According to an article I read recently, 56% of people in Scotland think that you can tell someone is an alcoholic or drug addict simply by looking at them. It doesn’t surprise me a bit. One of the most difficult things to get across to folks — including alcoholics and other addicts — is the amazingly widespread nature of this disease of ours. My own case in point: a month before I was forced into treatment by my employer, I was a prominent member of the community where I worked. No one would ever have guessed that the guy they’d known for 13 years (third in command of their police department) was a raging drunk and seriously addicted to prescription drugs.
I was in treatment with three dozen or so other people, ranging from admitted prostitutes to a nurse with a graduate degree, to a superior court judge. There is no way to tell an addict or alcoholic from any other guy on the street, until the disease is way, way advanced. In retrospect, I know that I drank alcoholically for at least 20 years, and yet it was only a few months before I got sober that I had any idea of my “problem.” My family suspected — some of them. Others had trouble believing me when I told them myself, and yet my behavior was certainly out of character (and downright irresponsible) for years prior.
Alcoholism and addiction strike across all boundaries. We all remember the problems of Rush Limbaugh, Britney Spears and the current crop of celebrities, because the media hounded them unmercifully. We don’t know about the problems of the FPL supervisors, the dentists, the successful attorneys, the school teachers, Navy SEALs, politicians and many other professions, all of whom I’ve met in and around the 12-step groups over the years. We don’t know about most of the others, either, until they’re so far gone in their disease that it’s impossible not to notice.
Addiction is the invisible disease. It worms its way in and destroys personalities, families, minds and bodies so successfully and so subtly that even when we notice odd things we think, “Oh, not that, why she’s a____.” So keep that in mind, and if a loved one or friend seems to be changing, be alert for signs and symptoms similar to these. Keep in mind that there may be reasonable explanations for single instances, but repeated incidents or clusters of symptoms may indicate problems.
- Extreme mood changes: happy, sad, excited, anxious, etc.
- Changes in sleep patterns: time spent sleeping, times of day or night, insomnia
- Changes in energy – unpredictably tired or energetic
- Inattention to personal hygiene
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Unusual behavior at certain times, and normal at other times
- Pupils of the eyes smaller or larger than usual; eyes watery or bloodshot
- Lying, especially about whereabouts, amount of alcohol consumed, other addiction-related matters
- Stealing, or missing valuables that may have been sold or pawned
- Financial unpredictability: ready cash sometimes, broke at others
- Changes in social groups, new and unusual friends, odd cell-phone conversations
- No longer interested in former pursuits; misses family occasions and duties
- Repeated unexplained absences, or sudden trips “to the store” or other excuses for leaving home or work
- Absences from appointments or frequent tardiness
- Drug paraphernalia such as unusual pipes, cigarette papers, small weighing scales, etc.
- “Stashes” of drugs, often in small plastic, paper or foil packages
- Unusual insistence on privacy
- Alcohol found in unusual places, laundry baskets, back of closet, etc.