Substance Abuse

It can be difficult to tell if someone you care about is developing an addiction.  If your loved one seems anxious, irritable, or moody; has lost interest in things they once enjoyed, or shows signs of physical deterioration like weight loss or tooth decay, it might be time to intervene. Here are 8 warning signs that should prompt a conversation with them about their substance use and the potential for getting help.  These are just some of the most common warning signs observed by people who have dealt firsthand with addiction – there are many more specific to certain substances so don’t hesitate to ask for professional help if you think your loved one needs it!


1. They drink/do drugs every day

This may not seem like a big deal, but it is. While people do need to let go and unwind, daily substance abuse can indicate a bigger problem – whether to self-medicate for an undiagnosed mental health issue or to try to “fit in” with a certain social group.


2. They’ve become secretive about where they are/who they’re with

When your loved one starts to lie about their whereabouts, or closes off communication channels like phone calls and emails, it could be a sign that something is wrong. It is hard to help people who don’t want to help themselves or refuse to admit they need help in the first place. Anything that is forced onto addicts, even if it’s the world’s most luxurious treatment center, won’t do any good if they don’t recognize they have a problem first. If these actions are accompanied by secrecy around the substance itself or lying about how much they use, it may be time for an intervention.


3. Their substance use has become more frequent, or they’re using it alone

Obviously, the more your loved one uses, or if they seem to be using alone or in secret, the bigger red flag it is that something is up. If you’ve ever wondered why alcoholics drink alone though, it’s because they’re afraid that if anyone sees them drinking, they’ll be judged. This is why you can’t let your loved one drink alone; it enables an addictive cycle!


4. They’re experiencing withdrawal symptoms

If your friend or family member seems to develop strange symptoms like nausea, vomiting, shakiness, and anxiety when they’re not using, it could be a sign that their body is becoming dependent on the substance and they need help getting clean. This is one of the earliest signs that can occur before addiction takes root, making it critical to intervene as soon as possible.


5. They’ve lost interest in activities they used to enjoy

If your loved one stops caring about the things that they used to enjoy in favor of substance abuse, it’s another sign that something is wrong. This can be a sign they’re using substances as a sort of coping mechanism for stress and anxiety related to these activities (whether it’s work or school or family life). It takes a lot of time and even more patience to help your loved ones, so make sure you have those before you even start trying to help.


6. They exhibit personality changes when intoxicated

This can be a sign that the substance has begun to affect their brain chemistry. People who abuse alcohol, for example, may become angry and belligerent when drunk, people who use hallucinogens might display rapid mood swings or disorganized thoughts, people who use opioids like heroin, painkillers, or fentanyl often struggle with feelings of depression and anxiety after using, among other symptoms.


7. Their personal hygiene has declined

A big sign that a loved one is struggling with addiction is if they’re not taking care of themselves anymore. This can be a sign that the thought of going to work or going to school brings them anxiety because their drug use has affected their health or ability to perform well.


8. They have a history of mental illness, or they exhibit signs of depression

Addictive substances affect brain chemistry so if your loved one has a history of mental illness, it’s more likely that they’ll struggle with addiction. If you notice they’re acting more quiet and reclusive than usual, this could be a sign they’re depressed and trying to self-medicate.


Additional tips on how to help your loved ones battling addiction


  • Don’t be afraid to ask for professional help. When you’re not sure if your loved one needs help, don’t hesitate. They may not know that they need help or they might be aware but aren’t ready – either way, the sooner you get them the care they need, the better it will be for everyone.


  • Ask about what’s going on in their life, this includes both good and bad things. This will allow you to assess what is causing them stress or anxiety and how you can help out. Sometimes people start drinking because of a difficult event like the death of a loved one; other times, people start drinking because they are hungover from work each day.


  • Reach out when you’re concerned. If you notice any signs of substance use, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask them what’s going on and if they need help. It may be difficult for your loved one to hear that you’re concerned, but it’s important that they know someone is observant enough to catch the warning signs of addiction so they can get help.


  • Take them seriously if they come to you for help. If your loved one does ask for help, don’t be afraid to take them seriously and do everything in your power to make sure they get the treatment they need. Provide unconditional support because it can be difficult for someone who is abusing substances to reach out on their own without feeling judged or embarrassed.


  • Don’t attempt to take control of their problem for them, even if they ask you to do so. If your loved one asks to be “taken care of,” don’t step in and try and manage the situation yourself – it will likely backfire and cause more problems than you could have ever imagined.


  • You should never cut them off. This action will discourage them from getting help because they’ll do anything to get their drugs or alcohol even if you won’t support them. Instead, set boundaries about what you’re willing to do and talk about the consequences that will happen if those boundaries are crossed. You can also offer your loved one a variety of different resources that could help as well as modeling healthy coping skills for them to learn from you!

If you see any of these signs, it’s important to intervene as soon as possible before addiction takes root. Because addiction is an issue that affects the entire family, it’s critical for loved ones, friends, and even acquaintances to be aware of what red flags they should look out for when concerned about a friend or family member’s drug use.