According to a report released in 2016 by the American Society of Addiction Medicine, drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States; in 2015, 52,404 overdoses resulted in death.
Considering these statistics, it is vital to know the warning signs of addiction. Sure, there are the stereotypical signs of addiction, such as the incessant smell of booze on the breath or long sleeves worn in summer to cover track marks but, with the rise of odorless prescription medication, symptoms of addiction are much more ambiguous until a loved one has fallen deep.
Assessing whether a friend or loved one has an addiction is an intricate dance. Depending on the type of drug being used and the rapidity with which addiction takes over, the signs of addiction vary. If the substance is an over-the-counter drug or a prescription, the person who is using may not even understand that they are addicted. Further, addiction can occur over a long period of time, and users are oftentimes unaware that they have obtained a habit.
Trying to discern whether an adolescent is addicted to drugs or simply experiencing a normal range of mood swings and strange behavior can be especially difficult. An article in the April 2017 issue of Psychology Today reveals that prescription drug use among teenagers is more prevalent than ever before. Further, drug overdoses caused by prescription medication have surpassed overdoses caused by methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine combined. Because prescription drugs are odorless and less detectable than substances like marijuana or alcohol, it can be difficult to discern whether an adolescent is using. What’s even more alarming is that 90 percent of those addicted to prescription drugs report having started using prescription drugs in middle or high school.
Considering the national epidemic of prescription dependency and increasing rates of death, how can you tell if someone is struggling with addiction? If you are concerned about a loved one, consider the following warning signs surrounding changes in lifestyle or behavior. Keeping these signals in mind, you will have a head start in determining if a loved one is in trouble.
- Abrupt shifts in energy. If someone is using stimulants, such as methamphetamine, you may notice a sudden shift from drowsiness to alertness. On the other hand, with benzos or opioids, a person may appear suddenly lethargic or comatose. One telltale sign is sudden spikes in energy occurring in a single day.
- Change in libido. A sudden change in sex drive can be an indicator that something is going on behind the scenes. Is your partner or spouse suddenly in the mood more often? Stimulants like methamphetamine are known to increase sex-drive and frequency. A complete loss of sex-drive, on the other hand, could signal the use of downers like heroin or benzodiazepines—such as sleeping agents or anti-anxiety medications—which inhibit libido.
- Different social circle. Mutual drug use creates instantaneous bonds and, on the flipside, as drug dependency increases, old friends who do not use are abandoned. Oftentimes, friendships bound by drug use are superficial, which creates contrasts in age and other factors. If a loved one suddenly befriends someone who is much older or younger and they seem to have nothing in common, it could be that substance use is the factor that binds them.
- Sudden weight change. Weight loss is one of the more commonly known side effects of addiction. Drug use—especially of stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine—can cause rapid weight loss and an abrupt loss of appetite. Adversely, drug use can also cause the body to become bloated. Alcohol and marijuana most notably lead to junk food binges. However, it’s important to note that drug use does not always cause a noticeable change in weight.
- Change of pleasure in activities. As drug dependency becomes more frequent, interest in activities outside of doing drugs is altered. Perhaps your loved one used to play basketball once a week and now his basketball shoes are buried in the closet or that new mountain bike is slowly being coated with dust in the garage. On the other hand, stimulants could lead your teenager to lock himself in his room and work for hours on math, which in the past he could not have sat still for. Fluctuations in passions are normal, but when they spike into realms of extreme change, it might be a warning sign that a reliance on substance is to blame.
Finding out that a loved one has an addiction is not the end. Rather, it is the beginning of finding the right resources to heal. Intervening in a loving and compassionate way is essential. Valley Recovery Center offers treatment for addiction, and admissions counselors can help you decide which treatment center is right for your loved one.