Drug Abuse Help: How To Help A Drug Addict
Do you need to learn how to help a drug addict? Do you need to know how to recognize drug addiction, or understand the symptoms and effects? You may find some of the information that you’re looking for here in our guide.
As a first priority, you should contact a health professional. Your loved one may not be willing to work with a doctor or counselor yet, but one of these experts will still be able to provide you with the best advice about health, helpful strategies, and personalized treatment options.
This guide was created to help you while you’re convincing your loved one to consider help. It covers some of the important factors that are involved when you are helping someone with drug addiction. It may give you a place to start or the fact you need to finally convince someone to take the next step:
Use the table of contents below to find the questions and answers that are most important to you.
- How Do I Help Someone Struggling With Drug Addiction?
- What do I need to Understand about Drug Addiction?
- What are the Symptoms of Drug Abuse?
- What Drugs are most Often Abused?
- What are the Effects of Drug Abuse?
- What Do I Avoid When Talking To A Loved One About Addiction?
Do you have other questions about drug addiction? Do you need to help someone as soon as possible? Contact recovery professionals who can evaluate your loved one’s condition and help you apply for and cover the costs of the next stage of care.
First, a look at how you can help people who are experiencing different types of drug abuse.
How Do I Help Someone Struggling With Drug Addiction?
It’s important to understand that you do not necessarily have the power to help someone struggling with drug addiction. While there are strategies that have been successful for certain drugs or certain sources of addiction, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Even when addiction is successfully treated, drug addiction is often a lifelong struggle that takes constant support.
Your first goal in most cases should be to convince your loved one to seek medical evaluation. If they are willing to take this step, they will at least consider what the doctor has to say. A doctor will also have access to resources (such as in-facility drug counselors or drug alternatives) that can help an addict get closer to recovery.
Reaching that goal is not as easy as it sounds. Here are some examples of drug addiction and some ideas that you can use to get them into a room with a professional who can give them authoritative advice about the costs of addiction.
Example 1: How to help someone who is experimenting with drugs
The early stages of drug use are the most important, but they aren’t as easy to spot. There are rarely any obvious drug abuse symptoms yet. At this stage, they are still experimenting with the benefits that they think the drugs provide. When drug abuse begins, substances are used to enhance life, but they aren’t used to handle life. When the drugs begin to become a crutch, the addiction becomes far more dangerous.
If abusive behavior can be stopped now, it will be far easier to avoid any negative long-term effects. Unfortunately, drug abusers at this stage are very unlikely to agree to see a doctor.
Someone experimenting with drug abuse may say:
- “I’m just having a little fun using [drug], I’m not going to become a serious user”
- “I just have to deal with some stress at work/school. I’ll stop using [drug] as soon as things cool down.”
- “I feel like a smarter/braver/funnier person when I’m using [drug].”
- “If I talked to my doctor, I’d be wasting his/her time because I don’t have a problem“
These statements are the earliest evidence of the dependency that leads to addiction. The people saying these things have begun to understand drugs as something that provides a solution in their life. They believe that the more desperate side of addiction can be as easily avoided after dependence as it is now.
Your disapproval is really the only tool you have at this stage. You can’t control someone’s behavior, but you can refuse to participate in or enable it. If you stick to your principles, an experimenter may choose to stop on their own.
Example 2: How to help someone who is losing ground against addiction
When a user becomes fully dependent on the drug, it can be difficult to spot the change without speaking to them. However, you may be able to spot the steady discarding of responsibilities and opportunities. Someone who is dependent will begin the process of organizing their lives around having access to their drug of choice. That often means a process of cutting off friends, disappearing from family functions and coasting at work.
After a long period of getting by without getting “caught”, the user may lose the ability to recognize when their behavior is unusual. They may have fallen out of any habit of carefully hiding the drug, its symptoms or its smells.
Someone who is dependent may do some or all of the following:
- Withdraw from social life or friendships without any reason
- Be evasive about how time alone is spent
- Lose interest in hobbies, interests, and causes that were once important
- The transition from an upwardly mobile career to one that is defined by easy goals and less responsibility
Loved ones at this stage may be very resistant to getting help, especially because they now fear losing access to the drug in addition to losing face. If you can get a health professional to speak to your loved one in a “safe” environment, such as your home, they may be more willing to listen.
