Recognizing the Signs of Addiction in a Loved One
A substance addiction is a chronic condition characterized by compulsive drug or alcohol use regardless of negative consequences. As such, it can be difficult to overcome without professional treatment. Knowing the signs of addiction can help you identify an addiction in a loved one and assist them in getting substance abuse treatment.
In this article:
- Who is at Risk of Addiction?
- What are the Warning Signs of Addiction?
- How to Help a Loved One with Addiction
Who is at Risk of Addiction?
Although there are identifiable risk factors in developing an addiction, anyone who misuses substances can become addicted, and there is no specific “type” of person who can form a substance use disorder (SUD).3
Risk factors for developing an addiction to alcohol and/or drugs include:4
- Early childhood behavioral challenges, including:
- Decreased social inhibition
- Emotional problems
- Inability to cope
- Inability to express emotions appropriately
- Low self-esteem or lack of confidence
- Stressful family environment, including:
- Abuse or neglect as a child
- Absent parent(s)
- Parent(s) with substance use disorder or misuse
- Parent(s) with mental health conditions
- Frequent moving or relocation
- High levels of family conflict and/or violence
- High levels of financial stress
- Inadequate parenting
- Instability within the family
- Large family
- Social isolation
- Unemployed or underemployed parent(s)
Additional risk factors include living in an environment with high crime rates or lacking adequate housing, having a mental health condition, or facing discrimination or barriers to social services and healthcare.4
Regardless of the number of risk factors your loved one has, it does not mean they will develop an addiction. For this reason, learning the warning signs of addiction is critical in recognizing a loved one’s addiction.
What are the Warning Signs of Addiction?
Several of the warning signs of addiction can be the actual diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder. To meet this criterion, within the last 12 months, your loved one must have at least two of the following:6
- Used the substance in larger amounts or longer than intended
- Had the desire to cut down or control their use without success
- Spent a significant amount of time in getting, taking, or recovering from the substance
- Had a craving, or strong desire, to use the substance
- Failed to meet major role obligations (e.g., family)
- Continued to use the substance despite its harmful effects on their social and interpersonal relationships
- Gave up or reduced their social, recreational, or occupational activities
- Placed themselves in a physically hazardous situation, such as using substances while driving
- Continued to use despite any other psychological problems (e.g., depression or anxiety)
- Needed higher amounts of drugs or alcohol to feel the desired effects (tolerance)
- Experienced withdrawal symptoms when they abruptly reduced or stopped use (dependence)
Other signs of drug or alcohol addiction include:3
- Doing poorly at school, work, or at home
- Experiencing changes in their eating or sleeping habits
- Getting in trouble at school, work, or with the legal system
- Having conflicts with loved ones
- Losing interest in things they used to enjoy
- Missing work or activities
- No longer spending time with close friends
- Not caring about their hygiene or appearance
How to Help a Loved One with Addiction
Once you have familiarized yourself with signs of drug addiction or alcohol use disorder and have identified some of these signs in your loved one, you can begin to address the problem.
Remember, your loved one is likely already feeling guilty and ashamed about their drug or alcohol misuse, so you will want to approach them with empathy and compassion. Avoid judgmental or blaming language. And if your loved one becomes defensive or isn’t receptive to your approach, don’t push too hard, as this can have the opposite of your intended effect. Respect their space and try again later or hire a professional to conduct an intervention.
If the intervention is successful, offer to help your family member or friend to find the right rehab for them. They’re going to need a lot of support and encouragement during this vulnerable and difficult time. However, you still need to take care of yourself and set healthy boundaries.
Addiction is a complex disorder, but help is available in many forms, and the right treatment can greatly benefit your loved one.2 Different types of treatment can include:4,5
- Inpatient rehab, which provides highly structured, 24/7 care to manage all physical and mental needs
- Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), which involve several hours of treatment a day for five to seven days a week.
- Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), which provide treatment for multiple hours several days a week, though less than PHP
- Standard outpatient treatment, which can include counseling for a few hours every week
- Detoxification services to rid their system of the substance
- Support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or SMART Recovery
Benefits of Treatment
When you discuss your concerns with your loved ones regarding their potential addiction, you can also assure them that help is available and there are benefits to receiving treatment. The benefits of engaging in treatment can include:2
- Developing techniques to improve relationships and communication
- Forming new habits and practices that do not involve the use of alcohol and/or substances
- Building support networks with people who understand your challenges
- Learning more coping skills and skills to manage stress more effectively
- Creating a relapse prevention plan to help prevent returning to alcohol or substance use
Connecting with Resources
No single form of treatment is appropriate for everyone, and your loved one may require specialized treatment depending on their needs and drug of choice. Many professionals can assist you in helping your loved one find the right treatment for their needs.
Their primary care physician can be a good first point of contact. Their provider can assist them in the treatment planning process and can also make general recommendations on which level of care your loved one may need. Your loved one’s insurance provider is also a great resource, as they can answer any questions you have regarding coverage and costs.
If your family member or friend is connected with a mental health professional, this provider can connect them with additional resources or referrals to other treatment programs. A mental health provider can be of significant value in this process.
Several other resources are available online, including the following organizations:2
- American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
- American Society of Addiction Medicine
- Faces & Voices of Recovery
- National Alliance on Mental Illness
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- Partnership at Drugfree.com
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Choosing a Treatment Center
When you and your loved one begin to explore options for treatment, always consult your provider and consider their recommendations regarding level of care for your loved one’s situation. In addition, you will want to consider the following:
- Ability to connect with and receive aftercare services
- Length of treatment
- Location of the treatment center
- Reputation of the treatment center
- Your loved one’s existing medical and mental health conditions
- Insurance coverage and out-of-pocket cost
Warning Signs for Relapse
After your loved one has recognized and sought treatment for an alcohol or substance use disorder, returning to daily life will require continued support and adjustments to promote continued sobriety. Part of this support is keeping in mind that relapse is a normal part of the recovery process.
Knowing the warning signs for relapse can be helpful so you can support a loved one in their goals for sobriety. Warning signs can be different for each person, but they may include:7,8
- Bottling or denying emotions
- Mood swings
- Anxiety or depression
- Cravings for alcohol or drugs
- Isolation or withdrawal from friends and family
- Skipping treatment sessions or meetings
- Poor eating and sleeping habits
- Thinking fondly of times when using substances
- Using other substances
Call us at 800-743-5860 (Who Answers?) to speak with a treatment specialist to help connect you and your loved one with treatment options.
- Alavi, S. S., Ferdosi, M., Jannatifard, F., Eslami, M., Alaghemandan, H., & Setare, M. (2012). Behavioral addiction versus substance addiction: Correspondence of psychiatric and psychological views. International Journal of Preventive Medicine, 3(4), 290-294.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide (Third edition).
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021). What are the signs of having a problem with drugs?
- Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division. (2022). Alcohol and drug abuse prevention.
- Sliedrecht, W., de Waart, R., Witkiewitz, K., & Roozen, H. (2019). Alcohol use disorder relapse factors: A systematic review. Psychiatry Research, 278, 97-115.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).
- Kadam, M., Sinha, A., Nimkar, S., Matcheswalla, Y., & De Sousa, A. (2017). A comparative study of factors associated with relapse in alcohol dependence and opioid dependence. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 39(5), 627-633.
- Melemis, S. M. (2015). Relapse prevention and the five rules of recovery. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 88(3), 325-332.