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How To Spot Signs Of Drug Abuse In A Family Member

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Did you know that 1 in 9 people have most likely used illicit drugs (cocaine, heroin, crystal meth) in the past month? According to a 2018 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)1, that’s 31.9 million Americans, aged 12 and older. These numbers show that drug abuse continues to be a major concern in the United States.

If you suspect that a family member is abusing drugs, the best way forward is to identify if they really have a problem. Then, if necessary, you can get them help before it spirals into a dangerous addiction. If the addiction gets serious, they may need to undergo drug detox treatment in an addiction facility. Read on for common signs of drug abuse in a family member, to get a clearer picture of what’s going on with your loved one.

Types of Drug Abuse

Drug abuse, an umbrella term, has different meanings depending on the type of substance. These meanings range from using illegal drugs and prescriptions excessively to taking over-the-counter medicine to get high2. Even one instance counts as drug abuse.

Most drug addictions begin with just one experimental use in a social situation. Unfortunately, this could lead to more frequent use. Some drugs have a higher risk than others for developing a dependency on. Drug addiction can vary from individual to individual, even for members within the same family, depending on the substance. 

Behavioral Signs of Drug Abuse in A Family Member

Often, it can be difficult to distinguish between regular teenage moodiness and signs that your loved one is on drugs. However, there are behavioral indicators you can use if you are not sure how to tell if someone is on drugs.

  • Money, jewelry, or electronics are missing. If you’ve discovered that any of these items have disappeared, it could suggest that they were sold to support a drug addiction.
  • Your family member is always asking for money. Sudden requests for money without explanation is a major red flag. People spend large amounts of money on drugs, usually draining their bank accounts. They need a constant cash flow in order to be able to support their ongoing addiction.
  • Legal issues. This is very common. Drug users may end up being caught buying or possessing illegal drugs, stealing to support their addiction, driving while under the influence, and more.
  • Loss of job. Drug dependence can lead to absenteeism and bad performance at work, resulting in unemployment.
  • Missed school. Frequently missing school, a disinterest in school activities, and grade decline could indicate drug abuse, although could also be completely unrelated.
  • Car accidents. Someone addicted to drugs is more likely to drive under the influence, which can lead to road accidents.

Physical Signs of Drug Abuse

People using drugs often show signs on their body. Here are a few things to look out for when looking for signs that a family member is using drugs:

  • Weight Change. People using marijuana may gain weight, while those using stimulants lose weight. Any significant weight change could point toward drug abuse. 
  • Pale skin or dark circles under the eyes.
  • Wearing long sleeve shirts on really hot days. Abusers usually try to hide signs of their addiction through concealment like wearing sunglasses and long sleeves. This is because drugs that are taken intravenously leave behind bruising and needle marks, especially on the arms.

If you notice other differences in a family member's physical appearance, it could be due to alcohol abuse. Alcoholic breath and body odor are common indications of alcohol addiction.


Risk Factors for Drug Abuse

Anyone, despite age, economic status, and sex, can become addicted to drugs. However, there are certain factors3 that can increase the likelihood of drug abuse and addiction.

  • Family history. If you have a blood relative with an addiction, you’re more susceptible to develop one too as it likely involves a genetic predisposition.
  • Being male. Men are more likely to become addicted to drugs compared to women. However, women can progress faster with addiction disorders.
  • Lack of family involvement. Difficult family circumstances, no parental supervision, and limited bond with family members can increase the risk of someone becoming involved with a drug addiction.
  • Mental health disorders. Drug dependency can stem from other disorders like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic-stress disorder, and attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder. Drugs can be a way to cope with (or an escape from) these conditions.


Summary: Spotting Signs of Drug Abuse in a Family Member

Drug addiction can be especially hard for family members to deal with. That’s why it’s important to spot the signs of drug abuse and identify risk factors as early as possible. The more physical and behavioral signs of drug abuse you’re able to look out for, the better chance you have at researching and choosing the best treatment plan for your loved one who’s struggling with drug addiction. If your loved one is struggling with alcohol abuse in particular, read our resource about identifying signs of an alcoholic spouse to gain some clarity.

If you have any questions, please contact us at Avenues Recovery or call us directly at 603-803-4551 to speak to a professionally trained coach who cares and is waiting to help. 

Discover more about substance abuse and addiction on our website.

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