Content reviewed by Christian Losch, LCSW, LCADC, CEO of Pinelands

Being a parent, sibling, spouse or friend concerned about a loved one potentially struggling with an addiction can be an overwhelming experience. Whether you have experienced substance use problems in your own life or have watched someone else’s life struggle at the cost of it, you have every right to be concerned.

Some people that struggle with addiction show more apparent symptoms than others, especially during the earlier stages, where they may be good at hiding their struggles. Because of this, it is crucial to learn the warning signs of recognizing addiction in your loved one. You can become educated on the risk factors that can lead to the development of addiction, as well as the more obvious warning signs that may point to your loved one’s need to seek treatment.

As you go through this process, remind yourself that there is no easy way to bring attention to your loved one’s addiction. Remember that you are doing this because you genuinely want the best for your loved one and do not want to sit back and watch them struggle on their substance-using path.

Recognize the risk factors for the development of addiction.

First, it may be helpful to familiarize yourself with the most common underlying causes of substance use and addiction. Several genetic, environmental and circumstantial risk factors may contribute to the development of addiction in your loved one.

Genetic Risk Factors

Genetic risk factors pertain to an individual’s unique genetic makeup. Some genetic risk factors include:

  • Family history of mental health disorders
  • Family history of substance use and addiction
  • The presence of co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Difficulties with emotional regulation

Environmental Risk Factors

Environmental risk factors consider how an individual is nurtured throughout childhood into adulthood. Environmental risk factors include, but are not limited to:

  • Favorable parental attitudes toward substance use
  • Poor parental monitoring during childhood
  • Lack of appropriate parent-child bond
  • Associating with deviant peers
  • Rebelliousness
  • Experiencing homelessness or poverty
  • Peer rejection
  • Untreated childhood trauma

Circumstantial Risk Factors

Circumstantial risk factors encompass factors that do not necessarily fit in the category of genetic or environmental factors. For example, for those that drink alcohol or use drugs recreationally, circumstantial risk factors include:

  • The frequency of alcohol or drug use
  • The intensity of alcohol or drug use
  • How long a person has been using substances
  • The route of administration used for substances

There is no specific combination of risk factors that guarantees the development of addiction. Similarly, addiction can develop without exposure to any risk factors. Instead, these factors help shed light on different situations where an individual may be more likely to use substances. If your loved one has been exposed to any of the risk factors mentioned above, they may be more likely to develop an addiction.

Become familiar with the warning signs of addiction.

One of the main ways to help you recognize addiction in your loved one is by becoming familiar with warning signs.

In general, there are three categories of warning signs:

#1. Physical Warning Signs

When an individual is under the influence of substances or going through withdrawal, they may exhibit the following physical warning signs:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Dilated pupils
  • Changes in appetite
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Deterioration of physical appearance
  • Runny nose
  • Sudden weight loss or weight gain
  • Tremors
  • Unusual odors

#2. Behavioral Warning Signs

Similarly, your loved one may exhibit behavioral warning signs that may hint at the development of addiction. These warning signs may include:

  • Interpersonal conflict due to substance use
  • Engaging in secretive or otherwise suspicious behavior
  • Frequently getting into trouble
  • Neglecting personal responsibilities at school, work or home
  • Sudden change in peer group
  • Unexplained financial problems
  • Increased alcohol or drug tolerance
  • Misusing drugs to relieve withdrawal symptoms or avoid pain
  • Loss of control over substance use
  • Life revolving around substance use
  • No longer engaging in activities once found pleasurable
  • Continuing to use substances despite the consequences it may cause

#3. Psychological Warning Signs

Psychological warning signs may be less obvious than physical or behavioral ones, although they are just as important to acknowledge. Psychological warning signs may include:

  • Seeming anxious, fearful or paranoid without a detectable cause
  • Lack of motivation
  • Chronic exhaustion
  • Periods of instability
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Unexplained changes in attitude or personality

Surface your concerns with your loved one.

As mentioned previously, there is no easy way to broach the topic of your concern with your loved one. However, after you engage in thorough research about addiction risk factors and warning signs, you will be better able to discuss your concerns from a place of education and knowledge.

When you decide to have a conversation, try to avoid using blame. You may want to be prepared for your loved one to downplay or ignore their problem. Focus on voicing your concerns from a place of compassion and love, and continually remind your loved one that you truly want the best for their mental and physical well-being.

Pinelands Recovery Center of Medford is an addiction treatment facility that knows how difficult it can be to shed light on a loved one’s substance use problems. We offer treatment modalities that help patients find the motivation to change within themselves rather than forcing treatment upon them. Recovery is often motivated by support from loved ones, so it is crucial to surface your concerns. Call us at (877) 557-5372