How to Recognize Addiction in a Loved One

Recognizing addiction in a loved one can be painful. Often we do not want to acknowledge the warning signs. Regardless, addiction is a serious condition that needs to be taken seriously, or it will continue to get worse.

In the book Addicted?: Recognizing Destructive Behaviors Before It’s Too Late, author Marilyn Freimuth discusses addiction in detail. Freimuth, a psychologist and trained psychotherapist, explains that we unknowingly encounter individuals struggling with addiction far more often than we think. Even when those individuals are in our families, we may fail to recognize the signs.

Most individuals struggling with addiction do not conform to the stereotypes. They are coworkers, friends, loved ones, and family members. “And just as you do not recognize them as being addicted,” Freimuth writes, “it is likely that they, too, do not know they have a problem.” 

Why Do We Fail to Recognize Addiction Early On?

We often tell ourselves that we would know if a loved one had an addiction problem without really understanding what addiction entails and how it starts. Without understanding based on proper research, we cannot expect ourselves to recognize that someone we know is addicted. 

While drastic personality changes can be an immediate red flag of addiction, on many occasions the signs are more subtle. We can easily fail to recognize addiction in a loved one because we are unaware of the signs or assume they need to be more extreme to “count.”

When we do finally suspect addictive patterns in a loved one, we may stay quiet because we feel like there is no use confronting them or because we fear our loved one will get angry or deny it. 

What Are Subtle Signs of Addiction?

Understanding the subtle signs that indicate addiction can help us recognize them. The sooner addictions are recognized and acknowledged, the greater the chance that someone will get help before the addiction continues to become a more serious problem.

Freimuth gives a framework for recognizing the subtle signs of addiction. A behavior indicates a potentially addictive pattern if it:

  • Is done primarily for its effect 
  • Creates “a new me”
  • Routinely exceeds normative levels 
  • Has unexpected consequences
  • Shapes choices of friends 
  • Is usually social but is done alone
  • Is done indiscriminately
  • Causes legal, financial, or relationship trouble
  • Is difficult to give up
  • The person has given excuses for its continued use
  • Is something that many people have trouble doing in moderation

Besides watching for these behaviors, we might also consider if our loved ones exhibit significant personality, mood, or habit changes. During the early stages of addiction, signs of addiction may not be easy to recognize, especially if they could be attributed to something else. For example, people have mood swings for a variety of reasons. Although, if we notice mood or behavior changes in a loved one that concerns us, it is important to listen to our intuition. While we may be wrong if we ask them about addiction, it is better to keep an open mind and pay attention than to ignore what is going on and make excuses on behalf of our loved one’s addiction.

How Can Family Members Help a Loved One Struggling With Addiction?

Recognizing and accepting that a loved one struggles with addiction can be very painful. We may watch our loved ones continually hurt themselves and not understand why they cannot simply stop.

The first step to helping them is to understand addiction is a brain disorder rather than a moral choice. The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains it this way: addiction is a brain disorder because “it involves functional changes to brain circuits involved in reward, stress, and self-control.” Such changes can last long after a person stops using. Fortunately, treatment can help the brain heal itself over time in the same way that treatments can help people who have other diseases.

The second step to helping our loved ones is to be mindful of how we might be indirectly enabling their addiction. We should not rescue our loved ones from the consequences of their behaviors, because they may need to experience significant consequences to be motivated to change. For example, financially supporting a loved one struggling with addiction because they have neglected their financial responsibilities due to substance use will only make them feel free to continue using.

As we learn to stop enabling an addiction, we need to remember that while we can help our loved ones, we cannot do the work of recovery for them. We can stage an intervention with help from a professional to get them into treatment, but we cannot make them truly heal. That responsibility is ultimately their own.

When Should I Seek Professional Help?

Often, we delay seeking professional intervention help because we do not want to accept that our family is dealing with a serious problem. Additionally, misconceptions about people struggling with addiction may make us feel ashamed. Ignoring the situation in hopes that it will go away on its own is not an effective solution.

Waiting to seek professional help will only make the addiction more challenging to handle and cost our families more pain. While we may want to help our loved one on our own, it does not hurt to get a professional opinion. Family members and friends are often too emotionally involved in the situation to be able to help on their own.

Addiction is a serious health issue that needs to be properly treated. In many cases, addiction is seen as a family disease that requires intervention and counseling. There is no need to fight such a difficult battle on our own. Support is available, and accessing it can start with a simple call.

Recognizing addiction in a loved one can be more challenging than we may think. In order to help a loved one recognize their addiction, we must first recognize it ourselves. We can learn to do this by educating ourselves on what addiction entails in order to detect warning signs early on. The sooner we are able to identify addiction in a loved one, the sooner we can seek help before the addiction progresses. Individuals struggling with addiction often engage in behaviors that indicate they have a serious problem. Such behaviors can include using a substance or activity primarily for its effect regardless of the consequences. It can also include using to create “a new me” to build the courage to be more social. Addiction is a brain disease that requires professional guidance. For more information, contact A New Hope Recovery today at (407) 501-8490.