Caring for a loved one struggling with addiction is an incomparably difficult and thankless job. It is a complicated, winding road to recovery, and helping to get someone there requires unconditional love, patience and understanding.
November is National Family Caregivers Month. We sat down with our Vice President of Clinical Services, Lisa Blanchard, MA, LMHC, to discuss how you can identify the early warning signs of addiction in those around you, and what can be done to intervene.
Blanchard’s main advice, if you expect somebody may be dealing with a substance use disorder, is to watch out for any and all markable changes in their life – strained relationships, legal problems, financial problems, accidents, DUIs or run-ins with the law, school or work problems, and mood changes.
Mood changes are subtler than a DUI or lost job, though paying close attention could help you identify the issue before it becomes more serious. Some things to look out for, when it comes to illegal drug use, include:
- Euphoria or moodiness (extremely happy for no apparent reason, mood changes quickly)
- Nodding (chin on chest, sleepy, slow to respond) or eye rolling (the eyes start to roll back)
- Itching up and down arms
- Pinned pupils (you can see pinkish color on the bottom of the eye)
- In and out of the bathroom often
- Flu-like symptoms, leg cramps, sweats, chills (this may be withdrawal)
- Up all night and sleeping all day, irregular sleep habits
- Weight loss, irregular eating habits
- Dark circles under the eyes
- Small empty zip lock baggies found/paper folded with waxy substance
- Straws cut in half, empty pens (for snorting), spoons missing
- Loose change with powder substance on it (used to crush pills)
And pay attention to dishonesty, no matter how insignificant – particularly about where they have been and why.
If your loved one is displaying any of the above signs, there is a course of action available to you.
First, make it known to all members of the family that substance abuse is unhealthy and unacceptable.
Next, join a support group. It is imperative that you understand you are not alone and find an outlet to discuss the situation with people who understand.
Finally, become knowledgeable about the services available in your area. Locate recovery programs, read reviews, and prepare for the day your loved one is ready for help. It’s important to be open to all paths to recovery – inpatient, outpatient, 12-step programs and/or medication-assisted treatment.
It will be helpful in the short- and long-term to be involved in their treatment and recovery plan, but remember that you cannot control someone else’s behavior, and it is not your fault.
If a treatment is unsuccessful the first time, be open to a non-linear recovery path and know that the next time may be different. Recovery is always possible.