THE BLOG
12/04/2013 01:45 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

How to Know a Loved One Is Using Drugs and Ways to Help Them

I love my family, just as I'm sure you love yours. Then there are the multitude of close friends and other loved ones who are family by choice. We protect and help all of our loved ones with staunch dedication and are willing to do whatever it takes to help take care of them and keep them out of trouble. Most of the time, our wish to lend assistance and care is met with gratitude from those we love. Other times, we can instead encounter anger, avoidance, and possibly even violence. This can be especially true when facing drug addiction in our loved ones. Not only is there a stigma attached to drug addicts in our society, there is also personal shame experienced by the sufferers.

What is drug addiction?

One of the most difficult things to do is admit a loved one has a drug addiction. We see the tragedies that play out for celebrities who abuse drugs and watch as their lifeless bodies are wheeled away from the scenes of their deaths due to drug overdoses. We stand by and follow along as many of them do stints in rehabilitation centers and relapse time and time again. For all the tragedy surrounding drug abuse, there are also some success stories. Unfortunately, the successes don't get as much attention in the media.

Drug addiction is when someone must use a drug to function in their life. The drug addict will not always display obvious signs that they are abusing drugs. Often, addicts maintain jobs and relationships and give all the outward signs of not having any drug issues. Addicts often cannot control how they use drugs and aren't able to manage their physical and psychological cravings for the drugs. Many people need help from professionals and support from loved ones when they are trying to kick a drug habit.

Contrary to popular belief, a drug does not have to be an illegal substance for the user to become addicted to it. An overwhelming 2.4 million people in America used prescription drugs for the first time, for purposes other than medical treatment, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2010. For many of these people, depending on various other factors, this first time use could very well result in drug addiction.

Factors That Determine Predisposition to Drug Addiction

Not everyone who uses a drug will become addicted. Some of the factors that may determine if a person will become addicted to drugs are:

•First using drugs at a young age. The younger a person is when they begin to use drugs, the higher the likelihood they will become an addict at some point in their life.

•Trauma. If there is a history of emotional or physical trauma, a person may abuse drugs to escape the pain of the events.

•Mental instability. Some people who experience depression, anxiety, or other mental disorders may be predisposed to drug addiction.

•Other addicts in family. Addiction may be hereditary, in response to certain genetic factors. Also, a person who witnesses drug abuse in their household or their family may grow up with the belief that it is okay to abuse drugs.

Drug addiction signs to look for

There are many times that a drug addict can abuse drugs for years and no one close to him or her ever knows. Many people don't know what to look for to see if someone close to them is using drugs. Some signs are more obvious than others, such as:

•Glassy eyes
•Household items disappearing
•Slurred speech
•Injection marks
•Agitation and irritability
•Stealing money or valuable objects
•Changes in physical appearance

Other signs are much more subtle and may take more investigation:

1. Marked changes in appetite
2. Trouble sleeping
3. Inability to concentrate
4. Drowsiness
5. Smell of drugs or heavy scents to mask odors of drugs
6. High tolerance to drugs or alcohol
7. Unusual examination of common objects
8. Bloodshot eyes, extreme thirst, decreased coordination, damage to mucus membranes

Troubles with drug addiction

Besides the obvious issue of a drug addict potentially overdosing and dying, there are various other possible dangers presented to drug addicts. Some addicts can experience life threatening health issues related to long-term drug use, such as the failure of kidneys or liver and other major organs. While under the influence, an addict can commit a crime and kill or seriously harm someone else. He or she can also become more sexually permissive and contract sexually transmitted diseases.

If your loved one is a drug addict and has committed a crime, it can be heartbreaking to imagine him or her spending their lives in jail because of an illness like drug addiction. They may become involved in a robbery, a motor vehicle accident, or commit other crimes they may not even remember once they are sober.

The most important thing you can do for your loved one who has a drug problem is to be there for them with love support. Also you need to take it upon yourself to get them the medical, legal, therapeutic, and what ever other types of help they need to overcome their addiction.

Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.