Substance Abuse Disorders and Signs That Indicate a Loved One Is Struggling With One

Home > Substance Abuse Disorders and Signs That Indicate a Loved One Is Struggling With One
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Substance abuse disorders, otherwise known as substance use disorders (SUDs), are complex and affect nearly 21 million people in the US. These disorders not only affect a person’s physical and psychological well-being but also have a profound impact on the quality of their life. Substances like alcohol, nicotine, and drugs trigger psychoactive reactions in users. When someone is unable to control their ability to use these substances, they are said to have a substance abuse disorder.

People dealing with substance abuse disorders may fail to meet responsibilities at work, school, or home. The person may also experience withdrawal symptoms when they do not consume the drug or alcohol and may find themselves wanting to cut down on substance use but being unable to do so.

The signs and symptoms of these disorders vary depending on the specific substance involved. If you suspect a loved one is dealing with a substance abuse disorder, it’s important to deal with the issue carefully. Understanding the causes and symptoms of these disorders is vital if you’re helping a loved one heal.

Understanding How Substance Abuse Disorders Work

A substance abuse disorder is a chronic condition that can affect a person’s brain and behavior. It is a common misconception that people who struggle with these disorders are weak, unwilling, or “not trying hard enough.” However, this is untrue, and biological factors also play a huge role. Excessive and prolonged use of alcohol, nicotine, and drugs can cause significant changes to the brain’s structure and function. Alcohol, opioids, and other stimulants activate the brain’s reward center and cause abnormally high dopamine release responses. This is the primary cause of addiction.

People dealing with these disorders will have trouble controlling their use of alcohol or drugs despite relentless efforts to quit. The disorder can be mild, moderate, or severe, and it’s best to get medical attention as early as possible.

Types of Substance Abuse Disorders

Substance abuse disorders have been classified into several categories by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). People who meet at least two criteria from a list of symptoms for each category are said to have substance abuse disorders. The categories are:

Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder is a pattern of alcohol use that results in impairment. Alcoholism is the more severe form of an alcohol use disorder in which a person has failed to control their drinking and continues to consume alcohol at harmful levels despite the potential harm to themselves or others. A diagnosis of alcoholism requires at least three or more of the following symptoms within a 12-month period:

  • Excessive drinking
  • Wanting but not being able to reduce drinking
  • Continuing to drink despite problems caused by drinking
  • Having withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit

Amphetamine-Type Substance Use Disorder

Amphetamine-type substance use disorder is the most common type of substance abuse disorder. It involves using amphetamines and cocaine in a way that affects the person’s health and life. This disorder can be chronic, meaning it lasts for years and has a high relapse risk. A person dealing with this disorder may have symptoms of the problem again and again, even after treatment ends.

The following are symptoms of this type of substance use disorder:

  • Changes in mood or behavior (such as feeling more energetic or talkative)
  • Increased energy or activity levels
  • Decreased need for sleep

Cannabis Use Disorder

Cannabis use disorder is a mental health disorder in which someone cannot control their use of cannabis. The drug can cause dependence and withdrawal symptoms, like irritability, cravings, restlessness, depression, and anxiety.

The CDC estimates that about 9 percent of Americans age 12 or older have used marijuana at some point in their lives.

Cocaine Use Disorder

Cocaine use disorder is an addiction to cocaine. This can be a problem for people who use it for recreational purposes. This disorder also affects people who need to take the drug for medical reasons, such as pain management or the treatment of anxiety.

Hallucinogen-Persisting Perception Disorder

Hallucinogen-persisting perception disorder is a condition in which the patient continues to experience visual disturbances long after the last use of hallucinogens. This disorder has been documented in patients experiencing prolonged visual disturbances after using LSD or psilocybin.

Inhalant Use Disorder

Inhalant use disorder is a mental health condition that results from the repeated use of inhalants. Examples of common inhalants include spray paints, cleaning fluids, gasoline, and hair sprays. Inhalant use disorder is an umbrella term for all types of substance abuse involving these products.

Inhalant abuse can be found in all socioeconomic groups and age groups, and anyone can become addicted to them. They’re inexpensive (or even free) and can be purchased at any corner store or gas station without question from wary clerks who don’t recognize their addictive potential—plus, they’re easily accessible from your own home cabinets. However, if you suspect someone has a problem with inhaling household products or other toxins into their body by huffing them, then talk about getting help immediately before it’s too late.

Nicotine Dependence

Nicotine is a stimulant that affects the central nervous system. It causes the body to release endorphins, which are chemicals that make you feel good. While this can seem harmless at first glance, nicotine can be highly addictive and harmful to your health. Nicotine is found in tobacco products like cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco.

Opioid Use Disorders

Opioid use disorders are a set of behavioral health issues that occur when a person becomes dependent on opioids, including prescription pain relievers and heroin. Opioid use disorders can be severe and require professional treatment to help the person stop using these drugs.

