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What is addiction?

Once it was thought that a person was addicted to a drug only if he needed the drug daily, or if he went through withdrawal symptoms (vomiting, seizures, cramps, death) when he abruptly stopped using the substance. It was thought that alcoholics and addicts were unemployed, poor, and from the inner city; these are misconceptions. Many addicted people do not use drugs or alcohol daily and do not experience physical withdrawal when they stop using. The majority of addicted people are employed and appear to be functioning normally.

Another former misconception dealt with the differences between physical and psychological addition. Physical addiction was thought to be the determining factor in addiction, and little attention was paid to psychological addiction. For example many people believe that cocaine was not a dangerous drug because it was psychologically but not physically addictive. The current cocaine epidemic in this country has broadened the understanding of addiction.

How can I tell if someone is using drugs?

First, it is important to understand that the sooner a drug problem is recognized, the easier it is to stop it. It is never too early to intervene if someone is using drugs and alcohol. Below are some general signs and symptoms of drug use.

1. Look for sudden changes in mood and behavior, such as:

How can I tell if someone is an alcoholic

  • Unusual hostility, irritability or secretiveness
  • Withdrawal from the family
  • Changes in friends
  • Resistance to discipline
  • A pattern of dishonesty, stealing and trouble with the police
  • Possession of large amounts of cash
  • A drop in grades
  • A sudden increase in absences tardiness
  • Poor concentration and short-term memory loss
  • Slurred speech
  • A loss of motivation and interest in regular activities
  • Drug-related messages or symbols on possessions
  • A lack of concern for appearance or hygiene

2. Notice changes in physical well-being such as:

  • An unhealthy appearance
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Dilated or small pinpoint pupils
  • A constant runny nose or cough
  • A major change in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Sudden weight loss
  • A lack of energy
  • A sudden surge of energy
  • Small red marks on arms or legs
  • Scabs or open sores

3. Notice signs of withdrawal such as:

How can I tell if someone is using drugs

  • Being cold or chilled when temperature is ok for everyone else
  • Complaints of aching joints
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Severe stomach cramps
  • Severe depression
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Change in eating habits or desire

What do I do if a loved one is obviously abusing drugs?

  • Be calm. Anger can cloud your ability to communicate with your loved one
  • Do not argue or fight if the person is drunk or high
  • Do not panic or blame yourself
  • Express concern and understanding
  • Do assess the situation for safety and risk
  • Do not hesitate to take the person to emergency room or call an ambulance if you feel it is a medical or emergency
    Example: unconsciousness, out of touch with reality, self -harming behavior, catatonic, suicidal behavior, shallow breathing, fast heart rate, sweating and chilling
  • Contact law enforcement if weapons are used to threaten or if there are threats to harm others
  • Get help and support on how to take care of yourself
    Example: Therapist or counselor, self help groups like: Ala-non, Ala-teen, adult children of alcoholics (ACOA)
  • Call the ARISE® Network Service Line for free to find help determine if an intervention is right for your loved one