The disease of addiction does not discriminate. Drug and alcohol addiction crosses every boundary of gender, age, race, geography and socio-economic status. People suffering from addiction can appear perfectly normal, with jobs, families and other responsibilities that convey a life which is humming along smoothly.
Facing the truth can be painful when you or someone you care about show signs of addiction. It’s natural to cling to denial, especially since most people who suffer from addiction are skillful at masking their reality.
What further complicates matters is that addiction is often accompanied by mental health issues. Research by NAMI has shown that 50.5% of the 20.2 million adults in the U.S. who experience a substance use disorder in a given year have a co-occurring mental illness, including disorders such as depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, mental health and addiction can easily become entwined, exacerbating and confusing the signs of each issue.
Addiction usually deepens over time, so it’s important to recognize the signs as early as possible and find treatment.
For loved ones, be watchful for problems at school or work, whether a sudden disinterest in school activities or work, or a drop in performance; physical changes in health such as weight loss or gain, a lack of energy or motivation, or red eyes; neglected appearance and a lack of interest in grooming; changes in behavior such as increased secrecy and a shift in relationships; and financial issues, such as sudden requests for money or money that is missing from your home.
There is a broad consensus around the symptoms associated with addiction. Here are the signs to look for with opioid and alcohol addictions, as articulated by the Mayo Clinic and the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD):
- Loss of control: Drinking or drugging more than a person wants to, for longer than they intended, or despite telling themselves that they wouldn’t do it this time.
- Uncontrollable urges: Having intense urges for the drug that block out any other thoughts.
- Increased use: Taking larger amounts of the drug over a longer period of time than you intended.
- Compiling: Making certain that you maintain a supply of the drug.
- Neglecting other activities: Spending less time on activities that used to be important (hanging out with family and friends, exercising, pursuing hobbies or other interests) because of the use of alcohol or drugs; drop in attendance and performance at work or school.
- Risk-taking: More likely to take serious risks in order to obtain one’s drug of choice.
- Spending: Spending money on the drug, even though you can't afford it.
- Crossing boundaries: Doing things to get the drug that you normally wouldn't do, such as stealing.
- Relationship issues: People struggling with addiction are known to act out against those closest to them, particularly if someone is attempting to address their substance problems; complaints from co-workers, supervisors, teachers or classmates.
- Ignoring damage: Continuing to use the drug, even though you know it's causing problems in your life or causing you physical or psychological harm.
- Secrecy: Going out of one’s way to hide the amount of drugs or alcohol consumed or one’s activities when drinking or drugging; unexplained injuries or accidents.
- Changing appearance: Serious changes or deterioration in hygiene or physical appearance – lack of showering, slovenly appearance, unclean clothes.
- Family history: A family history of addiction can dramatically increase one's predisposition to substance abuse.
- Tolerance: Over time, a person's body adapts to a substance to the point that they need more and more of it in order to have the same reaction.
- Commitment to drug: Spending a good deal of time getting the drug, using the drug or recovering from the effects of the drug.
- Inability to stop: Failing in your attempts to stop using the drug.
- Withdrawal: As the effect of the alcohol or drugs wear off the person may experience symptoms such as: anxiety or jumpiness; shakiness or trembling; sweating, nausea and vomiting, insomnia, depression, irritability, fatigue or loss of appetite and headaches.
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) presents some symptoms specific to alcohol use. NCADD has outlined the following symptoms of alcoholism:
- Blackouts: Temporary blackouts or memory loss.
- Irritability: Recurrent arguments or fights with family members or friends as well as irritability, depression, or mood swings.
- Alcohol as an emotional crutch: continuing use of alcohol to relax, to cheer up, to sleep, to deal with problems, or to feel "normal."
- Physical symptoms: flushed skin and broken capillaries on the face; a husky voice; trembling hands; bloody or black/tarry stools or vomiting blood; chronic diarrhea.
- Secret drinking: drinking alone, in the mornings, or in secret.
It can be hard for loved ones to understand that opioid and alcohol addictions are chronic relapsing diseases which alter the brain chemistry of the person suffering. When someone is in the grip of this disease, they’ll often go to any length to continue their use and fend off efforts to help. Treatment through outpatient addiction medicine can help those suffering from alcohol and opioid addictions feel “normal” again, often within a relatively short period of time, so that they can address the full range of their recovery needs.
If you’re concerned about yourself or someone you love, contact us for more information on medication-assisted treatment. Go to www.cleanslatecenters.com to find the center nearest you. Call or walk in today.
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