How to Identify Addiction in a Loved One?

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By Dr. Indra Cidambi, Founder and Medical Director at Center for Network Therapy

We all want to be there for our friends and family in times of need, especially if they are struggling with something as difficult as alcohol or drug abuse. A loved one’s help and support can be crucial for someone battling with addiction. Most of the time, however, people with a substance abuse issue will not come forward themselves. As an addiction expert and psychiatrist at The Center for Network Therapy, I have been able to see a pattern in the signs exhibited by those with addiction issues. Being able to recognize these signs are very important in today’s culture of addiction and our country’s opioid epidemic. It might potentially save the life of a friend or family member.

1. Change in Behavior and Mood Swings: Substance abuse in friends or family members can often result in changes in social interactions, mood changes, problems with school or work, increase in risky behavior and mood swings. The changes in social interactions are very noticeable. If your extroverted loved one suddenly now keeps more to himself/herself and avoids eye contact it should be a concern. If he or she is now sullen, irritable or depressed, it could be a warning sign. Reckless driving, car accidents or unexplained dents in the car could also point to a problem.

2. Change in Appearance: In my experience at the Center for Network Therapy, if you do a double take when you see your loved one, chances are something is going on. Signs include a person that suddenly becomes careless about his or her clothing, has a disheveled appearance, and has a perennially runny nose. While it can be difficult to mentally accept the fact that your friend or family member is taking on the appearance of an addict, it is important to have a conversation with a loved one about their changes in appearance, especially red or glassy eyes, unexplained marks on arms or legs (long sleeves in warm weather to hide marks), and continuous scratching or picking of face and arms.

3. Avoiding Old Friends: If addiction is consuming someone’s life, they may avoid friends that they’ve had for years, as they no longer support or live with this person’s new lifestyle. In my experience, even if someone finds new friends, if they abruptly stop communicating all their old friends, this could be a cause for concern.

4. Lack of Interest in Hobbies: I have found that if you see someone no longer enjoys his or her usual activities, it may be that he or she has become pre-occupied with obtaining and using drugs or alcohol and it is taking over all aspects of their life. Hobbies they usually enjoyed or having a hobby at all seems unimportant now. Instead of receiving mental and emotional stimulation from positive activities, they could be turning to drugs and alcohol to fill the void.

5. Change in Eating Habits: Depending on the substance, your loved one can experience an array of new food habits, including binge eating, also known as the ‘munchies’, or a decrease in appetite. If you notice them skipping meals or binge eating things like sweets and junk food, it might be cause for concern. This swing in eating habits can suggest a problem and calls for a conversation.

These five tips truly apply to anyone at all. In my years at the Center for Network Therapy, I have seen so many people get help simply because their friend or family member was able to identify any of these changes in their behavior. Addiction is an issue for so many people and you never know who could be suffering. Knowing these signs can help you identify a loved one in need and help them overcome their struggle. Recognizing something as simple as a change in eating habits or social circles can potentially save your loved one’s life. Being aware and supportive rather than suspicious and judgmental can provide the comforting environment a person battling substance abuse needs to begin to help themselves.

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