With the recent death of Whitney Houston, people that we care about and that we are concerned might have a substance abuse problem may be on our minds. Below you will find a list of signs of substance abuse and dependence, as well as suggestions related to how to help a friend or family member about whom you are concerned. The National Institute on Drug Abuse also has an extensive website with more information related to these issues at www.nida.nih.gov.
Signs of Substance Abuse or Dependence
Work or academic difficulties, e.g. substance related absences from work or declining grades
Problems in relationships with family or friends
Loss of control or impulsive behavior, such as engaging in destructive behavior or sustaining injuries
Person engaging in behavior that she or he later regrets
Decrease in formerly pleasurable activities such as hobbies
“Out of character” behavior or personality changes
Spending time with friends who abuse substances
Physical signs, such as bloodshot eyes, slurred or racing speech
Actually being intoxicated or high
Using substances to cope with problems
Substance use in dangerous situations such as driving
Passing out (becoming unconscious) or blacking out (experiencing memory loss)
Continued use of substances despite numerous negative consequences
Experiencing tolerance (needing to use more of the substance for the same effect or using the same amount and getting less effect)
Experiencing withdrawal (physical symptoms such as tremors, seizures, nausea, hangovers, etc.) if the person stops using or decreases the amount of substance use, or needing to continue using in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms
Substance being used in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than the person intended
Person attempts to and fails to cut down or control use of substance/s
A great deal of time and effort is spent on acquiring and using substance/s
Person denies that he or she has a problem
How To Help When Someone You Love Has A Substance Abuse Problem
Be aware of the warning signs of substance abuse (see list above)
Gather information about local treatment resources (The National Institute on Drug Abuse has a treatment facility locater), as well as AA or NA support groups near the person about whom you are concerned.
Choose a time and private place when the person is sober to talk with them about your concerns.
Talk to the person on an individual basis, rather than staging an “intervention.” Most people will become more defensive when confronted by a group.
Be nonjudgmental, clear, and consistent in your approach,
Discuss specific behaviors about which you are concerned.
Share your feelings about the person and how her or his behavior has affected you, e.g. “I felt hurt when you were drunk at that party and yelled at me, because I care about and am worried about you and value our friendship.”
Set limits on behavior that you will not tolerate.
Be a good role model by living a healthy lifestyle.
Do not hesitate to inform other friends, family, or professionals especially if the person is in any kind of danger, e.g. suicidal or engaging in other reckless behavior.
Do not be surprised if the person denies a problem or is defensive. You can still be helpful by letting them know that you care, giving them the feedback that you are aware that something is wrong, and offering them treatment resources.
Know that while the person may not respond positively at the time, you are planting the seed that people are concerned and that there is help available.
Be aware of your boundaries and limits. You cannot control another person or force them to get help. You can only offer your concern and support. The rest is up to the individual.
Consider counseling or Al Anon for yourself, as dealing with an addicted friend or family member can be extremely stressful.