Having a loved one who is addicted to drugs, alcohol, or other substances is an incredibly difficult situation. For many families, that difficulty is compounded by their own feelings of guilt for not noticing sooner that there was a problem.
They need to remember first that an addict is first a casual user, and when doing so, the signs are not easy to spot. A young man binge drinks on Saturday night, manages to get home and into bed without being detected, and sobers up before the family sees him. It’s nearly impossible to notice something is wrong.
Once the person is truly addicted, life becomes a two-part process: Consuming the substance, and working to make sure that no one catches on.
So even though an addict might be developing right in the home, families shouldn’t feel that they have failed by not noticing. They should instead focus on finding a good source for treatment and getting the recovery process started.
With that said, there are things we can all do to make sure that a family member or friend isn’t starting down the spiral of addiction. It requires a lot of self-confidence and focus, but it carries the very real opportunity to save a life.
Here are some ways to be alert for the red flags of life:
With teens, in particular, this can be a tough one to detect. Adolescents go on growth spurts, then slow down and gain some weight. Then they take off again, burning off the accumulated fat and becoming taller, lankier, and clumsier. It can be easy to mistake for the pattern of physical effects from substance abuse.
Even in adults, we must be careful not to assume too much about physical signs. But when these changes–in any age group–are accompanied by strange behaviors, personality changes, or an overall sickly appearance, it is time to dig a little deeper.
Bear in mind that it may not be addiction. There could be an illness, workplace stress, or a medicine interaction. Either way, you should investigate.
Structure Your Time With People
Having set weekly or monthly activities can not only take away potentially problematic blocks of time, but it can also serve as an indicator for when something is wrong. The daughter who never misses family movie night and suddenly starts making other plans might need to be watched more closely.
Of course, this is a complex situation. A child who recently got a driver’s license will have a whole new world to explore and Tuesday night pork chops may not hold the same appeal as an evening at the park eating fast food with friends.
The issue is how drastically the attitude toward the activity may change; if a child loves it in January but has changed positions by February, something may be amiss. And sometimes, the desire to remain available for those family get-togethers may be just the protection someone needs to choose not to get involved in substance abuse.
You stop at a convenience store for a snack and find cash missing. Seldom-used items around the house start to disappear. New faces show up to visit. The cell phone is suddenly kept well out of view from others in the home.
People are creatures of habit, and when we see things happen around a loved one that don’t make sense, we should investigate. A person who displays a cavalier attitude about selling an item we thought they loved may have had to liquidate it to fund an addiction. The strange new people coming around may be suppliers or fellow users, as may those private text messages and phone calls.
When things happen that never happened before, and no one seems to have an explanation, it is time to increase vigilance and try to find an explanation.
These tips aren’t meant to make you paranoid or turn your family and friends into suspects. But in the hustle and bustle of life, it can be easy to miss signs that would suggest something is wrong. These tips should help you make minor adjustments to your daily routine that won’t require a conscious action on your part.
When you see something problematic, you need to handle it quickly and possibly with professional help. Find a practitioner, support group, or other expert who can help you once it becomes clear there is a problem. Take action early, while there is still time to succeed.