10 Tell-Tale Signs Someone Needs an Addiction Intervention

10 Tell-Tale Signs Someone Needs an Addiction Intervention
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Most people at some point in their lives discover someone they love or work with has a problem with alcohol or drugs. Public health experts estimate 1 in 10 people has a substance abuse problem, so it is unlikely you will never meet someone who needs addiction treatment. And chances are some of those people need an intervention. How do you know if an addiction intervention is the right next step for your family?

The biggest obstacle to addiction treatment is denial. Any attempt to address substance abuse behavior is often met with outright hostility – how dare you suggest such a thing. This attitude is encouraged by a number of factors: as a society we still incorrectly look at addiction as a moral failing and the addict who is confronted about their problem feels threatened. What would they do if they didn’t have their drink or drug of choice? How could they handle life? You are, in effect, threatening their very ability to survive in their eyes.

The point is you can rarely just ask someone if they have a problem with alcohol or drugs and get a straight answer. Most likely, you will have to do a little detective work and figure out on your own if that person needs an addiction intervention.

Here are 10 tell-tale signs that someone you know needs an alcohol intervention or a drug intervention.

1. Tolerance

They need a lot more alcohol or prescription pain medication, whatever their substance of choice, to get the effect they are seeking. You might notice they are filling a prescription more often, or buying an extra case of beer more often. This is because as an addiction escalates, tolerance develops, and the body requires more of the drug just to feel “normal.” If you see tolerance increasing to risky levels, an intervention is a good idea.

2. Deceptive Behavior

The addict will try to disguise their behavior. They might do this by hiding bottles of alcohol, showing up at events already intoxicated so they don’t appear to drink too much in public, or hiding opiate prescription medications in unmarked bottles so you can’t identify them as addictive substances.  In an intervention you can address the deception and move the addict toward treatment.

3. From Clean and Sharp to Just-Rolled-Out-of-Bed

The addict’s appearance deteriorates. An addict has one goal each day: get the alcohol or drug they need. As this need becomes more pressing, other needs get left by the wayside. Their clothes may appear disheveled or they may shave less often; they might appear tired and haggard much of the time. Women will often try to disguise this with more makeup. Remember, however, an alcoholic or addict will put enormous effort into hiding their problem, so a decline in appearance may not occur until the later stages of addiction.  By pointing this aspect out in an intervention, you begin to break through the addict’s denial.

4. Forgetting What They Did or Said

It is common for heavy substance abusers to experience black outs or brown outs. These are periods of time that the alcoholic or addict cannot recall. They might have hazy recall or no recall at all of events that occurred when they were intoxicated. You might remark on something they said or did at a party, and they look utterly baffled. This is a sign of serious substance abuse, especially if it occurs more than once or twice.  Reminding the person about each of these episodes can be a very powerful part of the intervention.

5. Financial Woes

They are having money problems that can’t be explained. Addicts can be pretty adept at manipulating others to feed their addiction, but eventually the cost of substance abuse catches up to them and they can no longer hide dire financial straits. If someone is wealthy, this sign can take a lot time to show up, which may mean their addiction can progress to a much more serious stage before they feel financial pressure to find a solution.  If you have been enabling the addict with money, the intervention is a good time to let them know that money will only be put toward treatment from here forward.

6. Risky Behavior or Just Clumsy

They experience an unusual number of accidents and injuries. Or they may miss the accident, but end up with a DUI. If your friend gets one DUI, that’s a problem; two DUIs indicates a much bigger problem. Generally, normal drinkers get the message with one mistake. Those who get repeated DUIs get them because they cannot stop themselves from drinking; once they have that first drink, they lose the ability to control their intake. For prescription drug addicts, they may have real injuries, or they may begin to “manufacture” pain to get more medication. As addiction progresses, the addict has less regard for their physical health. They may become more accident prone and show signs such as bruises or unexplained injuries.

7. Moody and Unpredictable

They exhibit irrational behavior and mood swings. Being around an addict can be like riding a roller coaster. They will often overreact, particularly to even the slightest mention of their drinking or drug use. You never know if they will be angry, depressed, happy, elated, miserable, hostile…the list goes on. Often their mood is determined by when they last used, how much they used, if they are in withdrawal, or if they are nursing a hangover. Once the addiction has a total grip on a person, their mood is determined by the availability of their drug of choice, sufficient opportunities to use it, and how adeptly they maintain sufficient intoxication to avoid withdrawal symptoms – it becomes a tougher game to play as time goes on.

8. From Responsible to Just Getting By

Previously responsible people are now late to work, sleeping too much, or grades are slipping. Usually if you have known a person for a while, you will recognize certain baseline behaviors. This person is very responsible, rarely calls in sick to work, or always does pretty well in school. If you do know this baseline, changes in behavior can be pretty striking. Someone who prides himself on never calling in sick to work, starts calling in on a regular basis, or worse, goes to work anyway and gets sent home. The young adult who was always a straight-A student has now dropped one class and barely passed two others. Your spouse falls asleep at 9 pm and it would take an atom bomb to wake him – he never used to sleep so heavily.

9. Isolating Themselves

They start to isolate, preferring to be alone at home. Does your friend or loved one avoid doing things they used to love, particularly things that involve other people? Isolating is a common behavior as addiction progresses. They may only want to be around others who drink the way they do, so they narrow their social circle to other substance abusers, or they may have found it’s just easier to get the level of intoxication they want by staying home and taking care of business. Other people just get in the way.  The intervention may be the first time the addict has been in the same room with all their loved ones at the same time. Breaking through that isolation is a powerful part of the intervention process.

10. Worsening Mental Health Problems

Mental health issues that were once mild are getting much worse. Maybe they always got a little down, or had some mild anxiety, but as the addiction progresses, mental health issues often get magnified. Depression may deepen dramatically, or the anxious person might start having panic attacks or develop phobias or paranoid behavior. Alcohol and drugs are often ways of self-medicating for real emotional or psychological issues, but they are a poor solution and usually serve only to exacerbate underlying mental health issues.