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Sometimes it’s hard to know if your loved one is using drugs. You may suspect that something unusual is going on, but not know exactly what it is. Some people are able to use recreational drugs without negative effects or consequences, but for some, dependence and addiction quickly become a problem – and that can lead to very negative consequences, up to and including death, explain the addiction treatment experts at Summit Behavioral Health in New Jersey.
If you suspect that your friend or family member is using drugs and may have a problem, know that there is help for recovery. Learning about drug abuse and addiction – how and why it develops, what it looks like, and just how powerful it is – will provide you with a better understanding and how to handle it.
If you are interested in learning more about this topic read our blog What Causes Addiction?
Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction:
People begin using drugs for different reasons. It may be curiosity, fitting in socially, dealing with stress or anxiety, improving performance athletically or at school or work, or coping with an underlying psychological issue, that cause someone to pick up a drug for the first time. Recreational use doesn’t always lead to dependence or addiction, and there isn’t a specific time frame or amount that causes someone to cross the line to addiction. It is more about the underlying reason for their use and the negative consequences that result from it. If a person’s drug use is causing problems in his or her life (work, school, home, or relationships), then he or she may have a drug problem or addiction.
Why Do Some Users Become Addicted and Others Don’t?
Just like other illnesses and diseases, how susceptible someone is to addiction can vary greatly from person to person. Genetics, environmental factors, and social circumstances all play a part in addiction. Risk factors that increase a person’s susceptibility include:
- History of addiction in the family
- History of trauma, abuse, or neglect
- Mental health conditions like depression and anxiety
- Use of drugs at a young age
- How drugs are used – smoking and injecting drugs may increase the addictive potential
How Does Addiction Develop?
There is a gradual progression from not using drugs at all to addiction, it doesn’t happen overnight. The length of time that it takes depends on the person’s individual risk factors and the type of drug they are using. These are the phases of drug use, abuse, and addiction:
Sobriety – This period is before a person has ever tried the drug and has no issue staying away from it.
Recreational or social use – Drug use in this phase is typically moderate. The user sees drug use as something that is expected in certain situations or with certain people.
Negative consequences begin – Drug use begins to increase in this phase, and other aspects of life begin to be affected. It may be the time when work or school suffers, or relationships begin to deteriorate.
Reliance on the drug – In this phase, the user has become reliant on the drug for various reasons. The drug may be used for energy, to calm down, or for confidence. The drug use may become a way of dealing with depression, anxiety, or stress. During this phase, it is unlikely that a person will stop using unless they are able to find a healthier alternative to rely on.
Dependence or addiction – At some point, the user crosses a line, specific to him or her, to addiction (a physical and/or psychological dependence on) to the drug of choice. Once in this phase, it is extremely difficult for a person to stop using without help.
Warning Signs and Symptoms of Drug Abuse and Addiction:
Most drug abusers try to hide their symptoms and minimize their problem. If you think that your loved one may be abusing drugs, there are warning signs that you can look for.
Physical Signs of Drug Abuse:
- Red, bloodshot eyes, larger or smaller pupils
- Sudden change in weight
- Change in sleep patterns or appetite
- Changed or reduced personal grooming habits
- Unusual odors on breath, clothing, or body
- Shaking, slurred speech, or motor impairment
Behavioral Signs of Drug Abuse:
- Being secretive – more than previously
- Unexplained attendance issues at work or school
- Unexplained need for money
- Change in friends and hangouts
- Getting into trouble, altercations, accidents, or legal issues
Psychological Signs of Drug Abuse:
- Change in personality
- Mood swings, anger or irritability
- Unexplained hyperactivity or agitation
- Lethargy or lack of motivation
- Appearing scared, anxious, or paranoid
Of course, symptoms are different depending on which substance is being abused, but the above gives you a starting point for what to look for in your loved one.
When Your Loved One Has a Drug Problem:
Addiction doesn’t just affect the person who has the problem – it affects friends and family, as well. The most important thing that you can do in this situation is take care of yourself first. When you are dealing with your loved one, here are a couple of things you can do:
Talk to them. You can share your concerns, offer help and support – but do so without judgment. Tell your loved one exactly which behaviors have you concerned. And don’t wait! The sooner addiction is treated, the better. A person does not have to reach rock bottom to begin recovery.
Don’t blame yourself. You cannot control whether your loved one decides to seek help or not, it has to be his or her decision and responsibility. No matter what happens, don’t blame yourself for the addict’s behavior or decision regarding help.
There are also some things that you shouldn’t do when dealing with an addict. It’s important that they suffer the consequences of their actions – it’s essential to recovery.
- Don’t try to negotiate, punish, bribe, or preach.
- Don’t make excuses or try to cover up for the addict.
- Don’t be a martyr by trying to use guilt with your loved one.
- Don’t take on the addict’s responsibilities.
- Don’t argue with your loved one when they are high.
- Don’t feel guilty about the addict’s behavior.
Many people who have a drug addiction don’t reach out for help on their own. Loved ones may need to step in and help them seek help in order to begin the recovery process. This isn’t usually an easy thing to do. Some users will deny that they have a problem, others may know they have a problem, but not want to go to treatment for various reasons – fear, cost, or thinking they can stop on their own.
Once they do make the decision to give treatment a try, they will need to decide which type of program to enter, inpatient or outpatient.
Outpatient treatment is typically classes, therapy, group sessions that discuss coping skills and relapse prevention, and addiction education. There are usually several sessions each week that last a few hours. This type of treatment allows patients the flexibility to maintain their lives outside of treatment.
Inpatient, or residential, treatment requires that patients stay at the treatment facility for the length of their treatment. Inpatient treatment is preferred by patients who want to focus on their recovery without temptations and distractions. This type of treatment provides the same type of classes and support as outpatient treatment, but on a more intensive basis.
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