While we all lead busy lives, it's important to pay attention to what's going on around us -- whether it is our own family members, friends, colleagues or employees. That's because we might see the signs that someone may need our help but are too afraid to ask or admit that they are suffering with an addiction. Often a person doesn't ask for help because they can already see your indifference to them and they already know you can't or don't want to see them. Too often when drunk driving accidents occur or an overdose happens, everyone is in shock, not believing that the person they know and love was involved. This grief can be very hard to deal with.
We can help stop many of the deadly events from happening to those we love and to any potential victims just by being more aware of the possible signs of addiction. Here are 10 warning signs:
- A drastic change in appearance. These dramatic changes include sudden changes in weight, strange smells on breath, dilated pupils and blood-shot eyes. This also includes a lack of hygiene where you can smell they haven't showered or washed their clothes or brushed their teeth. But remember, the change does not have to be dramatic. It may be long times of hair not being combed or fixed, (like hair left frizzy all the time now, when it used to be smooth, or hair not dyed and fix on a previous schedule (if graying). Suddenly not dressing well for work anymore. It's the change that needs to be observed. If someone used to bring muffins in to the office every Monday morning for the last two years and suddenly they don't anymore -- either it became a thankless kindness -- or something is wrong. Find out which it is.
A loss of interest in activities, including daily needs. This behavior includes losing interest in food, sleep, work, exercise and socialization. If a person starts to become antisocial, then this could mean they are depressed. Push a little harder to get them to join in -- or better yet, be available for them to talk to you. Much easier to help someone who is depressed at this point before it reveals itself as a sign that they are hiding something related to an addiction.
Forgetfulness or memory loss. While this symptom can be attributed to many things, all memory loss may need to be checked out. However, if the forgetfulness or memory loss is not explainable from deep stress or some other factor (like depression) or if the memory loss is combined with other signs on this list, it could be a sign of a drug or alcohol addiction. Again, it is easier to help someone right at the early point (talk to them, ask questions, listen to them) before something more serious begins taking place. Forgetfulness and memory loss is especially suspicious if a person starts having periods where they can't remember where they were or what they were doing.
Solicitation for money or missing funds or belongings. If a person is regularly asking you for money and doesn't have a specific reason or you realize that money or personal belongings have gone missing, then you might want to investigate further. When this behavior becomes apparent usually the trouble is already past a simple help -- but you can help by immediately alerting someone before this gets worse -- as it surely will.
Secretive behavior. When they withdraw from you and their social circle plus stop sharing information about where they are going, what they are up to, and who they are with, you will realize that you should have been talking to this person more and asking questions before it got to this point -- but it's time to start asking questions now, anyway. This is when you need to start paying even more attention, to find out why they are shutting people (especially you) out.
Unexplained health or medical concerns. Certain drugs begin to cause health or medical issues, such as nosebleeds with cocaine (and a few other substances), headaches with alcohol (and a few other substances, and skin issues with meth (with meth the skin issues usually show up as a rash which those in the trade call "speed bumps." Lots of cavities begin showing up. Other concerns might be the sudden appearance of tremors or seizures.Paranoia or other behaviors associated with mental health issues. If a person starts to develop a sudden fear of others or starts talking about strange things that don't make any sense, it's important to address these situations as soon as possible. While it's possible they may be having mental health issues that were previously not seen, this is also a sign of certain drug use that impairs certain cognitive abilities that mimic mental health issues.Disappearances. Like the secretive behavior and anti-socialism. If you find that you suddenly can't get a hold of a person for days, they stop texting or calling, they don't FB, Instagram or snapchat after you have sent them a particularly wonderful meme, then this might mean they are in hiding, ashamed, distressed, depressed - this is the time to find them before they get lost in their drug or alcohol abuse. Many addicts begin to distance themselves from their loved ones or people they are living or working with -- on a physical level, opting to stay on the street, at someone else's house or with others that share their addiction. That sudden unreliability in a person could be a serious sign they need help.
Different friends and activities. A sign that there might be an addiction risk is when you notice that a person (especially if this is your child) has a whole new group of friends and is doing different activities. While this may happen as a person grows and develops, there is also a possibility that they have found other people who are reinforcing or introducing a possible addictive substance. In a situation where you are moving to a new area while the child is in junior high or high school, the illegal smokers, alcohol users and illegal drug users are the welcoming committee -- and they are much kinder and accepting to all people -- much more so than the "right kind" of kids who already have their clicks and "peeps" in place as backup support. This will put your child in danger if they do not have a strong home support system. A wide range of emotions. If you see that a person is beginning to have an increased number of outbursts, has become more irritable, or has wide, erratic mood swings, (and this is not a 15-year-old girl) there could be a problem related to physical and mental withdrawals from drugs or alcohol when they are not being able to use at that moment. These problems can also appear as a result of their dependency on a substance. This range of emotions can also involve a roller coaster of energy where the person is hyperactive one moment and lethargic the next. Deanna Rampton relates the following story to illustrated this point: "Arriving late one night to stay with a friend, we came quietly in because it was 2 a.m. I noticed a light on in the garage. Assuming she had left it on by accident, I opened the door to turn off the light. There was her husband with his legs hooked up into the attic opening and he was doing curl-up/sit-ups as fast as anyone I have ever seen in my life. I stood there aghast. "Hi," he says cheerfully as he continues the sit-ups at the speed of light. A couple of clues here: It was 2 a.m. The sit ups were abnormally fast. The cheerful demeanor yet not stopping for a breath -- or hug, did I say two in the morning? I went in, unpacked a couple of things, washed my face and got ready for bed and read for a little while. I opened the garage door and there he still was doing sit ups - just as fast - he looked over at me and said, "Hi." When you feel something strange -- it is. This dearest of beloved persons died later of an overdose, but not before ruining many many lives, including children. I knew what it was then. I tried to get help from his family. No one would hear me. 'Oh, it would not be him! He is too good and too kind.' (Yes he was.) Are YOU listening when someone tells you something you don't want to hear about your loved one, friend or coworker? If someone talks to you about your own loved one -- please -- listen, watch, and most importantly act."
If you see a few of these signs, it may be time to approach that person. Before staging an intervention to encourage them to seek treatment, it's a good idea to just talk to them one-on-one to not scare them or make them run, shut-down or to feel like they are bad. Listen, listen, listen and don't accuse them. Offer help, and there may be a better chance that they will open up with you rather than deny.
All help for a person in this situation requires work -- action work. Stay involved and remain strong for them. There may be those that do not want your help, which means you may have to support them from afar. If you don't know any more about tough love other than the word -- don't mess with it, seek a professional who can give you direction on how to apply it. What you can focus on is the fact that you took the time and tried to help. You don't want that person to really have an excuse to give up - because they had no one. They have you. When that person you care about is ready to get help -- truly, you are the one they will contact because they know you are the one who actually cared and reached out.
In the end, each person has to admit their own addiction and take responsibility for getting the help they need -- but with your help -- they don't have to do it alone.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.