What Are Some Lesser-Known Signs of Addiction?
No one likes to believe their loved one has a substance use disorder. Not only that, it’s a fairly serious thing to confront someone about unless you’re pretty sure. This is bad for two reasons. First, if your loved one does have a substance use issue or other addiction, they will use your attentional blindness and uncertainty against you. They can easily leverage your doubts into making you apologize and drop the subject. Second, the longer you wait for clearer evidence, the worse their addiction will get. Addiction is a progressive disease and it will never be easier to overcome in the future, so time is valuable.
Some signs of addiction are fairly obvious. Someone may use drugs or alcohol excessively in your presence, even in appropriate situations. They may cancel plans or neglect other responsibilities so they can drink or use drugs. They may show withdrawal symptoms when they quit drinking or using drugs for a few days. They may seem incapable of drinking in moderation. Or they may promise to quit or even try to quit but then continue using or drinking anyway.
However, the signs of addiction are not always so evident or decisive. Addiction affects people from all walks of life and often people who are capable and resourceful in their careers and other areas of their lives bring those same talents to hiding their addictions.
No matter how skilled someone is at hiding their addiction, there are two things addiction always requires: time and money. Therefore, someone with a substance use disorder or other addiction will always need ways to account for missing time. The closer they are to you, the harder it is. One excuse that is convenient for many people, especially high achievers, is that they’re working late.
Typically, working late on its own is not definitive proof--which is really true for any item on this list--but it’s one piece of evidence. If your loved one is suddenly working longer hours, it could be a sign of addiction--perhaps even to work--or it could be a sign they’re hiding something else like an affair or planning a surprise party. Or they might actually be working. It’s just one piece of the puzzle.
Traveling a Lot
Another way of reserving time for an addiction is to travel more. This gives you time alone and you’re less likely to run into people you know. People who are especially concerned about their reputations, for either personal or professional reasons, often prefer to buy drugs and engage in other addictions farther from where they live so they are less likely to run into people they know. Traveling more for work or to visit relatives and insisting on going alone may be another sign of addiction.
Running More Errands
It’s tricky to hide an addiction from someone you live with. Even if you can duck into the garage or the laundry room for a drink or whatever, you still risk being discovered or having your stash discovered. It’s much safer to drink or use in another space. But what if you’re at home and the craving suddenly hits you? Well, maybe you get called into work unexpectedly or you left something important at the office.
Maybe you need to run out to the store or someone your spouse never talks to is having some kind of crisis. These kinds of errands that seem to come up more often may be cover for addictive behavior.
As noted above, every addiction requires time and money. We’ve looked at some ways of accounting for missing time but the money is perhaps the more decisive factor. This is true whether it’s a substance addiction, like drugs or alcohol, or a process addiction like gambling, shopping, or sex. Missing money is always cause for concern. You might notice cash missing, a sudden drop in your checking account or a savings account, or new debts.
Sometimes, this is very hard to catch. For example, your spouse may have taken a lot of money out of their retirement account and you would have no way of knowing. Or they may say they want to transfer some savings into another investment that doesn’t really exist. Any kind of scheme to move money around or borrow, steal, or scam money should be a big red flag, especially combined with other evidence.
It’s possible to keep up appearances, maintain your relationships, and perform well at work despite a substance use disorder for a while, but eventually, cracks will start to show and illnesses are among the more difficult cracks to paper over. Illness might be an excuse for being hungover or otherwise impaired or it may be genuine. Many substances, especially alcohol and opioids leave you more vulnerable to illness and infection.
You may even develop fairly serious medical issues like liver disease, heart disease, and cancer. Fatty liver can develop even with relatively few other signs of alcohol use disorder.
As with more frequent illnesses, more frequent injuries are often a sign of substance use issues. Alcohol and other drugs often impair balance, coordination, and judgment. What’s more, they can impair your pain perception and your memory, so you might not even be aware that you were injured or know how it happened. If your loved one has injuries but they don't know where they got them or they lie about where they got them, it could be a sign of substance use.
If your loved one gets a DUI or gets arrested for fighting while drunk, they will probably give you some kind of story like, “The one time I have a few drinks before driving home and I get busted!” That’s possible, but it’s very unlikely. If your loved one gets into some kind of trouble while drunk or high, it more likely indicates a pattern of behavior, even if it was a pattern that you were completely unaware of.
It’s a pretty serious thing to confront someone about a substance use disorder or other addiction and it’s also a lot to deal with if they do have a problem. Keep in mind that it’s not an accusation, it’s a conversation. Maybe mention you’ve noticed they’ve been behaving differently lately and ask if they’re ok and how you can help. Ask open-ended questions and listen attentively. You’re not trying to trap them; you’re trying to figure out if there’s a serious problem they need help with. The best approach is always non-judgment and compassion.
At The Foundry, we know that it’s not easy to face the possibility that your loved one has a substance use disorder. It’s much easier to give them the benefit of the doubt and hope everything turns out ok. However, addiction is a progressive disease and if you look the other way for too long, you might find your life unraveling. We provide comprehensive addiction treatment for mind, body, and spirit. We also involve the family throughout the process because we know that social connection and a supportive environment can make all the difference in recovery. To learn more, call us at (844) 955-1066.