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Substance abuse has become a much more serious problem in recent years across America. The number of people self-reporting that they are using illegal drugs and/or misusing prescription drugs has skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic. More concerning, overdose deaths from these drugs have increased dramatically, and overdose has become the leading cause of death among young people in many parts of the country.

For the loved ones of people with addiction problems, the effects of their addiction can have devastating consequences. That’s why it is so important for family members and friends of people who are struggling with substance abuse to be aware of the signs of drug addiction.

If you or a loved one are experiencing any of these issues, it may be time to consider addiction counseling or an inpatient treatment program.

Increased risk-taking.

Many drugs that can be abused have the effect of altering a person’s mind. This can lead them to take risks they otherwise wouldn’t, such as driving dangerously or having unprotected sex. This is one of the first warning signs many people notice in their loved ones.

Neglecting responsibilities at school, work, or home

As addiction becomes a more important part of the patient’s life, focusing on things like school or work becomes less important. Prolonged absences from work or school, failing grades, or even getting suspended or fired from a job are all signs that there may be a problem. Eventually, caring for children or keeping the house clean will become less important than feeding the addiction.

Legal trouble

The consequence of neglecting their responsibilities and behaving more and more erratically is often legal trouble. Typical problems may include arrests for disorderly conduct or driving under the influence. Unfortunately, many people wait until the court orders them to start addiction treatment before they actually get the help they need.

Bloodshot or irritated eyes

Many substances will cause dilation of the pupils, in which the pupils will appear larger or smaller than usual. Continued use will cause drastic changes to sleep patterns. Over time, these changes will cause the eyes to appear bloodshot or extremely irritated.

Changes in appetite and sleep patterns

Some substances, such as pot, will cause users to have a drastic increase in appetite, while substances such as cocaine or meth will cause a drastic decrease in appetite. Various drugs can also have a lot of different effects on sleep patterns. Some people may sleep a lot more, while others will have difficulty falling or staying asleep. This can be particularly dangerous, especially if a drug abuser operates machinery or cares for children without proper rest.

Changes in physical appearance

Changes in appetite, bloodshot eyes, and lack of sleep will likely cause an addict to gain or lose significant weight. In some cases, the changes are immediately obvious. Some drug abusers will start to dress differently to hide these symptoms. Look for baggy sweatshirts or sunglasses, be suspicious if these items are worn out of season. Addicts who are deep in their addiction may also be neglecting personal hygiene.

Unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing

While most people know what alcohol smells like, it can be difficult to recognize the smells of other drugs. This is especially true for people with little to no familiarity with illegal drugs. Nonetheless, most people can recognize when a loved one doesn’t smell or look “right.” Sometimes just noticing a change is enough to pay attention to other warning signs.

Engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors

People who are addicted to substances want to ensure that they don’t get caught. They know that they could get in trouble, or they just don’t want the people who love them to see how bad their problem is. Look for signs that your loved one is hiding things, leaving or arriving at odd hours, or being cagey when asked questions about where they’ve been.

Sudden changes in friends and hobbies

People who are addicted will tend to seek the company of other addicts. It makes getting their drugs easier and invites fewer questions about their behavior or habits. Other addicts tend not to question how much another person is using. As a user gets deeper into their addiction, things that they used to love, such as hobbies or sports, will become a lot less important. Be on the lookout for signs that your loved one is selling the equipment they need for their hobby.

Changes in personality or attitude

In particular, look for mood swings, increased irritability, and temper outbursts. Some drugs, such as meth, will cause these types of temperament changes almost immediately after use, while other drugs will not have such a rapid effect. As a person becomes more addicted, however, it becomes more likely that they will act out if they do not have access to their drug of choice.

Remember that these personality changes will vary from person to person. Even two people taking the same substance may have very different reactions to it. This is particularly the case with addicts who are self-medicating to deal with the symptoms of a mental illness such as depression or bipolar disorder. It’s impossible to predict exactly how an individual may react because of the unknown substances found in many street drugs and the inability of even the medical community to know exactly how much of a drug a person has become chemically addicted to.

It is not uncommon for drug users to become more irritated, fearful, suspicious of others, or even violent. If you have a loved one who threatens violence against themselves or others, take steps to protect yourself, the others around you, and your addicted one immediately. While many families are hesitant to call law enforcement, it’s often the best option to ensure the safety of everyone involved.