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5 Signs Your Loved One Could Be Hiding Substance Abuse

To the untrained eye, burgeoning substance abuse issues can go unnoticed. You may notice a misstep here or something off there but we usually chalk these irregularities up to the tides of life. For the functional addict or alcoholic, you may not notice anything is off until the whole house of cards is falling down - unless you know what you’re looking for. Whether it's a friend, family member, or colleague, identifying the signs of substance abuse is crucial for offering support and intervention. Knowing when someone is struggling and aiding them in finding help could be the recovery and a life of continued suffering. Here are five key indicators to watch out for: 


Behavioral Shifts: The Tip of the Iceberg


Drugs and alcohol change how you feel. Naturally, this internal change is going to be mirrored externally. Various behavior changes may go unnoticed. Everyone’s behavior shifts from hour-to-hour, day-to-day. It’s the prolonged behavior changes or the dramatic changes which may indicate a problem. Sudden mood swings and irritability to a withdrawal from social interactions. Observing patterns of secrecy, such as avoiding discussions about their activities or being evasive about their whereabouts, can be indicative of a deeper struggle. 


Physical Clues: Read Between the Lines


The body will betray what the mind hides. Physical manifestations such as bloodshot eyes, dilated or constricted pupils, and unexplained injuries can provide valuable clues. Drug and alcohol use take their toll on the physical condition. Bloated, under-nourished, and a general road-weary look can reveal the struggles of addiction. Additionally, changes in personal hygiene, weight fluctuations, or tremors may hint at underlying substance abuse. 


Financial Fallout: Following the Money Trail


Erratic spending habits and financial distress go hand-in-hand with addiction. “Follow the money” is a popular catchphrase for a reason - it’s true. Keep an eye out for signs of financial strain, such as borrowing money all the time, selling personal items, or sudden financial crises without a reasonable explanation. Watching where someone’s money goes will tell you a lot about them and what they’re up to. 


Interpersonal Dynamics: The Ripple Effect


Perhaps one of the worst aspects of the disease of addiction is the unintended victims. Substance abuse extends beyond the individual, impacting the lives and relationships of everyone in their orbit. Pay attention to shifts in interpersonal dynamics, such as conflicts with loved ones, strained relationships, or social withdrawal. Defensiveness or hostility is common when confronted about their behavior so don’t be alarmed if someone struggling with substance abuse further isolates themselves following your conversation. This is further evidence that they are caught up in the grips of something bigger than themselves.


Coping Mechanisms: Denial and Avoidance


Addiction hijacks the brain. It literally begins to rewire the brain to encourage the continued use of drugs or alcohol. Individuals may downplay the severity of their problem, make excuses for their behavior, or deflect attention away from their substance use. Avoidance and denial may also be a way they are protecting themselves from the reality of their situation. It’s easier to live in a fantasy world than to admit the truth. Recognizing these defense mechanisms is essential for initiating constructive dialogue and fostering a supportive environment for seeking help. 


Empowering Action: What Can You Do?


  • Educate Yourself: You’re reading this blog so that’s a good start. Take the time to learn about the signs and symptoms of substance abuse, as well as available treatment options. The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to help. 

  • Initiate Dialogue: Chances are, the person you’re concerned about knows they are in over their head. Creating a safe space to talk openly in a compassionate and non-judgmental manager can go a long way. Let your loved one share their struggles without fear of punishment or judgment.

  • Offer Support: Express that you are there to support them unconditionally. This is not the same as enabling them. Encourage them to seek professional help and offer assistance in navigating treatment options.

  • Set Boundaries: Establish clear boundaries to protect yourself and dissuade enabling. Maintain healthy boundaries in the relationship. Voice your expectations and enforce consequences if necessary, while still expressing empathy and support. Remember, support does not equal enabling. 

  • Seek Professional Guidance: For most, professional addiction treatment is required to overcome substance abuse. Encourage your loved one to speak with a qualified therapist, doctor, or addiction specialist. If they are open to seeking help, offer them treatment resources or suggest trusted addiction treatment programs. Offer to accompany them to appointments and provide ongoing support throughout this process. 


Next Steps


Call Holland Pathways today to learn more about our treatment options. We welcome the opportunity to speak with you or your loved one about their situation. Together, let's pave the way for healing, recovery, and renewed hope.