Substance abuse is not always apparent, especially in the early stages. So how are you to tell if you’re curiosity about a loved one’s potential drug or alcohol is just a recreational habit, or something more dangerous?

There are different levels of substance dependencies; the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has said that the term “substance abuse” problem has been altered to “substance use disorder,” which, in turn, allows for their to be varying levels of severity to the disorder (mild, severe, etc.)  The Administration has defined substance abuse (or substance use disorders) to be the “recurrent use of alcohol and/or drugs causes clinically and functionally significant impairment, such as health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school, or home.”

Substance abuse can be masked in the beginning by symptoms such as depression or withdrawal from friends, family or things that once used to make the person happy. As the addiction becomes stronger, the symptoms become increasingly problematic, and much more glaring. But what, exactly, should you be looking for?

Symptoms of substance abuse:

  • Depression, anxiety and/or paranoia
  • Change in eating and/or sleeping patterns
  • Neglecting responsibilities, including work and family
  • Taking risks without concern for consequences
  • Withdrawal from family, friends, work, and hobbies
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Sudden change in weight (gain or loss)

These are just a handful of symptoms of substance abuse; they are not all mutually exclusive to addiction, and there may be other symptoms your loved one is experiencing.

If you are concerned about a loved one based on any of the above symptoms they may be showing, or for other reasons, your instinct may be to confront them about the issue. However, this is not always the most effective option for addressing the issue. It is possible for the addicted person to become irrational, defensive, and even violent. This behaviour can put yourself, the addicted person, and anyone else nearby in danger. This isn’t to say that the addiction should not be addressed; it should. But it is best to do so in a controlled environment where everyone’s safety is ensured.

Enlisting the professional help of an interventionist can offer that safe environment, where everyone – family and addict – can feel supported. Other professionals, such as counsellors or medical specialists can also be a resource if you have any questions or are looking for more information.