Subtle Signs Your Loved One May Be Struggling With Substance Abuse

Although 86.4 percent of Americans over the age of 18 drink alcohol at some point during their lives, that’s not to say that every individual has the ability to drink responsibly. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 15.1 million US adults had an alcohol use disorder. The prevalence of alcoholic beverages in American society comes with massive consequences, as is evidenced by the estimated 88,000 fatalities attributed to excessive alcohol use each year.


Illicit drug usage also continues to be a problem, particularly in the United States. While marijuana continues to be the most commonly-used drug, substances like cocaine, methamphetamines, heroin, and prescription opioids are far more dangerous and physically addictive. In fact, a recent report from the surgeon general revealed that 27.1 million people were current users of illicit drugs or misused prescription drugs in 2015. Tragically, there were 70,237 drug overdose deaths in the United States during 2017.


But even though we know the abuse of drugs and alcohol is a colossal problem in our country, it’s easy for us to dismiss the idea that someone we know may be dealing with addiction. It doesn’t help that in the media, alcoholism and drug addiction is often portrayed in obvious (and sometimes inaccurate) ways. In the real world, those who struggle with addiction issues will often make every effort to hide their dependency. Many so-called “high-functioning” addicts and alcoholics may not fit the profile you’ve formed in your head. If you suspect your loved one might be abusing drugs or alcohol, you should keep a sharp eye out for these more subtle signs–and talk to him or her about potentially getting help.


Secrecy, Isolation, and Defensiveness


Addiction and alcoholism thrive on secrecy. If someone is hiding their substance use from others, this should be a red flag. An individual who drinks alone and in secret or who uses drugs in isolation will often make excuses for these behaviors, particularly when they’re questioned by loved ones. A person may even drink or do drugs prior to a night out with friends. If you’re afraid of being judged by others for your drinking or drugging and become defensive when caught or asked about it, there’s a good chance these behaviors are extremely unhealthy.


Someone who is struggling with substance dependency may also pull away from friends and family members in an effort to isolate themselves. He or she may spend more time alone, locking themselves away in a bedroom or spending more time “working.” Addicts and alcoholics may also abandon activities that they once loved because their substance abuse is all-encompassing.


No Limits and New Routines


The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines alcoholism as a chronic disease characterized by “impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking.” In other words, those who struggle with alcoholism are physically and mentally unable to drink responsibly. A person who has no addiction issues may very well be able to have just one cocktail or two beers and call it a night. But those with alcohol use disorders cannot stick to those limits, despite their best efforts. If you have a friend or loved one who can never limit their alcohol usage or seems to be requiring more drugs to achieve the desired effect, it’s entirely possible that they might not actually be able to control their usage.


A person who struggles with alcoholism, for example, may also develop new routines around their drinking. They might start drinking first thing in the morning or may make any excuse to have a drink. They may build up an increased tolerance over time and can come up with any reason to celebrate or to drown their sorrows. While having a single drink after a stressful day may not indicate the presence of substance abuse, it can be worrisome when this event becomes the norm.

Financial or Professional Issues

Often, the “high-functioning alcoholic” will have a sense of pride pertaining to how well they’re able to keep their lives together in spite of their excessive alcohol use. For most people, this ability has an expiration date. It won’t be too long before someone with alcohol or drug issues will find themselves in a precarious situation. In many cases, they may try to rely on the people closest to them to bail them out of trouble.


Maintaining a substance abuse habit can be extremely expensive. Some people who struggle with addiction issues may ask friends and family members to loan them money in order to pay rent or to help them out in other ways. If this individual is gainfully employed and can offer no explanation for their financial need, it’s possible that this contribution could be used to finance their habit (or may be needed due to recently spending too much of their own savings on drugs or alcohol). This isn’t to say that every person who asks for help has a problem with drugs or alcohol. But if your loved one asks for a large amount of money and can provide no likely explanation for their need or for their current situation, it’s possible that he or she might be struggling behind the scenes.


It’s also possible that your loved one may start experiencing problems at work. Although he or she may have once been able to juggle their professional responsibilities with his or her drug and alcohol use, those scales will eventually start to tip. If someone tends to call in sick to work on Mondays (to recover from a weekend binge) or his or her work performance is taking a nosedive, there could be some serious health issues at play. In some cases, people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction may even try to sneak their usage in while at work. As a result, there’s a huge potential for job loss.


These are certainly not the only signs of addiction and alcoholism. Changes in appearance, erratic behaviors, and even the overuse of innocuous products (like breath mints, perfumes, makeup, eye drops, or hand sanitizers) could point to substance abuse.


You can’t force your loved one to get help, as this is a decision that has to come from the person struggling. But you can talk to him or her about your concerns and discontinue any enabling behaviors. You should also consider providing them with helpful resources for information. There are many well-regarded facilities, like The Stillwater Treatment Centre, that can offer a pathway to recovery. Although your loved one may not yet be ready to admit he or she has a problem with substance abuse, you may be able to facilitate a conversation that could make all the difference.