You may need to be willing to use hospitalization to confront their behavior. You have the right to contact medical services if you find your loved one deeply confused, non-responsive or experiencing other effects of drugs that make it impossible for you to know their exact state of health. By calling an ambulance, you can force them to explain themselves to professionals who can tell them that they are dependent.
Example 3: How to help someone who is highly-functioning but addicted
Do you need to help someone who is abusing drugs, but who is unusually good at masking/managing their behavior?
Not all cases of dependency are easy to spot because everyone reacts differently. Some people are capable of maintaining a busy social life and a great career even though their personal life is completely built around access to their drug of choice. These people may have excellent careers, such as doctors, judges or CEOs.
High-functioning addicts can be reached, but they are difficult to treat. They may be proud of their ability to manage their affairs while dependent and believe that they’re simply smarter or better than other users. They may believe their use is an appropriate reward for their intense careers
It’s true that everyone reacts differently to drugs (with factors as diverse as body weight and gut bacteria in play), however, dependence is something that’s dangerous to anyone.
Just because an addict is high-functioning now doesn’t mean they will be in a week’s time, or a month’s time. If they falter and become unable to perform at a high level, do they cut back on the drug, or ask for lower expectations? If they’re dependent, they are going to find it difficult to make any choice but to protect their drug supply.
You may be able to get through to your loved one by recommending discreet or exclusive treatment options. Many high-functioning addicts fear that being revealed as a drug abuser will end their high-status careers. So, make sure they know that there are house-call physicians and rehab facilities that cater to these types of clients and pin their reputations on discretion.
Sometimes the best way to support a high-functioning addict is to be at-the-ready to support them if they lose their grip and need help. It’s worth it to try to help them if they’re receptive, but if they aren’t, it’s not because you failed. They are unlikely to abandon the myth that they’re extraordinary” until they see proof that they aren’t.
Understanding Drug Addiction
It’s important to understand drug addiction if you’re trying to help an addict. What is drug addiction? That’s a complex topic, but you don’t need to know all the details to know if your loved one is experiencing or at risk of drug addiction.
Understanding drug abuse is how you understand how drug abuse can be prevented. Here are some common questions and answers that may help you get a better understanding of how addiction happens.
Who can get addicted?
Anyone can get addicted. While people with some genetic markers are more likely to be at risk, almost anyone can become dependent on drugs if they rely on them too often, or for too long a time.
What are the most addictive substances?
Heroin, cocaine, barbiturates, alcohol, and tobacco round out the list as some of the most addictive substances on earth. Note that two of them are widely available in most countries. No one needs a dealer or a black market to experience addictive substances.
However, not all dependence is based on addictive chemicals. People can grow dependent on the feeling of being high even in cases where the drugs they take aren’t chemically addictive. Abuse is a behavior that has many causes.
What are some of the risk factors for drug abuse?
Stress, access to drugs and the behavior of role models all play a role in drug abuse, alongside hundreds of other factors. Those most at risk are those who experience risk factors like the following every day…
- Friends/family who use drugs openly
- Affordable, reliable access to a source of drugs
- Settings where drug use is expected/encouraged (house parties or concerts)
- The glorification of drugs as a status symbol during passing trends
- Social isolation (if adult) or neglect (if adolescent)
Removing some of these sources can be difficult. Some former addicts have decided to move entire states away from where they became addicted in order to maintain their recovery. However, drug abuse can develop independently of any of these risk factors. If you need to know how to help an addict who can’t go somewhere new, you should ask an experienced drug counselor.
You may be able to identify a drug user by the types of drugs that you’ve seen them use. If you aren’t familiar with the types of substances that can be abused, you can learn more in the next section.
What Types of Drugs Are Often Abused?
Addictive substances can take a surprising number of forms. Some of them grow on the ground, while others can only be created with sophisticated lab equipment.
Though most abusers consider themselves individually harmless, the combined effects of illegal drug production, shipping and sale involve great amount of violence. We will likely never understand how drug abuse affects society fully because of how much of it happens out of sight.
If the person you are attempting to help is addicted, it could be a drug they have access to in your home or area. It may be one of the following common types.
