Chemical dependency or substance abuse/addiction is an all-too-common disorder. Some families know very well what to expect when dealing with a loved one who has become addicted to a substance, while other families are so unfamiliar with the signs and symptoms that the disease goes unnoticed for far too long. In this article, I highlight both the common and the overlooked symptoms of chemical dependency, together with symptoms of substance use in teenagers.
Common Symptoms of Chemical Dependency
Some of the most common symptoms of chemical dependency are only noticed because the disease has reached an advanced stage. An extreme example is that of a person addicted to meth, who has missing teeth and is very thin, and may even have open sores on their face and skin. Another example of symptoms could be the “track” marks from needles on the addicted person’s arms, or yellowed skin from long-term alcohol abuse. These symptoms are usually only seen in extreme cases, rather than in the day-to-day interactions that most people experience. Other common symptoms of addiction are:
- Tolerance of a substance (needing more of the substance in order to feel its effects)
- Withdrawals from the substance (shakiness, sweating, nausea, vomiting, sleep disturbance, anxiety, depression, fatigue, etc.)
- Legal problems as a result of using a substance
- Avoiding social or family functions in order to use a substance.
Overlooked Symptoms of Chemical Dependency
While these are the most common symptoms, they are not the only symptoms of addiction. Often, the overlooked symptoms are so common that they can be and sometimes are mistaken for other problems. Here is a list of some of these “overlooked” symptoms of chemical dependency:
- Frequent mood swings
- Withdrawal from social or family activities
- Bloodshot eyes
- Dilated pupils
- Poor judgment in making decisions
- Neglecting job responsibilities
- Changes in hygiene
- Drastic weight loss/gain
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Decreased appetite
- Unexplained changes in personality
The difficulty in naming these as symptoms of chemical dependency is that, if they are seen in isolation, it could be very easy to assume that everyone is chemically dependent at some time or another. Another problem in naming these as symptoms is that these symptoms can be present in many other disorders or illnesses that are completely unrelated to chemical dependency. Just because one or more of these symptoms may be present does not automatically determine whether a person is chemically dependent. However, if you notice several of these symptoms in a friend or loved one, it would be advisable to seek an evaluation by a Chemical Dependency Professional. A professional would be able to assess all of the factors that contribute to a substance use disorder and offer appropriate treatment for the disorder if the chemically dependent individual chooses to engage in recovery.
Symptoms of Substance Use in Teenagers
Adolescence is a tumultuous time for both teens and their parents, and sometimes the above symptoms of chemical dependency are a “normal” part of adolescent development. If you are the parent of a teen, there is little doubt that you have experienced your teen’s impulsivity and mood swings on more than once occasion. Even changes in personality, appetite, and sleep are not uncommon as your teen develops from ages 12-18. Adolescent development can make it difficult to determine whether your child is experimenting with or abusing drugs, or whether his behavior and attitudes are “normal.” Here are some commonly overlooked symptoms of drug/alcohol abuse in teenagers:
- Bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils; using eye drops to try to mask these signs
- Sudden trouble in school, skipping classes, declining grades
- Missing items at home, such as prescriptions, money, valuables
- Being uncharacteristically isolated, withdrawn, angry, or depressed
- Being secretive about new friends
- Loss of interest in old hobbies; lying about new interests and activities
- Sneaking out, lying, demanding more privacy
Once again, if one or two of these symptoms are present in a teen, it does not automatically mean that they are abusing drugs or alcohol. However, if you notice several of these symptoms present in a teen, seeking a substance use evaluation from a Chemical Dependency Professional can begin to help answer your questions and address your concerns.
Christian Counseling to Address Chemical Dependency
As a Christian counselor and a Chemical Dependency Professional, I offer a compassionate approach and aim to help you understand the underlying causes of addiction. The stigma of being a Christian and having struggles with alcohol or drugs can deter people from seeking help. Just because you or a loved one may be struggling with alcohol or drugs does not make them any less of a Christian or any more broken than the rest of us. The disease of addiction is treatable and there is hope that people can overcome its grip.
“Drinking,” courtesy of Samantha Cohen, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0)”Jaryd’s,” courtesy of Winnie Liu, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0);