SUD and AUD: How to Help a Loved One in Need
Tens of millions of people across America suffer from substance use disorder (SUD) and alcohol use disorder (AUD) every year, wreaking havoc on individuals’ physical, mental, and financial health. While often viewed as personal battles, SUD and AUD directly impact families, loved ones, and communities. The effects of these disorders are wide-reaching and can last a lifetime, particularly for children. Recognizing the signs of a potential problem and knowing what resources are available to help the person with substance use concern and their loved ones are critical to helping solve this societal problem.
Signs and Symptoms of Substance Use Disorder
Most people suffering from SUD or AUD attempt to hide their struggle, especially from those closest to them. As a result, many signs of substance use problems can be subtle at first. Signs and symptoms also often appear across a range of characteristics, from someone’s physical appearance to their behavior and moods, occupational status, and finances.
- Unexplained weight loss or gain
- Poor hygiene or disheveled clothing
- Increased redness, puffiness, or bloated skin
- Excessive drowsiness during the day
- Mood swings
- Irrational or uncontrollable anger
- Excessive sadness or hopelessness
- Inappropriate giddiness
- Excessive energy
- Social isolation
- Memory loss
- Delusions or hallucinations
Occupational and Financial Signs:
- Declines in performance at work or school
- Increased absenteeism
- Presenteeism concerns
- Loss of interest in the job or extracurricular activities
- Job loss
- Increased debt or excessive/irresponsible spending
If a loved one displays at least one such change across two or more categories, they may be struggling with SUD or AUD, particularly if they have a history of drinking alcohol or using drugs. However, one should note that these types of changes can also be an effect of other factors, such as depression or difficult life circumstances like divorce or the death of a loved one; a consultation with a mental health professional or addiction counselor can help determine the cause of changes in someone’s physical appearance or behaviors.
Impact of SUD/AUD on Families
Drug and alcohol misuse place enormous strains on families and households, impacting everything from emotional health to finances to the stability of family structures. Families may begin to fight more often, with the member suffering from SUD/AUD and with other members as they try to determine how best to help their loved one. Communication becomes more challenging and often stops altogether, eroding trust and threatening marriages. Relatives, friends, and neighbors may begin to pull back to avoid bursts of irrational anger or other inappropriate behavior. Household finances quickly fall into disarray, threatening long-term financial well-being. Family members may develop unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with the situation, including codependent behaviors and substance use issues. In extreme cases, substance and alcohol misuse can lead to domestic violence, child abuse, and neglect.
Watching a parent or other family member struggle with SUD or AUD can also have long-term developmental impacts on children. Children of those suffering from addictions often feel the need to step into a parental role themselves, cutting their childhoods short and taking on inappropriate responsibilities. The stress and social isolation caused by a parent’s addiction can impact children’s confidence, self-esteem, social life, and ability to form healthy attachments. They may act out in school, get bad grades, or drop out; these children are likelier to engage in risky adolescent behaviors. They experience higher rates of anxiety and depression and are more at risk for developing substance use issues later in life.
What to Do If a Loved One Has SUD/AUD
If you suspect someone you love is suffering from a substance use problem, the most important thing you can do is encourage them to seek treatment. Approach them when they are sober, speak with compassion, and present them with how their addiction impacts your family. Avoid accusations or judgmental statements and be prepared with a solid course of action, such as a treatment center or sobriety meetings. Make it clear that you will be there to support them but will not enable their addiction.
Remember that while you can offer help and support, you cannot control another person’s actions. Taking care of yourself, your children, and other loved ones during this time is essential, including individual and family therapy or family support group meetings. An EAP like Workplace Solutions offers a range of counseling resources and is a great place to start to find the support your family needs.
WORKPLACE SOLUTIONS is a group of dedicated professionals who provide assistance and resources to individuals and families to create a satisfying and meaningful life. We’re counselors, attorneys, financial professionals, and experienced specialists in a wide variety of fields. Because life’s challenges and opportunities show up in a range of different areas, we provide assistance in a number of different ways.