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The signs of addiction are not always easy to detect, even for professionals trained in substance abuse treatment. Addiction is characterized by strong elements of deceit and denial, and people who abuse drugs or alcohol can become very adept at hiding the evidence of substance abuse. At the same time, family members and friends may deny that a problem exists because they are afraid of facing the truth about their loved one, or because they worry that if they confront the individual about the problem, the person will get angry or the behavior will become worse.
In reality, reaching out to someone who needs addiction treatment can make a positive difference in the course of the disease. Statistics on drug and alcohol abuse indicate that intervening on behalf of someone you care about could even save that person’s life:
A person who is addicted to alcohol or drugs may not be physically or psychologically capable of taking the first steps to enter rehab. Addiction can interfere with judgment and decrease motivation, making it difficult to make healthy, life-affirming choices. Until the individual has been through detox and is no longer under the influence of intoxicants, a loved one may need to make decisions on the person’s behalf.
Drugs affect the body in different ways, depending on their chemical properties and the individual’s response to the substance. Listed below are a few of the most common physical symptoms caused by the major substances of abuse:
In general, people who abuse drugs and alcohol acquire an unhealthy appearance. They often suffer from loss of appetite, loss of sleep, and lack of fluids. They may wear clothing that hides the evidence of drug use, such as needle marks, sores, bruises, and excessive weight loss. Dark glasses can conceal pinpoint pupils or large, dilated pupils. Over time, self-neglect will lead to serious health conditions, such as liver disease, heart problems, kidney failure, cancer, or digestive problems.
The physical signs of addiction may point to a serious problem, but they are rarely the only signs that a person needs help. Drugs and alcohol can change every aspect of an individual’s appearance, behavior, personality, and general outlook on life. They can also cause noticeable impairment in a person’s ability to do work, perform at school, or participate in social activities.
Drugs and alcohol alter the way an individual thinks and feels. Substance abuse can affect a person’s judgment, making the person take dangerous risks or choose self-destructive habits over healthy activities. An individual whose outlook on life was once optimistic and positive may become depressed, hopeless, and even suicidal. Severe depression, angry outbursts, delusional beliefs, and suicidal thoughts are signs that the individual urgently needs professional help.
Some of the most common behavioral and psychological changes caused by substance abuse include:
When a loved one needs substance abuse treatment, that person will probably be the last one to admit it. Waiting for a loved one to be ready for rehab could put that person at risk of overdose, self-harm, or serious drug-related health problems. While an honest, straightforward discussion of addiction may help to open up the possibility of treatment, it may not be enough to get the individual into rehab. An intervention may be what it takes to persuade a friend or family member to seek help.
At an intervention, relatives, friends, coworkers, and other concerned parties gather to confront the addicted person about the substance abuse. A therapist or professional intervention specialist may be involved to help organize the meeting for optimal outcomes. Interventions are prearranged and rehearsed, but the subject of the meeting is usually not informed ahead of time. This element of surprise helps to overcome denial and keeps the individual from avoiding the confrontation.
As part of the intervention, the individual is usually presented with a treatment plan, which the person has the choice to accept. However, there are consequences to refusing treatment, such as losing custody of children, facing the end of a relationship, or being denied certain privileges in the home.
Whether you decide to approach your loved one individually, or hold an organized intervention, it is important to be as objective and nonjudgmental as possible. In spite of the emotional pain, financial problems, and legal difficulties that addiction can cause, it is crucial to remember that these are the effects of a chronic, progressive disease. With the help of a comprehensive recovery plan that includes detox, rehab, and aftercare, it is possible for the person to overcome substance abuse and achieve health and balance in life.
It’s Never Too Late to Get Help