Sometimes addiction is obvious. It looks like countless empty liquor bottles, DUIs, and blacking out regularly. It looks like crushed pills on the bathroom counter and hidden spoons in the bedroom. It looks like plummeting grades and shattered relationships. Other times, addiction isn’t so clear cut. Many individuals struggling with addiction become so good at hiding their addiction that those around them fail to notice what is really going on. When it is finally brought to light, their loved ones are left to wonder, “How could I not have known? How did I not see the signs?” But the truth is that it is hard to spot the signs if you don’t know what you are looking for.
If you suspect that a loved one is abusing drugs or alcohol, don’t dismiss the following:
1. They Have No Limits
Maybe you’ve noticed that your loved one has one beer after another, or that they open a new bottle of wine immediately after finishing the previous one. It’s easy to dismiss this person’s behavior as “social drinking” or simply “treating themselves,” especially if they don’t stumble around or blackout, but drinking excessive amounts of alcohol could signal a substance abuse problem. If you notice that they drink heavily or that they have developed a high tolerance for alcohol, you might want to suggest that they cut back. If they can’t stop drinking in such large quantities, there is a good chance that they are indeed struggling with addiction.
2. They Make Lots of Excuses
Addicted individuals often become adept at lying. This is not because they are purposely trying to hurt you, but because it is the only way that they can keep their addiction going. Start paying careful attention to your loved one’s excuses. Are they overly elaborate? Are they constantly excusing the same behavior? Maybe your loved one told you that they have to get a new doctor because the old one shorted them on their prescription, or because someone stole their pills—recognize these as red flags. Sure, either scenario could have actually happened, but it most likely didn’t. Don’t let your love for them blind you from what is really going on.
3. They Are Not Around
Sometimes the reason why addiction goes unnoticed is because there is no one around to see it. Pay attention to all changes in your loved one’s behavior, not just the blatantly negative ones. While a lot of people struggling with addiction experience severe changes in mood and personality, even minor changes could be cause for concern. Does it seem like your loved one is never around? Are they spending more time in the bathroom than normal? Do they lock themselves in their room or basement more often than usual? Are they taking longer to get home from work? These might sound like trivial things, especially when your loved one has excuses to justify them, but they can also mean that your loved one is sneaking away to use without the fear of being caught.
4. They Are Less Responsible
Money is a tricky thing to talk about, even if you are family. You might not know exactly what your loved one’s financial situation is. However, if you pay careful attention, you can still spot changes in their spending. Did they suddenly stop eating out at fancy restaurants? Did they trade in their vehicle for a less expensive one? Are they dressing differently? Have they suddenly given up their cable or internet? Are there unopened bills in the trash? Did their phone get mysteriously cut off? Are they selling a lot of their belongings? While these could all just be signs of becoming more frugal with money, they can also be signs of addiction.
On their own, these signs might not be cause for concern, but it is crucial that they don’t go ignored. If you suspect that your loved one might be struggling, pay close attention to their mood and behavior. Addiction has a way of sneaking up on you, and paying attention to all the subtle warning signs could help you stop a problem before it gets worse.
While it is never too late to get help, sooner is always better. So if you think that your loved one might be using, talk to them. Let them know that you are there for them and that you will help them every step of the way. For many, this isn’t an easy conversation to have, but it is a necessary one that could save your loved one’s life.