Addiction can be extremely difficult to deal with – and it rarely just affects the person with the addiction. Addiction can also impact the lives of friends and family members too.
Whether your friend is addicted to drugs or alcohol, addiction can have many negative consequences on all areas of their life – their physical health, mental health, relationships, finances, and more.
If you have a family member or friend with addiction, it’s only natural that you have the desire to help them.
Read on to learn more about addiction, including how to recognise signs of addiction, and more importantly, how you can help a friend with addiction.
The signs of substance use disorder aren’t always clear – substance abuse issues can be hidden from friends, especially during the early stages of substance use disorder.
Substance use disorder can include either alcohol dependence or drug addiction, or alcohol abuse/ drug abuse – with dependence being the more severe form.
Read on for some signs that your friend may be addicted to drugs or alcohol. However, it’s important to note that these signs are not a diagnosis – your friend should seek professional support if they think they have an addiction.
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Alcohol is a dangerous substance and can be very addictive. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that alcohol was the top drug involved in drug-related emergency hospital admissions. 41.70% of drug-related emergency room visits were linked to alcohol consumption.
Drinking too much alcohol can also increase the risk of developing certain types of cancer, as well as a wide range of other health-related issues.
Over 700,000 people in the UK are dependent on alcohol – it is a chronic and relapsing brain disorder that can affect anybody, regardless of age, sex, or race. Alcoholism affects millions of people around the world.
Several signs could suggest your friend has an alcohol problem. For example, you may simply notice that they are drinking more than usual, they are spending a lot of time hungover, or they appear to be isolating themselves.
People with an addiction may appear to change – they may become less reliable, and cancel commitments. This is because alcohol is becoming their priority. Read on for some more signs that your friend may have an alcohol addiction.
When you abuse alcohol frequently, you may develop a tolerance. If your friend has a high alcohol tolerance, they may appear to hold alcohol better than others. For example, you may be drinking the same amount of alcohol and feel intoxicated, but your friend may appear sober.
This is because the more you drink over time, the more your body gets used to the alcohol in your system. Tolerance, however, can quickly develop into dependence.
This means that your friend may feel the need to drink more alcohol to feel the same effect – and may eventually feel the need to drink more alcohol just to feel ‘normal’.
That being said, having a high tolerance doesn’t always suggest that your friend has a problem. Several factors can impact a person’s tolerance to alcohol – for example, weight, height, age, and sex.
A person who has a physical alcohol dependence will experience withdrawal symptoms when they suddenly stop drinking or begin consuming fewer units than their body is used to.
Alcohol withdrawal can be difficult – and the general rule of thumb is that the more severe the addiction, the more withdrawal the symptoms.
You may be wondering why withdrawal symptoms occur. It all comes down to GABA – a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system.
When you drink alcohol, the levels of GABA travelling through your central nervous system rise, which can leave you feeling relaxed and calm. Alcohol can also lower the levels of glutamate in your body, lowering excitability levels.
However, the more you drink, the more your body gets used to these changes – and your body may struggle to increase the effects of GABA or decrease glutamate levels. This means that when you stop drinking alcohol, the GABA receptors remain less effective, leading to you feeling unpleasant symptoms.
When your friend is withdrawing from alcohol, they may experience a range of physical, behavioural and psychological withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms may include:
Withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to moderate to severe. Your friend may only experience mild withdrawal symptoms – however, there is always a risk of severe withdrawal. This is why we always recommend a medical detox. Withdrawing from alcohol at home without support can be dangerous.
Severe alcohol withdrawal is rare – however, if your friend is experiencing severe symptoms such as hallucinations, it’s important to seek medical attention. Delirium tremens can be particularly dangerous – it’s the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal.
Signs of drug use/ drug abuse and addiction aren’t always obvious, especially in the early stages of addiction.
However, if you wish to help your friend, it’s important to be able to recognise whether your friend is addicted to drugs or not.
First of all, you should be aware that the signs of drug use and abuse can vary from drug to drug. If your friend takes amphetamines, for example, they may appear more chatty or alert. However, if they take cannabis, they may appear more relaxed.
It’s also important to note that being addicted to drugs doesn’t always involve illicit drugs/ street drugs. It’s possible to become addicted to prescription medication too – for example, oxycodone or Valium.
At Help4Addiction, we can help your friend overcome a range of drug addictions – for example:
Somebody who abuses drugs likely uses drug paraphernalia. This can include needles for injecting drugs, pipes for smoking drugs, miniature spoons or scoops for powders, or small bags to store the drugs. If you are concerned that your friend is abusing drugs, look out for drug paraphernalia.
If your friend is dependent on drugs, chances are, they will experience symptoms of withdrawal when they suddenly stop taking drugs or drastically lower their dose.
Drug withdrawal symptoms can vary from drug to drug, with the severity ranging from mild to severe. When withdrawing from cannabis, for example, symptoms will likely be much milder than withdrawing from heroin or other opioids.
If your friend stops taking cannabis after developing a psychological addiction, they may struggle to concentrate or experience feelings of anxiety. Opioid and heroin withdrawal can be much more difficult to deal with. Symptoms of opioid withdrawal can include:
Drug withdrawal symptoms can be difficult, and we always recommend that people receive support when detoxing from drugs. Contact us today to discuss drug detox options.
There is rarely, if ever, just one cause of addiction. Instead, several factors often contribute to the risk of addiction.
When understanding the causes of different substance use disorders, it’s important to consider a wide range of factors, including psychological factors, environmental factors, societal factors and genetic factors.
Likewise, addiction doesn’t happen overnight – it occurs with regular use. If your friend is abusing substances or has a substance addiction, consider the reasons why they turned to the substance, to begin with.
