It’s torture watching your loved one become consumed with drugs or alcohol and feeling like there’s just no way to get through to her. Although she insists that she’s fine and doesn’t have a problem, you know better. At least, you think you do. She’s pretty convincing, but there’s that nagging voice inside your head that keeps telling you that this is a serious problem.
You can help your loved one in a number of ways, but first you need to know the extent of the drug or alcohol problem. Does he abuse drugs or alcohol, or is he addicted? Has he become physically dependent? Understanding abuse, addiction and dependence is the first step to helping your loved one.
The Difference Between Abuse and Addiction
Abuse isn’t the same thing as addiction. You can abuse drugs or alcohol without being addicted—but abuse can lead to addiction, and it usually involves engaging in risky behaviors.
Drug abuse is the act of using any illegal drug or taking a prescription drug in a way other than as prescribed. Some people believe prescription drug abuse is safer than abusing illegal drugs, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Prescription sedatives, stimulants and painkillers are responsible for 45 percent of all overdose deaths, while cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and amphetamines combined are responsible for 39 percent.
Alcohol abuse is characterized by binge drinking, according to the Centers for Disease Control, which defines binge drinking as drinking enough alcohol in a two-hour period to raise your blood alcohol level to .08 percent. This is typically four drinks for women and five for men.
Signs of drug or alcohol abuse include using drugs or alcohol in an unsafe way that results or could result in negative consequences, such as legal troubles, relationship problems, neglecting duties at work or school or health issues.
Treatment can help your loved one get to the bottom of the issues behind the drug or alcohol abuse, and when started early enough treatment can prevent the onset of addiction.
Is Your Loved One Addicted? Signs to Look For
Addiction is characterized by engaging in compulsive drug or alcohol abuse despite negative consequences. Addiction may or may not be accompanied by physical dependence, which is indicated by the onset of withdrawal symptoms when the drug or alcohol use is discontinued.
According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, some of the signs and symptoms that your loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol include:
- Developing a tolerance that requires higher doses to get the same effects
- Losing control over the frequency or duration of drinking or drug use
- Taking risks to obtain drugs or alcohol or while under the influence, such as driving while intoxicated or having unprotected sex
- Being unable to stop using drugs or alcohol
- Experiencing intense cravings for drugs or alcohol
- Increasingly neglecting responsibilities at home, work or school
- Losing interest in hobbies
- Becoming socially withdrawn or withdrawing from loved ones
- Neglecting personal hygiene
- Behaving defensively when anyone expresses concern about the drug or alcohol abuse
- Frequent mood swings
- Continuing to use drugs or alcohol despite the problems it’s causing
- Withdrawal symptoms when drugs or alcohol are withheld
Addiction is a brain disease that causes changes in the structures and functions of the brain. Willpower is rarely enough to overcome an addiction. Successful recovery from drug or alcohol abuse or addiction almost always requires professional help.
Treatment involves a combination of therapies that help patients address the issues behind the abuse and develop coping skills and strategies to deal with cravings and high-risk situations. Therapy also helps those in recovery replace harmful thoughts and behaviors with healthier coping mechanisms.
If you’ve tried talking to your loved one about getting help for a drug or alcohol problem without success, don’t lose hope. A number of strategies have proven effective for helping families convince a loved one to seek treatment.
The most important thing right now is to educate yourself about addiction and the substances your loved one uses. The National Institute on Drug Abuse stresses the importance of family education and involvement in treatment for improving the recovery outcome of a loved one.
Chances are, you engage in certain enabling behaviors as the result of your loved one’s addiction. Enabling behaviors reinforce your loved one’s self-destructive actions and include things like making excuses for his drinking, minimizing the problem to keep the peace and protecting him from experiencing the consequences of his drug or alcohol abuse.
Counseling can help you identify harmful and unhealthy behaviors and work on ways to minimize them, which will improve your own mental health and ensure your loved one experiences the natural consequences of the addiction, which is often the impetus needed for someone to choose treatment.
Addiction is a family disease, indelibly affecting every member of the family. Join a support group to ensure you get the emotional support you need to make the necessary changes that will ideally lead to your loved one seeking help. Support groups also provide essential education and helpful resources.
Consider an Intervention
Professional intervention has a 90 percent success rate in leading an addicted individual to seek treatment. Talk to a mental health professional or contact a high-quality treatment center for more information about how professional interventions work.
The most important thing is to not give up hope. Educate yourself and utilize therapy and support groups. Do what you can to protect yourself and other family members from the devastating effects of addiction and trust that eventually your loved one will be ready to seek help.