Life is nothing without our loved ones. It’s meaningless without the connections we establish throughout our time here on earth. We are inherently social creatures, and we thrive on human support, on the relationships we foster, and on the love we feel for others.

But what happens when one of your beloved friends or family members become but a shadow of the person you used to know? When you begin to witness the gradual unraveling of their societal norms? When – albeit innocuous at first – their substance use begins to interfere with their quality of life?

Are you inclined to think something is wrong? Or do you think it’s maybe just a rough patch, something that will pass on its own?

The real question is …

How do you know when your loved one has a real problem with drugs or alcohol?

As discussed time and again, substance use disorder is a disease. It’s bizarre to think how something that starts off as a good time can end up as an actual illness, literally altering your brain. But addiction does just that. It targets and impacts your mind and your body, changing the way you’re wired. And with the abnormal surges of dopamine it releases in your brain’s reward center, it become increasingly difficult to turn away from, despite its harmful consequences.   

According to a recent article published by Partnership to End Addiction, a non-profit organization that provides personalized support and resources for families impacted by addiction, there a certain criteria to look out for:

Criteria includes:

1. The substance is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.

2. There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful effort to cut down or control use of the substance.

3. A great deal of time is spent to obtain, consume and recover from a substance.

4. Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use the substance, occurs.

5. Continued use of the substance results in a failure to fulfill major role responsibilities at work, school or home.

6. Use of the substance is contributing to relationship problems.

7. Important social, occupational or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of use of the substance.

8. Use of the substance is recurrent in situations in which it is physically hazardous (e.g., driving while intoxicated).

9. Continuing to use the substance despite knowing that it has an impact on physical or psychological problems likely caused by the substance (e.g., drinking with a liver condition or using opioids when depressed or anxious).

10. Tolerance, which means that the person needs more of a substance to get a desired effect or the same amount of a substance doesn’t produce the desired effect any longer.

11. Withdrawal, such that when the substance is not taken, a person experiences substance-specific withdrawal symptoms.

Final Thoughts

Substance use disorder is all consuming. It’s a black whole absorbing all the fruits of your labor into an abyss of despair until you’re left with nothing. It is more complex than other diseases in that it is both a brain disorder and a mental illness, and it has to be treated as such. But there is good news: it can be treated. And the earlier you detect those signs and intervene, the better your loved one will be.