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When someone you love is battling drug addiction or another addictive behavior, it can be a confusing and frustrating time. Learn to identify the signs of addiction and how you can help.

Substance abuse is a battle that not only affects those addicted but their loved ones as well. As difficult as it may be to admit that someone you love is struggling, understanding that they have an addiction and learning how you can help is key.

Is someone you care about dealing with an addiction? 

Addiction affects everyone differently. However, someone suffering from substance abuse will display certain physical, emotional, psychological and behavioral symptoms of addiction. These symptoms will depend on the type of substance that a person is abusing, such as alcohol, opioids, stimulants or anti-anxiety medicine.

“It is never easy to admit someone we love has a problem with addiction. If you start noticing signs, it’s important to speak to them about it, not in an accusatory way, but in a gentle way, to show your support and concern,” says Michele Davis, director of inpatient counseling at Geisinger Marworth.

Signs of different substance abuse


When someone is abusing alcohol, including beer, wine or liquor, they may experience some or all of these symptoms:

  • Chronic, unexplained tardiness
  • Secretive behavior
  • Noticeable changes in mood
  • Losing interest in their regular activities
  • Stealing money
  • Being under the influence at inappropriate times
  • Slurred speech
  • Coordination problems
  • Missing work or school
  • Smelling like alcohol


If someone you know is abusing opioids (including heroin, fentanyl and prescription pain relievers such as OxyContin®, Vicodin®, morphine and codeine) you may notice at least a few of these symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Poor coordination
  • Nausea
  • Slower breathing rate
  • They act as if they have a euphoric high

Anti-anxiety medication or sedatives

An abuser of prescription anti-anxiety meds or sedatives, including benzodiazepines such as Valium, Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan and Ambien, might suffer from:

  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Unsteady walking
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dizziness
  • Memory lapses
  • Slower breathing


Those who are abusing stimulants (such as Adderall, Ritalin, cocaine, ecstasy or methamphetamine) might experience:

  • Diminished appetite
  • Irritability
  • High blood pressure
  • High body temperature
  • Insomnia
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Irregular heartbeat

“Many times, those who are abusing substances don’t feel good about it. There is a degree of shame. Instead of attacking the person and trying to make them feel worse, offer help, but don’t push. The idea is to make the person want help, not make them withdraw further,” Ms. Davis says.

How you can help

The most important thing to remember when helping your loved one with drug abuse is to educate yourself. Start by learning about addiction and familiarizing yourself with signs you may have missed. Be supportive as you speak to your loved one. Tell them you’re worried about them, and you’ve noticed they’re acting differently or skipping the activities they once loved.

Consider joining a support group for families who are dealing with substance abuse. Not only can a support group help you develop a deeper understanding of addiction, but it can also provide a support system of individuals who are going through similar challenges.

You can be concerned about your loved one while offering support. Encourage the person to seek help, but do not push if they resist. Instead, be a consistent reminder of how important it is to get help. Understand the person you’re dealing with may not be rational while they are abusing drugs or alcohol, and that it may take time to get through to them.

“One thing I tell families who have a loved one dealing with addiction is they can be encouraging and caring without enabling their loved one to use. Do not make excuses for the person — admit they have a problem. I also remind families the addiction is not their fault, and to not feel guilty,” says Ms. Davis.


Comprehensive substance abuse treatment at Geisinger Marworth

If you or a loved one are dealing with substance abuse or addiction, the experienced team of addiction medicine specialists, doctors, nurses, counselors and support staff at Geisinger Marworth can help. With both inpatient and outpatient programs, as well as numerous counseling resources available, we’ll help you or your loved one find the right treatment to meet their needs, putting them on the path to a healthier life without alcohol or drugs.

We also provide a variety of resources for families who are struggling with their loved one’s substance abuse.

Next steps:

Get addiction help now

Learn more about addiction treatment at Geisinger Marworth

Learn the signs of addiction and how you can help

Ready to explore your treatment options? Request a call from our team.

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