Addiction Red Flags

Most of us take inventory of our finances, our health, and our family members’ needs. We make grocery lists, to-do lists, “honey-dos,” and New Year’s resolutions. But, have you ever taken inventory of your behaviors or a loved one’s behaviors? Have you ever jotted down odd instances or events that didn’t seem right? Do you make a list of how many tickets you’ve received or how many times they’ve fallen down drunk in the past 6 months? When someone is abusing substances they become masters at deception – skilled at manipulating those close to them no matter the cost. The person with the addiction will deny their use; minimize how much they are using, and hide signs and symptoms of their use. So, if your gut is telling you something is just not right, start taking an inventory of signs, symptoms and negative consequences.

Most of us take inventory of our finances, our health, and our family members’ needs. We make grocery lists, to-do lists, “honey-dos,” and New Year’s resolutions. But, have you ever taken inventory of your behaviors or a loved one’s behaviors? Have you ever jotted down odd instances or events that didn’t seem right? Do you make a list of how many tickets you’ve received or how many times they’ve fallen down drunk in the past 6 months? When someone is abusing substances they become masters at deception – skilled at manipulating those close to them no matter the cost. The person with the addiction will deny their use; minimize how much they are using, and hide signs and symptoms of their use. So, if your gut is telling you something is just not right, start taking an inventory of signs, symptoms and negative consequences. 

An inventory may include physical signs, such as bloodshot eyes, dilated or pinpointed pupils, changes in appetite, significant weight gain or loss, abnormal sleep patterns, apparent changes in appearance (sloppy, poor posture, no eye contact), weird smells on clothes or breath, instability in balance, slurred speech or hyperactive, fast talking. Are you seeing any of these? Many times the addicted person will try and mask physical symptoms with eye drops, air fresheners, gum, or breath mints. But, some times the “masking” is just another symptom because usually the person uses the mask in abundance – overuses it, and therefore it becomes a red flag.


Behavioral signs may be easier to identify in some cases. Decreases in motivation levels, sudden financial problems, an increase in spending money, stealing, paranoia, secretive, lost interests in favorite hobbies, changes in friends or social activities, and an increase in accidents are some signs that there may be a problem. You start noticing things are missing, 10 dollars here and 20 dollars there – not enough to be overly concerned, but you notice. People using heavily tend to start having multiple health issues, whether caused by accidents or ailments; you will begin seeing a deterioration of their physical health. They are beginning to change in all aspects of who they are; they are no longer the person you recognize and relate to. Write down your inventory.

A person with an addiction shows psychological changes as well. This disease affects mind, body and spirit – the whole being. Pay attention to the person’s mind – how are they processing things, directives, and ideas? Your inventory may consider changes in attitude, fluctuations in their personality, inflexibility, anger, mood swings, agitation, and excitability; drifting from lows to highs, hyperactive to lethargy, fear, paranoia and anxiety. The psychological signs are harder to control, and therefore, may be more sporadic and symptomatic of other mental health issues that have not been addressed. In the addiction treatment world, we say in some cases, it is unknown whether a person’s mental health issue was pre-existing before the addiction and led the person to addiction, or if the mental health issue is a consequence of the addiction. The old saying applies: “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” We have seen it both ways.

Taking an inventory of red flags takes courage. It's the first step in the recovery process. This act just may change your life or another person’s life. This list may be the tool that makes the unreal a reality – eliminates the blindfold and stops the manipulation. Your window of opportunity is small, so start the process of finding the right treatment for you or your loved one as soon as possible. Your loving act may save a life.

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