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Substance Abuse Symptoms

Learn to recognise problem behavior.

Throughout the holidays many family members and friends have the opportunity to spend more time with their loved ones because of vacation time and schools being out for Christmas break. This time is to be an opportunity to share in the joy and festivity of Christmas!

It may also be a time that you notice some different behaviours in the one's you love. How can you tell if the changes in a loved one's behaviour are due to their involvement with drugs/alcohol?

Signs and Symptoms

There are no hard and fast rules, but there are warning signs. The main thing to look out for is changes, in behaviour, attitude, appearance, friends or activities.

10 Physical Warning Signs

Most drugs have physical side effects that loved ones should watch out for. These include:

  1. Slowed or staggering walk; poor physical coordination
  2. Red, watery eyes; pupils larger or smaller than usual, blank stare
  3. Cold, sweaty palms; shaking hands
  4. Puffy face, blushing or paleness
  5. Smell of substance on breath, body or clothing
  6. Extreme hyperactivity; excessive talkativeness
  7. Runny nose; hacking cough
  8. Nausea, vomiting or excessive sweating
  9. Tremors or shakes of hands, feet or head.
  10. Needle marks on lower arms, leg or bottom of feet. (rarely found in Cayman Islands)

10 Behavioral Warning Signs

  1. Eating Habits: An increase or decrease of appetite; noticeable weight loss or gain.
  2. Sleep Patterns: Complaints of tiredness. Is your loved one awake or asleep at unusual times? Constantly tired or lethargic?
  3. A new crowd: Avoiding old friends; new friends or hang-outs, unwilling to talk about or introduce new friends.
  4. Work /school performance: Drop in performance at work; or drop in grades at school; skipping work or school, or arriving late on a regular basis.
  5. Mood Swings: Oversensitivity, temper tantrums, moodiness, irritability, or nervousness.
  6. Motivation: General lack of motivation, energy, self-esteem, an "I don't care" attitude. Difficulty paying attention; forgetfulness.
  7. Secretiveness: Generally we all enjoy our privacy. But an individual who is excessively secretive may really have something to hide.
  8. Dishonesty: Is your loved one vague about their evening or weekend plans? Coming up with excuses for being late getting home or creating other functions to be away from family. Chronic dishonesty can be a sign of substance abuse.
  9. Cash Flow: Increase or unexplained need for money: money, alcohol, cigarettes or valuables go missing around the home.
  10. Drug Paraphernalia: Look out for evidence of drug use. Common items include pipes, bongs, cigars, rolling papers, butane lighters, roach clips, burned tinfoil or spoons: as well as products to cover drug odors such as : dryer sheets, air fresheners, incense, candles, or towels under the door.

Always be mindful that many of the signs and symptoms listed above may also be caused by depression, stress, or other individual problems. Whatever the cause, they may warrant attention, especially if they persist or if they occur in a cluster.

Consult a mental health professional, addiction counsellor or family doctor --- getting help early can help your loved one get back on track and develop more effective coping skills, preventing additional problems.

If you have a family who may need help, contact The Department of Counselling Services. The Counselling Centre is open throughout the holiday season 8:30am - 5pm, with the exception on the 25th and 26th December and 1st January, to assist you to find out more about substance abuse and treatment options. All correspondence is strictly confidential (345-949-8789).

Source: Eva Appleyard, Counsellor, the Department of Counselling Services