Addiction changes everything. Relationships are strained to the breaking point. It is not easy for a doctor to accurately identify addiction. It is even more difficult for the general public. Close relationships also complicate the correct diagnosis of addiction. We want to see the best in the people we care about. Emotional compromise makes poor judges of us all.
Even after you suspect someone of being chemically addicted, there is still the problem of deciding what to do about it. Do you take a hard-line, zero-tolerance stance? Or do you take a less active role and risk becoming an enabler? Addiction makes a mess of everything. To navigate these murky waters, one must first recognize the signs as early as possible:
Signs of Addiction
The first sign may be that the addict is having symptoms. Medical News Today makes this distinction between signs and symptoms:
A symptom is something the patient senses and describes, while a sign is something other people, such as the doctor notice. For example, sleepiness may be a symptom while dilated pupils may be a sign.
Factors such as genetics, and the substance to which a person is addicted determine what symptoms one might expect. Researching symptoms of various types of addiction would be helpful. Most importantly, listen to the symptoms the addicted party talks about. If there is a strong occupation between these symptoms and addiction, it is a sign you don’t want to ignore.
Other signs include:
- The inability to stop taking the substance
- Withdrawal symptoms
- Social and recreational sacrifices
- Risk taking
- Secrecy and solitude
- Unexplained financial difficulties
- Problems maintaining relationships
Individually, none of these signs are enough to determine if a loved one is addicted to a substance. Some people just make bad choices regarding drugs and alcohol. But taken together, any three of these signs might be reason enough to take the next step.
Withdrawal Is a Good Sign
Of all the signs of addiction, withdrawal is the best one for two reasons:
Withdrawal might indicate that the addicted party is trying to get off the substance. Even if they are not successful, it makes them a perfect candidate for treatment.
Withdrawal symptoms are relatively easy to spot, making the diagnosis of addiction that much more certain.
Depending on the substance, here is what the withdrawal process looks like:
Sedative-hypnotics including benzodiazepines and barbiturates – psychomotor dysfunction, autonomic dysfunction, nausea, vomiting, body pain, tremors, irritability, and anxiety.
Gamma-Butyrolactone – autonomic instability and prolonged psychotic symptoms are typical of this type.
Opioids – flu-like symptoms such as sneezing, tiredness, stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea, chills, leg cramps.
Stimulants – dysphoria, excessive sleeping, hunger, and psychomotor dysfunction, depression
So you have observed the signs, and are pretty sure someone you care about is addicted to a substance. Now what? This is where things get tricky. There are no easy answers. The NIH provides some helpful advice on subjects ranging from, what to do if your loved one refuses to cooperate, to what to do in the event of a relapse.
The first thing you have to do is determine if you and your family are safe. Substance abusers can turn violent when confronted. Naturally, this depends on the individual. Once your safety is established, you will want to bring up your concerns and suggest a more official evaluation by a medical professional. Non-cooperation is not an option. If they refuse even to be professionally evaluated despite your reasonable concerns. There may be deeper relational issues beyond substance abuse. It is not necessary that you insist on treatment, just an official evaluation to see if treatment is indicated.
Beyond these initial steps, follow the advice of your chosen medical professional. Addiction is a medical disease, regardless of how it may look to the layman. Getting your loved one under the care of a medical professional is the most important thing you can do.