There are lots of mixed emotions that come with addiction. Fear, guilt, anger and misunderstanding come from all sides. It’s not easy having a loved one who struggles with addiction, but knowing how addiction works, the signs of addiction and how to help can give you some peace of mind.

How addiction works

Having even limited knowledge of how addiction works and where it stems from can help you to understand and support your loved one.

The common narrative about addiction is that people who use substances are out to have a good time without thinking of the consequences. However, according to the Harvard Medical School, drugs and alcohol are more frequently sought for pain relief than for pleasure and it often has a genetic component.

Moreover, the brain science behind addiction is enlightening when you consider how your loved one’s behavior may have changed and the toll it’s taken on his or her life.

When a person first starts using a substance, a small amount is required for the drug to have an effect. Even after one use, the substance rewires the brain’s neurotransmitters so that craving for the substance develops and the high of using the substance reinforces the behavior.

Where many have attributed addiction to a moral failing, research has proven otherwise. Even the human with the strongest willpower on Earth is subject to the science of addiction.

Signs of addiction

Knowing how addiction works sheds light on the signs of addiction and why they might be present. Consult this list to know what behaviors to look out for.

  • Lack of self-control: a person may be attempting to kick a substance use habit, but keeps relapsing and seeking out the substance.
  • Denial of drug use: even if there are obvious signs, someone may deny an addiction or have an unrealistic perspective on how it is impacting his or her life.
  • Physical signs: physical manifestations include bloodshot eyes, weight changes, strange body odors, messy appearance and sallow skin. The longer the addiction continues, the more noticeable these changes will be.
  • Increased sickness: toxic substances weaken the immune system, causing increased susceptibility to illnesses.
  • Changes in social circles: your loved one abruptly changes friend groups, has no interest in spending time with people or avoids those who may be suspicious of an addiction.
  • Fickle behavior: a person who is struggling with an addiction may forgo commitments, like not showing up to work because he was under the influence of a substance.
  • Disorientation: not knowing where they are or how they got there, inability to remember important information and forgetting the order of how things happened are all effects of heavy substance use.
  • Increasingly bizarre excuses: a person who continues to hide a substance addiction will need to cover their behavior with strange excuses.
  • Paranoia: intense anxiety may be a sign of addiction— for example, not wanting to call the police if his or her car was broken into.
  • Financial problems: when a person is struggling with an addiction, increasing amounts of the substance are required to feel the same effects, so increasing amounts of the substance need to be bought. Carrying large sums of cash, borrowing money and frantically trying to obtain money are signs of an addiction.
  • Dangerous behavior: when a person is subject to the strong pull of addiction, people may engage in risky behaviors to obtain the drug, such as stealing or performing sexual acts in exchange for drugs.
  • Drug paraphernalia: finding needles, tubes, foil, pills, lighters and so on is a red flag for substance use.

The conversation you need to have

If you feel like your loved one is struggling with an addiction, it’s time to chat about it together. There’s no easy way to say the hard words that need to be said, but bringing up addiction signs could be an opportunity to get someone the help that he or she needs.

This conversation is best when it comes from a place of genuine concern for your loved one. Point out the signs of addiction you have noticed without making judgmental assumptions about their reason for seeking out drugs or alcohol. Although you may be the one to bring up the subject, listening compassionately may be your most important role in the conversation.

Where to turn

With the right support, addiction is treatable. Therapy, inpatient treatment, medication and other treatment modalities are effective ways to find freedom from addiction. Most recovery services accept referrals from family members and can help you persuade your loved one to engage in treatment. Call Real Recovery at 855-363-7325 to get started.

When you have a loved one who struggles with addiction, it can feel like no one is acknowledging your own pain. You too are worthy of help. Many addiction recovery services also offer support groups for family and friends or consider group and family counseling options. Don’t hesitate to reach out.