Lorelie Rozzano is a guest blogger for Vertava Health.
Carol (not her real name) was searching online for local rehab facilities when she found our number and called in. She asked a question many of you have probably wondered about. Carol asked, “How do you know if someone is using drugs?” She said her 19 year old son Jason was acting strangely. She suspected he was using drugs but when she confronted him, he vehemently denied it.
I told Carol what drug paraphernalia to look for. She was shocked. Carol had heard of some of the things I mentioned, but wouldn’t have guessed at the others. Carol asked why there wasn’t a sheet you can reference when you’re a parent whose suspicious your child is using drugs. Carol might not know it, but there are all kinds of articles about addiction on the internet. However, no matter how many articles you read the best reference families have is their own intuition. You know your child or loved one better than anyone else. You’ll likely be the first person to pick up on signs that something drastic has taken place and changed in the way he/she is thinking, feeling, and behaving.
If you’re noticing these changes they may be struggling with addiction. Below are some signs to look out for.
Things go missing around the house; Missing money and/or electronics. Missing jewelry. Missing coins, or checks. Missing clothes and sneakers. Hot items are cell phones, tablets, laptops, gaming stations, iPods, video games, DVDs, TVs, tools, bikes, cameras, and musical instruments.
Finding weird objects in your son/daughter’s bedroom; you might find burned tinfoil, bent spoons, missing spoons, blackened spoons, and bloodied cotton swabs in the garbage, cigarette filters in blackened spoons, multiple lighters or butane torches. Hallowed out pen cartridges, straws cut into smaller straws, small pieces of ripped up paper (plain or magazine) with creases as if once folded up. Medication bottles with the labels ripped off. Squares of tinfoil with large black streaks. Tiny pieces of garbage bags or balloons. Screens cut out of windows, and microwave/bathroom/kitchen sink. Rolled up dollar bills and white, beige or tan powder on mirror. Broken glass with blackened residue. Glass pipes. Aluminum cans that have been squashed in the middle and punctured with little holes. Nitrous oxide cartridges.
Behavioral changes; your loved one is sullen and withdraws from the family. They may hang out with new friends. They isolate and disappear for long periods of time. Won’t answer your calls. Says everything is fine but doesn’t act that way. Up all night, sleeps all day. Loses interest in previous hobbies. Wake-sleeping, nodding head, eyes are dead looking (flat and lifeless) smile doesn’t reach eyes. Conversations are difficult. Yelling, swearing, blaming, justifying, manipulating, procrastinating, and laziness. No accountability of money spent. Loss of job, quits or fails school, gets caught shoplifting, makes promises but is unable to fulfill them. May have car accidents, or criminal charges. They can’t look you in the eye.
Physical changes; some drugs make pupils bigger, some make them smaller. Certain drugs create itchiness, sneezing, and weight loss. Altered speech pattern – faster/slower than their normal. Also scratching hair/scalp and twirling/playing with, or randomly cutting hair off. Scratching body and tapping body, tapping their foot/feet. Sweating, dry mouth, and white foamy spots at corners of lip. Break out on face. Frequent cold sores or complains of coming down with the ‘flu.’ Appears sedated or wide-awake. Picking at skin. Scarred face, rotten teeth and poor hygiene. Contraction of HIV, hepatitis and other illnesses. Experiences heart problems such as heart attack, or speedy heart. Respiratory problems, emphysema and breathing problems. Abdominal pain, vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea. Kidney and liver damage. Seizures, stroke, and brain damage.
Psychological changes; Acting paranoid – closing blinds, not answering calls, threatening to harm self or others, says people are after him/her. Hears voices in head. Mumbling. Hallucinations. Confusion. Memory loss. Craving drugs and/or alcohol. Risky behaviors – stealing cars, bicycles, purses, wallets, mugging people, threatening violence, breaking and entering into homes or cars.
Emotional changes; becomes anxious, angry, and depressed. Fearful and apathetic. Rages at you, when you confront them on their behavior. Withdraws love and affection. Emotionally disconnected from others. Evasive. Shut down. When high can be overly happy seemingly oblivious to the problems they’re creating. May act overly loving stating I love you, over and over again. In the next breath they may turn angry accusing you of not loving them and threatening to kill themselves.
Carol isn’t the first person wondering what the tell-tale signs of addiction are. No one wants to believe their loved one is an addict. And no addict wants to believe they’re addicted. Addiction changes the person you love into someone you don’t recognize. If you can relate to any of the above examples and suspect your loved one is using drugs, you’re probably right. It’s important to remember addicts aren’t bad people, but they are sick. When confronting your loved one you may need help. One on one, it’s easy to feel helpless. Denial is a huge part of this illness and the addicted person doesn’t comprehend how sick they’ve become.
In answer to Carol’s question, how do you know if someone is using drugs? If you’re asking the question, chances are you already know the answer. Trust your intuition. Believe your eyes and the changes you’re seeing. And most importantly, reach out for help.
If you or someone you know needs help, please call this confidential support line for assistance. 1-888-614-2379.