same effect as before and taking it longer than planned
- Doing things they would not normally do to get the drug
- Spending more money than they can afford to get their substance of choice
- Neglecting work and social obligations
- Withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop using
While the signs above may be difficult for family members to identify in a loved one they only see on occasion, the following signs may be more obvious:
- Problems at work or school – dropping grades, disciplinary actions, dismissal, etc.
- Decreased attention to appearance – clothing, grooming and hygiene
- Physical health issues – weight change, bloodshot eyes, lack of energy
- Behavioral changes – changing friend groups, isolating from family, mood swings, secretiveness
- Money issues – sudden requests for large sums of money without legitimate-sounding reasons, suspected theft of money, or items sold to get the substance
What Are They Using?
Though a lot of people know that it is common for young people to try alcohol and other drugs, they may not realize that older adults also sometimes abuse substances. The types of drugs used by different age groups are not the same and could have very different effects on the people using them. While it might be helpful to know what substance your friend or family member might be using, it is not essential to take the first steps in getting them help.
Have a Conversation About Substance Abuse
If you’re recognizing a problem, there’s a possibility that your loved one already sees the issue too, on some level. It may come as a relief to have someone express concern and a willingness to help. If you are able to approach your friend or family member in a loving, non-judgmental way, you might be able to gain their agreement to get help. If you feel that you’re not the right person to initiate the conversation, you might be able to enroll others to help. These people might include:
- Supportive family members
- Other friends who are supportive of sobriety
- Significant other
- Medical doctors
Emergencies That Could Arise
While it is certainly ideal to engage your loved one in the process of getting help, sometimes an emergency warrants immediate intervention. If you suspect that someone is abusing drugs, it is important to know the signs of any of the following and be prepared to call emergency services:
- Changes in consciousness
- Trouble breathing
- Heart attack
- Bad drug reactions
Treatment Methods for Substance Abuse
Like other conditions, there are multiple approaches to treating substance use disorder, some of which may be utilized simultaneously. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) shares a number of treatment options for substance use disorder:
- Detox – the first step is to get the substance out of the person’s system. It is often recommended that detox be supervised by a physician because of the potential for dangerous withdrawal effects.
- Inpatient treatment – not everyone has to live at their treatment program when getting treatment, but in certain cases, this might be the most promising course of treatment.
- Outpatient treatment – in less severe cases, people are able to remain at home and attend treatment sessions only during certain hours of the day.
- Psychotherapy – a number of different modalities could be recommended, but Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is especially common when treating substance use disorder.
- Medications – a number of medications can be used to help people get/stay sober and to control mental health symptoms as needed.
- Self-help and support groups – recovery groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), SMART Recovery, and Celebrate Recovery can allow people to meet others in recovery from addiction and learn from their successes while finding support on their own recovery journey.
If you are unsure if your loved one is engaging in a problematic level of substance use, reach out to professionals with your questions and concerns. Safe Harbor Recovery Center has helpful, caring staff members who are able to help families to better understand addiction and recovery.