The term narcotics covers opiate substances like codeine, morphine, hydrocodone, and fentanyl. These are all used for high-intensity pain and quickly become dangerous at high doses. Many people die of opiate abuse every year. If your loved one is exhibiting any signs of opiate abuse, you should contact a licensed drug counselor for advice.
The term club drugs cover primarily mind-affecting substances such as molly, ecstasy, and ketamine. They are named because they are most frequently circulated at clubs and concerts. Some of these drugs have low risks of overdose, but a high risk of dependence that can quickly interfere with life. People with intensely stressful lifestyles may be attracted to the detachment these drugs offer.
Potent Plants and Fungi
Just because a substance is natural does not mean that it’s not potent and habit-forming. Mushrooms, marijuana, and salvia are all-natural substances that have played a role in drug addictions and medical emergencies. Don’t let yourself be convinced that drug abuse isn’t a problem if the drug is a plant.
Designer drugs are a relatively new problem. Chemists have invented many drugs while undertaking personal projects. Today, some chemists stir up custom drugs that have precise and potent effects. They may also “legalize” an existing drug by creating a new substance with the same effects but a different chemical signature.
Prescription Drugs (Both legally and illegally obtained)
Many prescription drugs, including painkillers to antidepressants, can be abused. In fact, prescriptions are often a gateway to dependence because they are often supplied in large quantities by a figure of authority (doctor or pharmacist). Many trusting people have followed guidelines and still become addicted.
If you don’t have a professional history with certain drugs, it may not be easy for you to recognize what drugs are being used. You may be able to recognize the symptoms more easily. The next section covers some of the general symptoms of drug dependence.
Symptoms of Drug Abuse
The symptoms of drug abuse are different across every family of drugs, but there are some behaviors that are common to most people who are struggling with dependence. Below, you’ll find some examples of physical symptoms, changes in behavior and signs that point to serious dependency.
Physical Symptoms of Dependency
These physical symptoms occur with dependence on many types of drugs. However, even taken together, they cannot be used to “prove” dependence unless there is other evidence including physical evidence of the drug. A reckless accusation, even with good intentions, could end up doing nothing more than humiliating someone who is innocent.
If you have other reasons to suspect drug dependence, watch for the following
- Poor control of body temperature: Those who are dependent may sweat or feel chilly alternately. They may make odd clothing choices both indoors and outdoors or constantly add and remove layers.
- Insomnia: Insomnia is a high-risk factor for drug abuse because people who suffer from it are difficult to treat without drugs. Many insomnia drugs are only effective for some people. Insomniacs are prone to experiment. Unfortunately, drugs that seem to work on insomnia rarely work when the body adjusts to them. People may be left with dependence, but no solutions to their sleep problems.
- New physical tics such as scratching, tapping or shaking: Compulsive behaviors are a part of many medical conditions, but when they develop spontaneously. It should be a cause for concern. If someone you love does not seem concerned by the development of a new tic, it may be because they know it’s a result of drug use.
Changes in Behavior after Dependency
Dependence can also show in the way that someone behaves after they have become dependent. If you notice any of the following sudden changes in behavior, you should reach out and offer your support:
- Prioritizing friends who enable abuse: When someone becomes dependent, they often prefer to prioritize friends that will say the least about their drug abuse. They may prefer the company of people who also use drugs, or can at least provide access to them. They may start spending more time in places where they know that people can use or sell drugs without being hassled.
- Sudden social isolation: Those who become dependent may prefer to use drugs in complete privacy to avoid ever being identified as a drug user. As they become more dependent, they need to make more time for drug use. That often means canceling plans and being unavailable to friends.
- Disinterest in treasured hobbies or causes: Those who become dependent on drugs often lose interest in the parts of life that they used to care about most. They may stop participating in social events that are centered around their passions and lose any sense of competitive zeal.
You may notice that many of the signs above are also considered to be signs of depression. The truth is that the symptoms for both depression and drug dependence can seem very similar. Make sure you are careful about accusing someone of drug abuse when they may just be going through a rough patch.
Signs of Serious Addiction
Serious dependence comes with its own set of symptoms. While all dependence should be concerning, the signs of serious addiction mean that you may need to be ready to call medical services at any time. If you are close to the person experiencing addiction, check up on them regularly. If you cannot convince them to get help, at least be ready to call it.
