Resource | Lessons Learned

At the First Signs of Substance Use

Opioid addiction can take many forms. Learn how to recognize the signs that your loved one might exhibit.

At the first signs of possible substance abuse . . .

Remember that knowledge is power. It is easy to dismiss warning signs if you aren’t looking for them. As with other diseases, there are physical symptoms you can see. Learn what to look for with narcotic use and dependence:

  • Agitation, drowsiness or slurred speech
  • Mood changes, depression, or frequent confusion
  • Constricted pupils
  • Frequent, or severe, constipation
  • Runny nose or nose sores (if snorting drugs)
  • Needle marks (if injecting drugs)

Be sensitive to warning signs. Look for behavior changes and/or extremes in your loved one’s behavior.

  • Reduced sense of pain
  • Lack of awareness or inattention to surrounding people and things
  • Secrecy or lying
  • Lack of motivation
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or activities
  • Avoids or fails to manage their roles at home, work or school

Be honest with yourself. When opioids are involved, neither denial nor hope is a workable strategy. Opioid fatalities are a threat to young and old, long time users or first time users, any race, and any ethnicity. Their first time can be their last time.

Don’t be deterred by stigma. There is no shame in getting help. Taking care of your loved one is far more important than what your friends or family might think. What’s more, a community of support is critical for both you and your loved one.

Join a support group. Not only is isolation bad for your well-being, you will learn what others wish they had done or known, and it will buttress you against enabling behavior. Consider joining a like-minded support group, a 12-Step program, a faith-based group, or connecting with a local family-based opioid focused organization. Parents, for instance, will learn from parents of kids who are further along in their drug use than your child may be. Don’t find yourself saying, “I wish I’d known….”

Know the arguments. We’ve had many conversations with other parents and families about their loved one’s early issues with alcohol and/or marijuana before they started trying opioids. This may not be the case for every person, but some experts believe excessive alcohol and/or marijuana use may prime the brain for a heightened response to other drugs. While alcohol has long been widely available, the legalization of marijuana in some states and pro-marijuana marketing makes the combination more widespread than before. The one thing that experts do seem to agree on is that marijuana is much stronger now that it was in decades past. If you think there’s a problem with alcohol or marijuana, educate yourself with the right knowledge to counter your loved one’s arguments.

From One Parent to Another:


Maintain Contact with School Officials. If you’re a parent who thinks your child may be in trouble with substances, maintaining contact with his/her school is very important.  Stay in touch with the school’s authorities, especially any law enforcement that may be present at your so or daughter’s school. Many schools offer counseling for substance abuse.

Track social media.If you are a parent who suspects your child may be using drugs, social media will tell you a lot. Get on their social media to see if your child or his/her friends are posting their behavior. Even in photos, you will find out a lot about their lives.

Communicate bravely. Be aware of what their friends or associates are doing, and if there are noticeable changes in their behaviors. Don’t hold back knowledge from other parents if you think their kids may be using drugs. You may be saving a child’s life if you are open about this.

Remove them from the situation. If you know, or even suspect, one of your child’s friends may be using drugs, take immediate action. However unpopular your actions may be with your child, separating them from these friends and explaining why is a must. You, of course, cannot handle this the same way when an adult loved one has friends who are harmful, but having a conversation about it is a good first step.

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