You have likely arrived at this blog because you are concerned someone you care about is abusing drugs or alcohol. Perhaps you are witnessing it happen in front of your eyes, or you are suspicious they are hiding the amount they are drinking and using from you.
This blog is designed to give you a starting point for understanding what is happening, and where to go next- but remember- alcohol and drug abuse can be serious and dangerous and if you are in any doubt, it is always best for you to discuss your personal situation with a professional. We are available for a non-obligation chat any time, so please do not hesitate to contact us.
Do they really have a problem?
Perhaps, in the past, you have seen them drink or use with an element of control and seemingly no problems to their life. However, substance abuse usually progresses over time- sometimes rapidly, sometimes gradually over a period of years. So, do not be fooled by memories of the past and what it used to be like. Without help, the usage very rarely lessens and it is unlikely the problem will sort itself out, despite any promises your loved one is making to you to get things back under control.
It’s difficult to fully diagnose the problem faced without professional support and co-operation from the user, but there are signs to let you know if you are dealing with a problem as opposed to someone who is temporarily misusing substances to deal with a particularly difficult time, or occasionally gets a bit out of control. When someone is really over-abusing substances, it’s very difficult for them to see or admit to the problem, and their denial can play out by becoming more and more sneaky and defensive.
What are the signs?
There are some common signs that someone has moved from casual drinker, or user, to a substance abuser, alcoholic or addict, and it may be time to seek professional help and treatment. Of course, as is the nature of the disease, they may be very clever at hiding some of these issues.
They have started to lose interest in hobbies or activities.
They stop meeting their commitments and obligations, such as work, class, picking up the kids, and generally being where they say they will on time, if at all.
They keep cancelling social plans, and are becoming more isolated.
They easily become agitated and irritable as drugs and alcohol interfere with the brain, even when they are not using.
Their relationships are suffering as they are more interested in drinking or using.
You catch them out lying or stealing. Sustaining the use of substances can get expensive and they may be finding ways to maintain what they need.
They continue to express days when they say they will not drink or use, or maybe even cut back, but by the end of the day, they have taken as much as before, if not even more.
They keep finding themselves in dangerous situations.
They continue to drink or use, even though they have been given medical advice to cut back or stop.
They are showing signs of withdrawal symptoms, such as sickness or shaking.
What to do next
If you are concerned, the most important thing is to DO SOMETHING! Pretending the problem is not happening, and buying into their dishonesty is unhelpful and dangerous. It’s highly typical that the person struggling already has a sense that they want some help. There becomes a time when the balance tips and the ‘relief’ they are experiencing from the amount they are drinking and using becomes more painful and damaging than what they are benefiting from it.
The very nature of how alcohol and drugs work, means that they may be constantly trying to address their own issue on a daily basis, but continue to fail to control or stop because the pull is so strong. Most cling heavily to the days where it worked for them and they continue to seek the experience that they once had.
It can be incredibly frustrating and confusing to someone who does not suffer from substance abuse to understand why they keep doing it to themselves, especially if they are experiencing consequences to their life and health.
Start with a conversation
If you haven’t already, it is time to talk about the elephant in the room. Be compassionate, but firm and honest. They may be relieved that they can finally talk about what they are doing, and if you show you are there to listen, you will have a better result at them opening up.
Of course, you can not guarantee a conversation will go well. Do not be disheartened. Once you have opened up that door, there will be further opportunities to talk, especially if you express your concerns from someone who wants to help, rather than being angry and accusatory.
Speak to a Professional and do your research
We highly recommend you speak to a professional in substance abuse is soon as possible, as every situation is unique and you will receive better advice when you are able to explain yours.
Start doing your research on appropriate help. Your loved one may not be ready to accept it now, but we have found that if you have options ready, it is critical when they finally admit they want it. Being able to move quickly can be the difference between starting some form of treatment, and the door closing again.
It doesn't always mean rehab
It’s important to note that residential rehabilitation treatment is not the only option and there is nothing to be scared of with substance abuse treatment. We find that the earlier an issue is confronted, the more likely an at-home program, that integrates with their life responsibilities, is most suitable and more effective.
If you have read this blog, and believe there is a problem, reach out for some individual advice. We have over 30 years of working with people with substance abuse issues, and really are the best people to help guide you through the situation. After all, you need support too.
We also have a recent podcast where you can listen to Ray Pascoe, our Family Support Director, about his personal experience supporting his daughter into recovery, as well as the years of experience he has had supporting families of loved ones at Reset My Future.
You are not alone with your situation. There is a lot of help out there for you and your loved one.