Signs a Loved One is Dealing with a Substance Abuse Disorder

Substance abuse disorders are serious issues that affect many people. If you suspect that someone you love is suffering from this condition, it’s essential to educate yourself on the signs and symptoms so that you can help them get the treatment they need.

Here are some of the signs to look for that someone is dealing with a substance abuse disorder:

Mood Swings and Emotional Turbulence

You may notice that your loved one’s moods change dramatically or that their emotions seem volatile and unpredictable. For example, you may just be joking around with them about something silly, and then suddenly, they’re angry at you for seemingly no reason.

The reasons for these mood swings vary. Some people develop depression or anxiety because of substance abuse, while others turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with stress in their lives. Regardless of the cause, this kind of behavior can negatively impact your family dynamic as well as put your loved ones in danger.

Seems Withdrawn, Distant, or Defensive

If you notice that your loved one is withdrawing from their normal routine and social circle, take this as a warning sign that something may be wrong. If they are experiencing withdrawal symptoms, try to get them medical attention quickly.

The person may also get defensive easily. On the surface, being defensive is a natural human response to conflict. However, chronic defensiveness can be a red flag that there’s more going on than simply bad behavior. If the one you love frequently resorts to shifting blame when they’re confronted about their substance abuse disorder—or any other problem—it may indicate that they know they have an issue.

This kind of behavior often stems from shame—a feeling of unworthiness or embarrassment that causes people to believe they’re “bad” for doing something wrong. This can increase the risk of depression, as depression deepens over time due to repeated feelings of shame about one’s self-worth. A person who feels trapped in this cycle may turn again toward substance abuse as an escape from their pain.

Their Relationships are Falling Apart

You may notice that your loved one is no longer interested in spending time with friends, family, their partner, or their children. They may also seem easily irritable and have trouble maintaining healthy relationships. This may be because their ability to communicate has been affected or because they feel the need to isolate themselves.

Constant Coughing or Other Physical Symptoms

A hacking, persistent cough is a common symptom of substance abuse. A person struggling with substance abuse disorder may also experience other issues like chest pain, throat pain, or difficulty breathing. This may result in the person having to take frequent sick days.

Many people who struggle with alcohol or drug addiction also have poor immune systems and are more susceptible to illnesses such as colds and the flu.

Changes in Physical Appearance

Substance abuse disorders can lead to changes in physical appearance such as wrinkles, puffed skin, and other changes to skin texture and complexion. You may also notice red eyes or dilated pupils.

How to Help a Loved One Dealing with a Substance Abuse Disorder

If your loved one is dealing with a substance abuse disorder, it’s crucial to offer support, reassurance, and love. Recognize that the experience of withdrawal can be frightening and confusing. Most importantly, let them know how much they mean to you while they go through it.

Substance abuse disorders are tough because they cause people to feel ashamed of their addiction and isolate themselves from the people around them. It doesn’t help that many people, including some family members, may think that all addicts should just “stop” using drugs or drinking alcohol. But substance abuse is a disease, and like any other chronic disease, it takes time for someone to recover from it. You don’t need to understand all the details about how substance abuse disorders work—just know that this isn’t something they’re doing on purpose!

Here are some ways you can help:

Understand That They Don’t Want to Feel This Way

The first step in helping someone with an addiction is to understand that they don’t want to feel or be this way. It’s not a choice they are making on purpose—it’s something that has taken over their lives, and they can’t always control it.

Help in the Correct Manner

When you’re trying to help a loved one, it’s important that you offer your support in a non-judgmental way. Remember that your friend or family member is an adult who has to take care of themselves, so they may not want to hear you telling them what they should be doing with their lives. Instead, try just listening and offering advice only when asked for it.

If you find yourself feeling frustrated with the situation (and let’s face it—it can be hard), try meditating on some good memories shared with your loved one as a way of soothing yourself and focusing on positive things instead of letting anger get the best of you. You could also try writing down a list of all the things about this person that make them special and why you love them so much!

Be a Good Listener

Listening is one of the most important things you can do to help your loved one. It’s also important not to judge or criticize what they’re saying. Instead, listen with an open mind and let them tell their whole story without interruption.

Take Care of Yourself

Substance abuse is not an issue that can be solved overnight, and it’s crucial to take this into account when you’re helping your loved one. You may want to try talking to them about their substance abuse for the first time only after you’ve had some time alone to think about what you’re going to say and how you’ll handle yourself during the conversation.

Luckily, substance abuse disorders don’t have to last forever. People with substance abuse disorders can get better and become sober with the support of the people around them. If you or someone you love is struggling with a substance abuse disorder, there is hope. The first step is to seek help. Northbound Addiction Treatment Center – Newport Beach offers treatment options for people struggling with substance abuse. Our team will help you and your loved one through this journey to recovery.

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