Intervening Early: Understanding the Warning Signs of Substance Abuse
If you have a loved one struggling with substance use, you’re not alone. Anything from a traumatic event to work or school obligations can cause serious mental stress, leading to increased alcohol or substance use. After the social isolation associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, these problems have worsened for many people.
In 2022, more than 20 million Americans were diagnosed with substance use disorder. Whether it’s drug abuse, alcohol consumption or both, substance reliance often comes with major side effects. When left unaddressed, it can negatively impact physical well-being, worsen mental health and interfere with daily obligations, behavior and relationships.
While you might not be able to cure a loved one’s substance use, you can offer encouragement and help loved ones seek professional treatment. It can be tricky to recognize the signs of substance use, though, but recognizing helps you intervene if necessary.
What Are the Warning Signs of Substance Use?
Many people who use drugs and alcohol attempt to mask these habits from their loved ones, which can make substance use hard to catch. That being said, there are warning signs you can look out for. These signs can be physical, emotional and behavioral.
Sometimes, people’s appearance and physical health indicate whether they have a substance use problem. Here are some common signs:
- Poor hygiene and grooming habits
- Sudden weight changes
- Slurred speech
- Shakes and tremors
- Constant sniffling or runny nose
- Bad breath or noticeable odors
- Bloodshot eyes
- Poor motor skills
In addition to monitoring appearance, keep an eye out for any emotional or psychological changes. These may include the following.
- Sudden paranoia or anxiety
- Random bursts of energy
- Unexplained mood or personality changes
- Increased irritability
- Temper tantrums
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Decreased motivation
Behavioral changes are a key indication that someone is going through substance use. People commonly adapt their day-to-day routines to accommodate alcohol or drug use. While behavior varies from person to person, many people exhibit the following signs.
- Lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities or hobbies
- Ignoring responsibilities such as work or school requirements
- Difficulty concentrating on or engaging in conversations
- Getting into fights or legal issues
- Financial problems
- Social isolation or changing friend groups
- Changes in sleep schedule
How Do You Help Someone With Substance Use Disorder?
From poor hygiene and weight changes to mood swings and financial issues, there are many warning signs of substance use disorder. If you believe someone is struggling with addiction, it’s important to intervene early. The sooner you take action, the sooner you can help your loved one achieve recovery. Let’s examine some key ways to provide support.
Have a Conversation
One way to help someone with substance use is by having an open, honest conversation. Of course, it’s a delicate subject. Many people feel ashamed or guilty about their substance use, which may make them reluctant to discuss it. Here are a few tips on how to navigate this conversation.
Emphasize support: The last thing you want is for your loved ones to feel attacked or judged. Avoid lecturing or criticizing them. Instead, focus on being supportive. Let them know you’re concerned and that you’re here to help them.
Listen: Give your loved ones a chance to share their feelings without interruption. Active listening is a great way to show someone you care and to build trust.
Ask questions: If you’re unsure how to help your loved ones, asking them is a great place to start. See if there’s anything in particular they need from you.
While having a conversation can help, it won’t cure someone’s substance use disorder. Chances are, you’ll need to have multiple conversations and pair them with other tactics.
Host an Intervention
If your loved one isn’t listening to you, it might be helpful to stage an intervention. This involves gathering friends and family to voice their concerns. Hearing from multiple people might make your loved ones more inclined to take action. However, it’s also possible they’ll feel attacked and get defensive. Here are a few ways to help prevent this.
Choose a comfortable location: Host the intervention in a location that will make your loved one comfortable such as their home or the home of a close friend. Use your judgment, though, because some people view others coming into their homes without their permission as an invasion.
Pick the right people: The intervention should consist of people who are close to your loved ones and have their best interests at heart.
Prepare your words: An intervention isn’t a place to complain about your loved ones or discuss how their addiction has negatively affected you. Rather, it’s a place to express concerns and demonstrate support. It may be helpful to write a speech ahead of time.
The central objective of an intervention is to encourage the substance use patient to seek professional treatment.
Open, supportive conversations can positively impact someone struggling with substance use. However, professional treatment is often necessary for someone to overcome addiction. Treatment includes the following.
Rehab: During rehab, substance use patients undergo detoxification (in which they stop using the substance until they no longer have a dependency on it). As the toxins are flushed from the body, the patient may experience withdrawal symptoms and cravings. The stronger the addiction is, the worse symptoms will be. Depending on the patient’s needs, rehab may be done in a 24/7 residential facility or through an outpatient program.
Counseling: Many people turn to substances to cope with something going on in their personal lives. Thus, eliminating the substance doesn’t necessarily alleviate mental stress. Speaking to a professional can help substance use patients understand the root of their addiction and improve their overall wellness.
Ongoing support: Joining a community of people who have also struggled with substance use can provide support and lower the risk of relapse. Many former substance use patients join groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.
What Causes Substance Use Disorder?
There’s no single cause when it comes to substance use. However, there are risk factors that may make someone more likely to develop the disorder.
Genetics: Children who witness parents or family members use drugs may be more likely to develop a drug dependency themselves.
Environment: Environmental stresses such as a difficult job, heavy schoolwork or social conflict can encourage substance use.
Mental health conditions: Having a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression can lead to drug or alcohol usage.
Low self-esteem: There is a correlation between low self-esteem and substance use.
Trauma: People may use substances to cope with a traumatic event such as being abused as a child.
Just like there are different causes, there are various stages of substance use. These include experimental use (experimenting with substances recreationally), regular use (using substances periodically) and problem use (using substances frequently so that they interfere with day-to-day life). Any of these stages have the potential to lead to addiction, meaning the person is dependent on substances and cannot get through the day without them.
When it comes to choosing a treatment center, it’s important to pick one that offers multiple areas of support and that caters to your loved one’s unique needs. At Topsail Addiction Treatment, we offer a team of licensed professionals that can create a personalized treatment plan based on medical history, personality and goals. We offer a wide variety of programs, including full- and partial-day hospitalizations, outpatient support and intervention services. We aim to help patients take back their lives and achieve recovery.
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