Addiction is a cruel master, it is said. Like most behavioral health disorders, it impacts not only the sufferer, but their loved ones. Over 21 million Americans have at least one addiction, yet only 10% of them receive treatment. Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 are most likely to use addictive drugs and more than 90% of people who have an addiction started to drink alcohol or use drugs before they were 18 years old. (1)
Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
It is important, to be honest with yourself about signs you may have observed in the potentially addicted person. Often there is a tendency to want to deny what is happening. Loved ones of addicts may find themselves choosing to believe lies and accepting excuses because they are frightened of the truth. Enabling behavior is another dangerous pitfall. Enabling consists of doing things that may be well-intentioned, but instead, help the addict continue his or her destructive behavior. It can take the form of giving them money, covering for their behavior, or anything else that insulates them from the consequences of their actions. The focus must always be on getting the addict real help for their problem, rather than putting out the fires while they continue to use.
Here are some questions you can ask to help determine if your loved one may be an addict:
- Have you seen a profound change in behavior over just weeks or months?
- Is the person much more secretive than usual?
- Is the person angrily defensive when asked where they’ve been or with whom?
- Are financial problems suddenly evident where none were before?
- Has the person’s health and appearance declined over weeks or months?
- Are they spending time with new friends they are reluctant for you to meet
One of these items in isolation may not be cause for immediate concern, but several together should be viewed as a red flag.
To someone not struggling with addiction, it can be incredibly difficult to understand why a person would continue these behaviors, even in the face of severe consequences. It is important to understand that addiction is a disease that disrupts logic and priorities. In the case of addiction to drugs or alcohol, the substance itself can create profound chemical changes in the brain. This can make quitting challenging even if the addict has good intentions of doing so. Fortunately, clinicians have developed treatments that can help people recover from addiction and lead productive lives. (2)
Confronting addiction takes courage. Both for loved ones and the addict themselves. The important thing is to emphasize that you support the addicted person and are willing to help, but that you will not enable or tolerate the addictive behavior continuing. When willingness is expressed, there is often a short window of time to get an addict into treatment. Be prepared so when the addict becomes open to treatment, you are ready to act. (3)
What Can Be Done?
Getting a loved one to accept help may be difficult. Avoiding enabling behavior is especially critical with an addict who is resisting help. When a loved one is resistant to treatment, family, friends, and a trained specialist can come together to stage an intervention. This is an opportunity to address the addict and convince them that accepting help, there and then, is the best option and path of least resistance. (4)
If you believe your loved one may be struggling with addiction, you do not have to face it alone. Help is available ranging from support groups to professional intervention and everything in between. Feel free to call us for guidance and information.