Some common reasons why people turn to alcohol or drugs may include:
Peer pressure – they may feel the need to take drugs or alcohol to ‘fit in’ with those around them
To relax – having a few drinks every so often or taking drugs recreationally to unwind can quickly develop into dependence
To experiment – although rare, it’s possible to become addicted to certain drugs after just one or two uses.
To block out unwanted feelings – if your friend is experiencing depression or anxiety, they may drink alcohol or take drugs to relieve the unpleasant symptoms.
Psychological factors should be considered when examining the causes of addiction – mental health is a huge risk factor in regard to addiction. Traumatic experiences can also contribute to the risk of addiction.
In fact, around half of all people with severe mental disorders are affected by substance abuse. 53% of people who abuse drugs, and 37% of people who abuse alcohol have at least one severe mental illness.
Genetics may be a causal factor in terms of addiction. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) suggest that genes are responsible for approximately half of the risk of alcohol use disorder.
This means that having a family history of alcohol abuse or alcoholism may increase the risk of you developing an addiction. Certain genes have been identified that are known to increase the risk of developing alcohol use disorder – ADH1B and ALDH2.
Studies that involved families, including fraternal twins, identical twins, siblings and adoptees, found that close to half of a person’s risk of developing alcoholism, nicotine addiction, or addiction to drugs comes down to genetics.
Addiction can quickly take over a person’s life and can appear to change their entire personality. It can be difficult to deal with a friend with an addiction. However, it’s important that your friend gets the help they need.
It’s also important that you look after yourself. It can be time-consuming and overwhelming taking care of a friend with addiction, so be sure that you are meeting your own needs too, and taking steps to unwind and de-stress.
When helping a person struggling with addiction, it’s important to understand that they have to do the work themselves – all you can do is support them and gently push them in the right direction. Read on for some helpful tips on how you can help your friend with addiction.
Sometimes, all it takes is a calm and open discussion for your friend to address their addiction. When speaking to your friend about their drug or alcohol addiction, it’s important to remain calm.
If they are currently intoxicated, the best option may be to postpone the talk until they are sober. This is because the conversation may get heated, or your friend may react badly.
Opening a conversation about the problem gives your friend a chance to share their perspective. They may open up about the reasons behind the addiction, or how it is affecting their life.
It also gives you a chance to discuss how their addiction is impacting you, or the effect it may be having on other people (for example, their children).
Remain supportive and open, and try to keep the conversation on track. It can be helpful to plan out the conversation ahead of time, giving you a chance to discuss the points you wish to discuss.
While speaking to your friend, keep in mind that addiction is a disease. Nobody chooses to become addicted to drugs or alcohol – and it is extremely difficult to not only identify addiction but address it too.
Avoid placing blame on your friend, and instead, focus on providing your support. Letting your friend know that you are there for them can go a long way.
If your friend is in denial about their addiction, an intervention may be the next best option. An intervention, however, may be overwhelming. This is why we recommend that you keep it small – only invite close friends and family members.
Some people choose to invite a mental health professional or addiction specialist to explain the options available, whereas others may avoid inviting people that they don’t know.
When staging an intervention for alcoholism or drug addiction, it’s important to consider the goal. What do you hope to achieve from the intervention?
Most people stage an intervention in order for the subject of the intervention to address the issue, whereas others will do so to encourage the person to attend rehab.
An effective way of showing your support and helping a friend with addiction is taking time out of your own life to attend support groups with your friend. You may even help them choose a local support group to attend, or explain the benefits of support groups to them.
Whether it be online support groups or in-person support groups and 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, it can be extremely beneficial to attend groups with those in a similar situation.
It can be difficult to overcome addiction, especially without the right addiction treatment. If you want to help your friend, you may gently push them in the direction of addiction treatment.
Although it is entirely possible to overcome addiction alone and complete a detox ‘cold turkey’, we never recommend it. Everybody deserves support when overcoming addiction – and quality treatment programs can provide you with this support.
Detoxification is best completed as part of a comprehensive treatment program. This is because detoxification alone does not address the social, behavioural or psychological factors of addiction – instead, focusing on addressing physical dependence.
Rehab treatment plans can vary from clinic to clinic – however, the core rehab process generally remains the same regardless of the clinic, substance, or person.
Rehab begins with detoxification, and upon completing a detox, you may progress onto the next stages of rehab. The next stages include therapy and secondary treatment.
Therapy has several purposes – not only can it treat existing mental illness/ mental health problems, but can improve confidence and general well-being.
Effective therapy treatment can teach you valuable and effective coping strategies that can be extremely useful when managing addiction. Likewise, talking therapies such as counselling can help you develop a better understanding of your addiction.
There are many different therapies used to treat addiction – for example, CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), DBT (dialectical behavioural therapy), family therapy, group therapy, and even holistic therapies such as art therapy.
It can help to explain the benefits of addiction treatment and provide them with information about rehab. This is something we can help with at Help4Addiction – read on to learn more.
At Help4Addiction, we understand how difficult it can be to not only identify and address addiction but find the right treatment.
Recovery can be difficult – but it can feel like a losing battle if you attempt to overcome your addiction without the right support.
With so many different treatment options available, it can be tough to determine the best path forward. For example, there is luxury rehab, private rehab, NHS-operated rehab, residential rehab, quasi-residential rehab, and outpatient rehab.
If you are concerned about your friend or loved one’s substance abuse, point them in our direction. We can have a confidential chat with them to determine the best treatment options for them, and we can find them a quality treatment program.
Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV. He is the founder and CEO of a drug and alcohol rehab center called Help4addiction, which was founded in 2015. He has been clean himself since 2009 and has worked in the Addiction and Rehab Industry for over a decade. Nick is dedicated to helping others recover and get treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. In 2013, he released a book ‘The Thin White’ line that is available on Amazon.
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