Drug addiction or substance abuse is a traumatizing experience for both the person afflicted by it and the people affected by his or her drug addiction. The incidence of substance abuse has not shown any significant decline over several decades. It has been put on top of the priority list for community health professionals and policy makers. Like in the recent case of a celebrity being lost to the horror of an untimely death from substance abuse, the tragedy of this phenomenon is that it is a hidden disease, with commonly visible symptoms manifesting only when it is too late.
How do you determine if your loved one is in the grip of drug addiction or substance abuse? What are the signs that you can look for to prevent it from escalating into a full blown family tragedy. Keep in mind that you are dealing with a condition that is progressive and life threatening, one that is characterized by denial. If you confront the person with your suspicion, he or she will deny that there is a problem. It is rare that a person with this problem will come forward and seek help. Here are some of the common warning signs that you can look out for that will help you come up with a sufficiently early intervention and save a life in the process.
1. Breakdown of Personal Discipline and Structure
Look out for changes in schedule, hygiene and appearance. The addict will tend to have visible changes in their daily structure, with a gradual break down of sleep and eating patterns, neglect of hygiene, and abnormal weight gain or weight loss. An indifference towards personal appearance will develop, sometimes associated with behaviors like body piercing, tattoos, and other counter culture symbols.
The addict will tend to avoid people who are not directly involved in the drug procuring or drug using behavior. He or she will spend minimal time with the family, usually only for food or money. He will avoid any discussion about his deviant or abnormal behavior.
3. Mood Swings and Unpredictability
The addict tends to lose control and perspective over his or her emotions. The compounded stress of functioning under the influence of the drug, coping with periodic withdrawals, obtaining money to fund the habit, and handling the usually illegal process of procuring the drug, along with the guilt, shame and fear of being confronted causes the addict to hide behind a cocoon of volatile emotions. The slightest of provocation, sometimes no provocation, can trigger off an emotional outburst ranging from anger and hostility to introversion and depression.
4. Psychological Problems
Apart from emotional instability, drugs also distort the functioning of the mind. The addict may experience hallucinations, delusional thinking, irrational and extreme phobias, and hear voices.
Typically, addicts will keep changing friends and developing new friends, both addicts and non addicts. To the addict in the throes of dependence or addiction, a thing like the drugs he takes becomes more important than people, and people become things to be used in order to get the drug. This accounts for the poor relationship skills of an addict. If you see a suddenly cycling of friends in your loved one, you may be looking at the beginnings of an addictive cycle.
6. Drop in Functioning Levels
At school, the addict may start missing classes, be truant, or start performing poorly. Teachers often notice such behaviors before the family. If you are worried about your loved ones, take time out to speak with the teachers to see if they have noticed anything.
7. Physical symptoms
Most drugs cause visible symptoms, such as dilated pupils, slurred speech, difficulty focusing or concentrating, giggling or hysterical fits, lack of coordination, extremes of activity, either hyperactivity or extreme lethargy, extreme talkativeness or reticence and being withdrawn, reddened or watery eyes, scars or needle marks on the extremities, runny nose, etc.
8. Disappearing Money and Valuable Objects
Drugs cost large amounts of money. Most often it is much more than the addict has access to personally. You may start noticing money or household object going missing. With the progression of the condition, the addict will not hesitate to steal money or valuable objects from the homes of friends and relatives too.
9. Secrecy and Privacy
The addict will want to spend greater amounts of times in private, often locking the door, or using the bathroom in order to indulge in the habit. They will be secretive about their activities and whereabouts, often retaliating in a hostile manner if confronted repeatedly about it.
Look out for objects used for ingesting drugs, such as syringes, needles, spoons, lighters, foils, paper pipes, clay pipes, improvised smoking equipment like water bongs, clips to hold rolled joints with, etc. Be on the lookout for unusual odors in the room, in bathrooms, on the clothes, and in the breath of the addict. Many forms of drugs are smoked or vaporized as part of the ingestion process, so look out also for smells that seem like something was burned. Addicts also often use incense or perfumes to try and mask these odors, so that would be an indicator too.
Keep an open mind regarding the fact that drug addiction is not a moral deficiency but a complex disorder that requires a combination of compassion, professional expertise and a willingness to take tough decisions in order to be effectively addressed. The addict is already forced to cope with the entire guilt and shame of his or her behavior, no matter how difficult it may be for you to see. Do not attempt an intervention without consulting with a certified addiction professional. Seek out support groups that are in place for families and loved ones of addicts. Your suspicions might in the end turn out to be unfounded. If you persist in pushing ahead with your false assumptions, you may destroy the trust that is essential between two people who love each other. If your suspicions turn out to be true, seek professional guidance at the earliest, as addiction is a condition where one never knows when the line between life and death might get crossed.