It can be a very troubling experience to suspect or discover that your loved one has an addiction. You might feel shocked, worried, angry, betrayed, or upset. You might take it personally or feel that it’s your responsibility. Know that when you have a loved one who has an addiction, there are ways you can help, and keeping a calm, even mind is one way to start. While you can’t necessarily decide if someone has an addiction, there are warning signs and symptoms to be on the lookout for.
Physical Signs and Symptoms
Drug and alcohol abuse is often, but not always, evident in physical form through a person’s actions, appearance, and ability to perform certain actions.
- Bloodshot eyes
- Dilated pupils
- Changes in appetite or sudden weight loss or gain
- Changes in sleep patterns—too much or too little, wrong time of day
- Unusual smells on their breath, body, or clothing
- Shaking hands
- Slurred speech
- Impaired coordination—difficulty with walking, standing, fine motor skills, etc.
Behavioral Signs and Symptoms
Drug and alcohol abuse can cause changes in a person’s behaviors and attitudes.
- Drop in attendance at work or school—missed days, late arrivals
- Drop in performance at work or school—poor grades, missed deadlines, mistakes on tasks
- Unexplained need for money—stealing, borrowing, selling possessions, financial difficulties
- Acting suspiciously or secretively
- Sudden change in friends, activities, favorite places, hobbies, or interests
- Trouble with others or the law—fighting, accidents, illegal activity
Psychological Signs and Symptoms
While you may not be able to see all of the psychological effects of drug or alcohol abuse, some of them are more apparent than others.
- Unexplained changes in personality
- Drastic negative changes in attitude
- Sudden mood swings
- Frequent bouts of irritability, angry outbursts, or sullenness
- Periods of hyperactivity, agitation, or giddiness
- Lack of motivation—spacing out, lethargy, sleepiness
- Unreasonable fear, anxiety, or paranoia
While your loved one may not display all or even any of these signs and symptoms, noticing a pattern of behavior may be a good indicator that they have developed an addiction problem. The best thing you can do is to talk to them and let them know you are aware and there to support them, not condemn them. Encourage them to seek help, but don’t force, bribe, or punish them for not doing so. Remember, you can’t change a person or their behavior. They have to want to change, and only they can do that. Be there and support them, but do not enable, argue, or allow them to harm you. Reach out for professional advice if you aren’t sure what step to take next.