Determining or how to spot drug abuse in a loved one, whether it be your offspring or a sibling, spouse, friend or colleague, is difficult given the emotional investment you’ve probably made in the relationship. Part of you is reluctant to believe such things of the person involved, and social stigma might have its way with you. People close to addicts – be they behavioural (eating disorders, gambling or sex) or substance use (pharmaceutical or recreational, ‟street‟ or fitness drugs) addicts – will, over time, develop a pathological set of coping behaviours to deal with the chaos that “your‟ addict brings with him or her. To this end, short and long term support organisations and services exist alongside primary addiction treatment to assist with this very problem – coping with an addict in one’s life.
But how to spot an addict with some degree of certainty? The first option would be to look at one’s own behaviour. Are you being uncharacteristically dishonest to “protect” an addict close to you? Is the suspected addict’s behaviour embarrassing to you? Are you suffering abnormal financial loss due to an addict’s presence in your living environment?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, there’s a good likelihood that your loved one has an addiction problem. How to spot drug abuse in a loved one: conduct a regular audit of your thoughts and behaviour in relation to the person concerned, asking yourself “Is this what normal people do?” If it isn’t, it’s time for a closer look at your suspected addict’s behaviours and attitudes.
Firstly, you will notice so called “track marks” on syringe addicts. You will also notice unusual burns and quantities thereof on the hands and forearms of smoking addicts. Then, do you notice a change in diet, excessive eating or eating less, quick spurts of weight gain or loss? Either pharmaceutical and recreational drugs, or the associated sedentary lifestyle, may cause an addict to gain weight, whilst a finance-draining drug habit or an appetite-suppressing side effect may cause weight loss. Notice the palour of the skin. Is the face drawn, skin showing a greyish tinge? Are the eyes bloodshot and the pupils enlarged, even in bright light? Does the addict look drowsy? Is there a foul, sour or smokey odour coming off of the addict? Is the addict not making eye contact with you anymore? Is he or she avoiding family or other social settings? Is speech slowed or slurred?
Then look at the company your possible addict is keeping? Can you see any of the above symptoms presenting across a spectrum of your loved one’s friends? Has he or she acquired a new set of friends lately? Is he or she being covert about his or her movements? If any of these present as a new and unusual set of behaviours, it is necessary to examine the situation further.
As for the addict him or herself, he or she will demonstrate social and psychological behaviour changes that will contribute to your determinations. The addict will demonstrate increased social discomfort marked by uncharacteristic aggression, irritability, lethargy and depression. In addition, he or she will demonstrate dramatic changes in habits and/or priorities, will present money problems and will be found to be dishonest to the point of involvement in criminal activity and complex lying patterns in social interactions.
Regrettably, if you can identify some of these questions as having positive answers, there is a good chance that your loved one has a problem with substance use or behavioural addiction. Nevertheless, you are to be congratulated for having the courage to ask the question and, furthermore, to seek answers.