The following signs may suggest that addiction has become more serious…
- Rapid aging: The sudden onset of wrinkles, crow’s fees, and sunken features is a physical sign of the use of harder drugs. When the abuser has accepted physical deterioration, dependency has usually progressed to a dangerous level. Consult a drug counselor before engaging with them.
- Declining health with no urgency from the user: If the user is developing health problems, but leaving them untreated, they may have a serious addiction. When drug abuse becomes serious, house cleaning and hygiene are ignored. This can lead to cascading health problems caused by mold, improperly-handled food and pest populations. If someone is developing problems quickly, but not take charge of their own environment, they may have lost that initiative to addiction.
- Complete withdrawal to using spaces: Someone who is very dependent may fully drop the pretense of participating in society, and go somewhere where they can use constantly. They may spend most of their time in drug houses where they can get fresh doses all day long.
It can be very hard to stay with someone as they enter this stage of drug abuse. They may not be willing to accept your help, and they may live constantly in danger of injuring themselves and others. This is heartbreaking to deal with. All you can do is work to ensure that you are ready the moment they’re ready to accept help.
What are the Effects of Drug Abuse?
You may be able to help a drug addict if you can help them understand what they are doing to their life and opportunities. To do this, you can try confronting them with drug addiction statistics or drug abuse facts, but that won’t have as much of an impact at letting them know what they have to lose. To explain this, you need to understand the effects of drug abuse.
It’s true that the effects of each drug are different. Some of them can be used for years with only minor effects. Others will cause permanent physical damage after only a few months of hard use. The physical effects are not the only effects, though. The effects of drug abuse include mental, social and professional consequences, too.
What are some of the physical effects of drug abuse?
There are many physical effects of drug abuse. Depending on the drug used, it may affect the skin, teeth and facial volume. Drug use may result in aged features, early tooth loss, malnutrition, jaundice, tremors, and other visible physical signs.
Not all of the physical effects of drug abuse are obvious to outside observers. Many drugs affect the organs in unpleasant ways. Drugs can work to wear down the systems that support the heart, resulting in lifetime issues with breathing and blood pressure.
What are some of the psychological effects of drug abuse?
Drugs have many mental effects in addition to the physical ones.
Even moderate drug use can result in long-term consequences for cognitive ability, memory, and personal comfort. We don’t have much research to tell us how all types of drug abuse affects the brain. Some cause visible damage, while others increase the risk of the later development of disorders.
Short and long-term memory loss is known to be a consequence of moderate cocaine use. In addition to the loss of existing memories, you can lose the ability to form new memories effectively.
This can result in the early onset of many memory problems that only happen to the elderly, and it isn’t the only consequence. Drug use has also been directly implicated in the development of many mental disorders. Even in cases where the drug doesn’t cause the disorder (such as when the drug is used to medicate the disorder), it can make the effects worse.
What are some of the social/professional effects of drug abuse?
The social and professional effects of drug abuse can be dire. Though drugs are often presented as a way to be more interesting socially, they tend to have the opposite effects. Long-term abuse is isolating. At some point, the drug needs to be used so often or at such a dose that social events no longer fit on the schedule. Work obligations soon follow.
What to Avoid When Talking To A Loved One About Addiction
Talking to a loved one about getting help for drug abuse can be difficult. They may not believe that they need help or that help is even possible. They may not know where to get help with drug abuse.
It can be hard to get them to enter care on their own, so you should focus on the easier goal of just getting them to talk to someone who is an expert in counseling people to enter treatment.
If you want to focus on how to help a drug addict effectively, you either need the expert or the same professional background they do. Gently focus on getting them to talk to someone, but don’t overwhelm them.
When you’re talking to a loved one about how to get help…
- Avoid shaming: This is likely to just cause them to withdraw. If there is a behavior that they need to account for, wait to bring it up (hopefully with the help of a counselor) until after they’ve completed treatment. They can then examine what they’ve done with a sober mind.
- Avoid threatening to call drug enforcement: Threatening people with an addiction disorder with prison is not effective. If you care about them, understand that they are unlikely to get the care they need if they are sent to prison.
- Avoid talking to them while they are under the influence: You should avoid dependent users who are under the influence. Your presence can be enabling (if you only visit them when they’re sober. It’s a better incentive). Depending on the drug, people under the influence can be dangerous when provoked.