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Signs of Addiction

Do you suspect you or someone you know may be suffering from an addiction? Signs of addiction may include:

  • Erratic behavior
  • Difficulty meeting responsibilities or obligations previously met
  • Money or valuables disappearing from the home
  • Pain pills disappearing
  • Hollowed out pens
  • Burn marks on the tips of pens
  • Burnt spoons
  • Changes in mood, attitude, or concentration
  • Anxiety that appears unrelated to a specific event or concern
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, or activities
  • Changes in physical appearance (weight loss, scabs and sores, tremors, bloodshot or glassy eyes)
  • Change in friends or spending time with friends who have unhealthy behaviors
  • Odd sleeping patterns
  • Your instinct tells you to be worried, even if you don't know why, and it tells you more than once

Nine Things to Do When Your Loved One Has an Addiction

1. Remember that addiction has hijacked your loved one's brain … And their personality too.

This is why they steal from you, commit crimes, and keep using, despite so many horrible consequences. Their next high seems more important than the people they love, and the people who love them. This is why there are only glimpses of the person you used to know.

Understand that part of your anger toward your loved one is actually grief. You simply miss them.

2. Seek treatment.

Explore treatment options. Ask the right questions (see Finding the Best Treatment).

When a window of opportunity arises and your loved one is willing to consider treatment, be ready to make a phone call immediately before that window closes.

3. Give yourself permission to struggle with decisions.

 Do I turn my son into the police? Should I kick my daughter out of the home? Should I pay for treatment again?

Oftentimes doing what’s best for your loved one seems counterintuitive to your instincts to love and protect them. Although friends and family members will be quick to tell you what you should do, it’s very different when you are actually in the situation – and not watching from the sidelines.

However, you don't have to make these decisions alone. Talk with a professional who will help you weight your options and their potential consequences.

What’s most important is that you make decisions you can live with, regardless of what happens.

4. Understand that relapse is part of treatment.

And because of that, it's like walking a tightrope to find the right balance between hope and fear.

Think of addiction treatment as similar to treatment for cancer. If it's caught early, maybe a single episode of treatment can eradicate the disease. But if the disease is more advanced, you may need multiple treatments; and even after a period of remission, a recurrence of the disease is still a concern.

But unlike treatment for cancer, treatment for addiction always strengthens the body and mind – and never weakens it.

5. Get involved with treatment.

Addiction affects every family member differently. Tragically, addiction can tear relationships apart. If you love someone who has an addiction, you are likely living in fear. You or others in your family may be experiencing depression or anxiety.

Furthermore, different coping styles as well as different beliefs about how to handle the situation can strain partnerships and marriages. Even if your loved one isn’t involved in treatment, and perhaps especially if they’re not, be sure you’re doing the right things – healthy things – to take care of yourself and your family.

6. Don't punish yourself for not having seen it right away.

There are reasons we don't necessarily find out about a loved one's addiction until it is firmly entrenched. Some people can simply fly under the radar for a long period of time. Of those who don't, the initial changes are so gradual, the initial symptoms so subtle, that there are a dozen other explanations for their behavior. These explanations are so valid they seem like the logical conclusion.

Furthermore, when we talk with our loved ones about our concerns, they give us those dozen other explanations. They tell us not to worry. They tell us it's nothing serious. It's temporary. Just stress. Or it’s just a normal part of adolescence.

And while we have nagging doubts, we believe them. We believe them because at the time there is as much evidence, if not more, that it's not an addiction as there is evidence that it is.

Believing them, by the way, is what we do for people we love: We trust them and have faith in them. It is the cornerstone of intimate and loving relationships.

So, of course you didn't see it right away. It may seem clear in hindsight, but in the early stages of addiction, there’s simply no way you could have known.

7. Don't blame yourself.

Everyone can improve as a parent, a friend, or a relative. Looking at how you’ve fulfilled these roles – with an eye toward making changes in the future – is a healthy thing. Continually blaming yourself is not.

We don't yet fully understand why some people are more vulnerable to addiction than others. We do understand, however, that despite our best efforts, people from healthy homes can still develop an addiction.

8. Fight the stigma.

Addiction doesn’t develop because of moral weakness or lack of character. Whether it’s standing silently firm in your beliefs, or correcting a friend's or family member's erroneous beliefs, or testifying to the legislature for parity in insurance coverage for treatment – fight the stigma.

9. Realize there are things you can do.

One of the worst feelings to experience is helplessness. It’s unlikely you're going to be able to cure your loved one’s addiction. And – unless the loved one is a minor – you can't force them into treatment.

But you can become educated. You can think differently about addiction. You can make decisions that, while they won’t feel comfortable, will seem right.

You can provide support while maintaining boundaries. And you can love them.