How Can You Tell if Someone has a Problem with Alcohol or Other Drugs?
The sudden appearance of unusual behavior may be a sign of an alcohol or other drug problem. If it is, you will probably notice that the behavior is getting worse. Alcoholism and drug addiction are diseases that will get worse until they are treated or until the person dies. Alcoholism and other drug addiction affect the user's health, behavior, and life. Addiction typically follows these stages:
Stage 1: Casual or "experimental" use. The person gets high but no one thinks it is a problem. There may not be any signs of use at this stage.
Stage 2: More frequent alcohol or other drug use. The person starts using more often, even during the week. Clues to look for are changes in friends, poor school or work performance, mood changes, and unexplained loss of memory, called "blackouts."
Stage 3: Preoccupied with getting high. Daily use is common for some users; others may "binge" (use heavily once a week or so). The user is ill more often, family and job problems get worse, and the user may start having trouble with the law. Family and friends are concerned.
Stage 4: Compulsive use. Without the drug, the user may go into withdrawal, which can be life threatening. Illness, blackouts (memory loss due to brain damage from alcohol or other drugs), and overdosing are more common. The family feels torn apart. Getting money to buy drugs becomes an obsession. The user is about to lose his or her job and is isolated from friends. Treatment is crucial to the user's survival.
The Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment tool (SBIRT) is a simple, self scoring test that helps assess if you have a drinking problem.
How To Help Someone Who has an Alcohol or Drug Problem
If someone you know shows signs of alcohol or drug abuse, you may want to help, but you need to know how. The best way to help a user face an alcohol or other drug problem is to make sure you don't ignore or cover up behaviors or mistakes that result from the abuse or addiction. When you cover up for someone it's called enabling. When you enable, you allow a person to avoid the negative results of using alcohol or other drugs. After a while, you may feel angry because the user takes advantage of your patience and kindness.
Confronting someone can be scary. It might help to learn about abuse and addiction. Every bookstore and library has information on this topic. Remember that you have the right to tell someone how his or her behavior is affecting you. Don't allow your fear of offending the person get in the way. You might offend the user when you say his or her drug use seems extreme, but your concern might also save the user's job, marriage, or life. Check into treatment options before confronting the user. Call EAP or look in the telephone book under "alcoholism," "substance abuse," or "rehabilitation." Remember that if you ignore an addiction, it will only get worse.
Finally, know that you are not alone. Millions of people have been hurt by someone else's alcohol or other drug use. You can get help even if the user won't. There are lots of self-help groups for friends and family of alcohol and other drug users. These groups can show you new ways to respond to the user so you don't feel hurt or scared. And maybe when the user sees the change in you, he or she may realize that it's time to make some changes too.