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The 5 Telltale Signs of Substance Dependence

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You’ve noticed that a friend or family member just hasn’t been themselves lately.

At first, you thought they were just going through a phase, feeling a bit down, or trying out some new things. But now, you suspect that they might have developed an addiction to drugs or alcohol.


You want them to get help, but you also want to be sure that your instincts are correct. You don’t want to approach the addict in the wrong way, but you know they’ve lost control.

In this post, we’ll cover some of the most common signs of substance dependence.

Then, we’ll tell you where you can turn to get someone you care about the help that they need — before it’s too late.

1. Physical/Behavioral Changes

Let’s address one of the most obvious signs of drug addiction first: the physical changes of addiction and withdrawal.

Perhaps it seems like the person you suspect of having an addiction is tired all of the time. You might notice that they doze off randomly, that they always have dark circles and pale skin, and even that they’ve lost a large amount of weight.

You might even have seen scratches and bruising on their arms and legs. And though it might be difficult to admit to yourself, you’ve also noticed that their hygiene habits have changed. It seems as though they haven’t been showering or taking care of themselves in a normal way.

Even their patterns of speech fluctuate wildly. One minute, they’re talking a mile a minute. The next, they’re quiet or seem “spaced out.”

You may even have noticed dilated pupils, constant sniffing, or a change in their overall eating habits.

2. The Addict Has a New Friend Group

The biggest signs of drug use and substance dependence aren’t always physical. In many cases, they also have to do with the environment that the potential addict has decided to surround themselves within.

Have you noticed that their “old friends” don’t seem to come around anymore? Perhaps they’ve casually mentioned a “falling out” with their long-term friends, or feel that they “just don’t have the same interests” anymore.

However, you’ve also realized that the person you care about seems to have a whole new set of friends. You may suspect that they’re a bad influence on them, and that the only thing they really have in common is their drug use.

They may abandon former friends and family, or even decide to share a living space with these “new friends.”

3. Social Withdrawal and Isolation

Has it been a while since you’ve heard from your friend or loved one?

Have they stopped accepting your invitations or returning your texts, and does it feel like they’re avoiding you? Do they seem to be spending lots of time on their own, locked up in their room?

If so, be aware that this level of isolation is one of the symptoms of addiction.

There are many possible reasons for this.

The addict may feel a sense of shame about their addiction, and could be trying to hide it from friends and family members. They may also feel like nothing else feels as good or is as “important” to them as their drug use.

Connect with other people in the addict’s life, and ask if they also feel the person you care about has been withdrawn lately.

4. Neglecting Responsibilities

The addict in your life was once the star of their office, an amazing athlete, a dedicated student.

But now?

They’re not showing up for practice, work, or class at all. In fact, it seems like none of their responsibilities matter to them at all anymore. If you have children with them, you may have noticed that they don’t seem to want to take on as much of a parenting role as they have in the past.

They may “forget” about commitments they’ve made — but you know they just blew them off. And when you confront them about these issues, they don’t even seem to care.

The truth is that you just can’t trust or rely on them anymore. You’re concerned that they’re on the cusp of losing their jobs, their scholarships, and everything else that they’ve worked so hard for in the past.

5. Financial Problems

The last common sign of a substance dependence is also one of the most sensitive topics to address: sudden financial problems in the life of the addict.

Perhaps they’ve been asking to borrow money from you much more often than usual. And though you used to give it to them, lately, you’ve been wondering what it’s actually helping to fund.

If you don’t give them the money, they may lash out at you, call you names, or act desperately. Or, they may simply steal it from you — or steal your valuables to sell.

If you’ve noticed that things have gone missing, or that the potential addict in your life’s spending has gotten out of control, it’s time to speak to others you feel are in their support network to find out what’s really going on.

Recognize These Substance Dependence Signs?

If you suspect that someone you love has an addiction, it can be incredibly difficult not to let it consume you.

You might feel trapped between being an enabler and wanting to keep the addict out of harm’s way. But the truth is that you can’t and shouldn’t have to do this on your own.

If you’ve recognized any of these substance dependence signs in someone you care about, then they need to get professional help. “Tapering off” of drugs and alcohol or only “using them recreationally” won’t work — and it isn’t safe.

Instead, consider staging an intervention to get them to treatment.