Addiction is a devastating disease that has far-reaching consequences. Individuals who are addicted suffer from physical and mental health problems, some of which may be life-threatening. Addiction can be harmful to families and marriages. It is also a public health crisis that affects the entire community. If you decide to become a substance abuse counselor, part of your job will be to educate families about recognizing the signs of addiction. Some of these may seem obvious, while others are far subtler.
Behavior and Personality
It is common for drug addiction to cause changes in behavior and personality. Families may notice that their loved ones become uncharacteristically irritable, anxious and belligerent. Occasionally, drug addiction can result in combativeness and perhaps even violence. Drug addicts may display any of the following:
- Impaired judgment
- Intolerance to loud noise
- Restlessness or sluggishness
- Lack of inhibition
Many families also notice that their loved ones have begun neglecting personal grooming habits. They may forget to brush their hair or teeth, or they might wear the same clothes on multiple consecutive days.
Addiction counselors often work with families who seek help after realizing that their children or other loved ones have begun showing physical changes that might indicate drug abuse. Some of the common physical changes include the following:
- Sudden, unexplained weight loss or gain
- Uncharacteristically sleeping too much or too little
- Bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils
- Unusual odors that emanate from the breath or clothing
- Shakiness and tremors
- Involuntary eye movements
- Rapid breathing or slowed breathing
- Nausea or vomiting
Some drugs can cause chronic nasal congestion, such as those that are snorted. Methamphetamine can cause “meth mouth” with continued use. Meth mouth is characterized by gum disease, mouth sores and rotting teeth.
It is common for drug addicts to change the way they interact with others and who they interact with. Drug addicts often stop socializing with their usual friends, and instead begin associating with other drug abusers or dealers. They may also behave in ways that alienate their old friends. Addicts often withdraw from their usual social activities, perhaps without being able to provide a reasonable explanation for it.
Hallucinations and Flashbacks
A hallucination is seeing, hearing or smelling something that is not there. Not every drug abuser will experience hallucinations, although many drugs can cause them. Synthetic cannabinoids (K2 or Spice), substituted cathinones (bath salts) and stimulants such as methamphetamine, amphetamine and cocaine can all potentially cause hallucinations. Club drugs like Ecstasy and hallucinogens like LSD and PCP are other examples. Additionally, LSD can result in flashbacks. These refer to the re-experiencing of the hallucinations. Flashbacks can occur years afterward.
Lifestyle and Functional Abilities
Not all substance abusers experience a complete breakdown of functional abilities. Many of them, including a significant percentage of alcoholics, are able to go about their daily business. They go to work or school, pay their bills and take care of their domestic responsibilities. Over time, however, functional abilities and lifestyle can start to break down. People suffering from drug addictions often experience financial problems, which might lead them to steal or borrow money irresponsibly. They may experience job loss and legal problems. Drug addiction is characterized by the continued use of the drug, despite these serious problems.
If you have an interest in any of these topics and desire to pursue helping those suffering from addiction, GCU’s counseling degree program might be a great way to landing a career in your field.
Click on the Request More Information button, and let Grand Canyon University guide you on your path to a personally fulfilling career in substance abuse counseling. Our College of Humanities and Social Sciences offers Bachelor of Science, Master of Science, and Post-Master of Science Certificates in Addiction Counseling.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.