Signs and Symptoms of Abuse
General and specific signs and symptoms of drug addiction correlated to seven classes of drugs. (Adapted from the Mayo Clinic)
Although different drugs may have different effects on overall physical and mental health, the basic pattern is the same. Getting and using the drug becomes more and more important than anything else, including job, friends and family. The physical and emotional consequences of drug abuse and addiction also make it difficult to function, often impairing judgment to a dangerous level.
While not everyone who uses drugs becomes addicted, many people do. Drug addiction involves compulsively seeking to use a substance, regardless of the potentially negative social, psychological and physical consequences. Certain drugs are more likely to cause physical dependence than are others.
Breaking a drug addiction is difficult, but not impossible. Support from doctors, family, friends and others who have a drug addiction, as well as inpatient or outpatient drug addiction treatment, may help you beat your drug dependence.
General signs and symptoms
Drug abuse affects the brain and body directly. While high, the drug affects the entire body, from blood pressure to heart rate. Stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine "amp up" the body, increasing blood pressure, metabolism and reducing the ability to sleep. Drugs like opiates and barbiturates slow down the body, reducing blood pressure, breathing and alertness sometimes to dangerous levels. Some physical signs of abuse and addiction include:
- Cycles of increased energy, restlessness, and inability to sleep (often seen in stimulants)
- Abnormally slow movements, speech or reaction time, confusion and disorientation (often seen in opiates, benzodiazepines and barbiturates)
- Sudden weight loss or weight gain
- Cycles of excessive sleep
- Unexpected changes in clothing, such as constantly wearing long sleeved shirts, to hide scarring at injection sites
- Suspected drug paraphernalia such as unexplained pipes, roach clips or syringes
- For snorted drugs, chronic troubles with sinusitis or nosebleeds
- For smoked drugs, a persistent cough or bronchitis, leading to coughing up excessive mucus or blood.
- Progressive severe dental problems (especially with methamphetamine)
- Feeling the need for the drug regularly and, in some cases, many times a day
- Making certain to maintain a supply of the drug
- Failing repeatedly in attempts to stop using the drug
- Doing things to obtain the drug that they normally wouldn't do, such as stealing
- Feeling that they need the drug to deal with your problems
- Driving or doing other activities that place themselves and others at risk of physical harm when you're under the influence of the drug
The particular signs and symptoms of drug use and dependence vary depending on the type of drug.
How to Help a Friend with a Drinking Problem
If you're worried about someone's drinking don't be afraid to bring it up. Although friends often want to protect the drinker from harm, not saying anything simply enables the behavior. Many recovering alcoholics attribute their initial awareness of their drinking problem to the intervention of a friend or family member. The following five-point formula will provide some guidelines on what to say as well as how to handle denial and what to do if nothing happens. If others who share your concern join you in this effort, there is a greater possibility for success.
The Five-Point Formula
Let the person know that you care about him/her and that because of the significance of the relationship you need to discuss something very important. Both starting and ending the discussion with an emphasis that you are doing this out of genuine concern, caring, and/or respect for the person sandwiches the difficult feedback between strong positives.
Report/review actual events with your friend as you perceived them. Remember you are criticizing the behavior, rather than the person. Try to limit your statements to observable, irrefutable facts. The more you have, the stronger your presentation will be. If necessary, write them down in advance.
Examples: "Friday night you got drunk and drove to my house and did not remember it the next day."
"You got in an argument with the bartender when he said he couldn't serve you another drink. We were asked to leave and the owner told me not to bring you back in there."
Tell the person your own reaction, using "I statements" to reveal your feelings. ("You have a problem" can be refuted and denied.)
Example: "It really scares me to see you get like that" or "I was embarrassed and angry when you made crude remarks my friend" or "I'm worried about what might happen to you the next time you get so drunk."
Tell the person what you would like to see happen.
Examples: "I would like to see you get some help for this." or
"I'd like to see you talk with someone from CAPS" or
"I would like you to agree to go to an AA meeting … and go a dozen times before you make up your mind it's not for you."
You might want to add something like:
"I may be totally off base with my perception but being right or wrong isn't important. I'm willing to be wrong but I'm not willing to leave this unsaid because I'm worried and concerned about you."
It's important to choose words that you are comfortable with and that fit your style.
Specify what you will or will not do.
"I value our friendship but in good conscience I cannot ignore it," or
"If you will work on this issue I will do everything I can to help, but if you don't go for help I may need to report your behavior."
Be very careful to set ultimatums only if you can stick to them.
Be prepared for a negative reaction
It's pretty common for a problem drinker to feel attacked when confronted by a friend. Defensiveness and denial can be difficult to deal with especially if you aren't expecting such a response.
Taking care of yourself
Thinking about your friend's/resident's drinking, planning what to say, and actually bringing the subject up will undoubtedly be very stressful. Although you can't make someone get better, you can take care of yourself by setting limits and getting support for your own emotions.
If your friend/resident does not respond positively to your intervention, be able to let go of some of the pain you are feeling. Accept that the person doesn't want to deal with this right now, but let him or her know what you are going to do from now on. Reassure your friend/resident that you still like him or her; it's what happens when he or she drinks that you don't like.
Don't make excuses for the person, cover up for his/her problems, write papers or do homework.
Do offer to go out with your friend to places where drinking is not the main focus. Going to parties, bars and events with this friend enables him or her to keep doing what he or she has been doing all along and puts your credibility at risk.
Be willing to talk with your friend/resident, but be clear that you won't allow him or her to just show up after a bad night of drinking without a follow up discussion.
If needed, refuse to spend time with him/her when drunk or to stay at a party to take care of him/her.
Adapted from "How to talk to a problem drinker," University of Massachusetts, Amherst Health Services and "Helping Others," Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program
Signs and Responses to Alcohol Poisoning
There are many levels of Intoxication
If you have concerns about a student's welfare it is always acceptable to call the paramedics
You should never be responsible for monitoring a drunk/unconscious friend overnight
If your friend is to the point where they need to be monitored in order to be safe, they most likely need medical attention.
Know the signs of Alcohol Poisoning
Respiration: Should be at least 9 breaths per minute
Pulse: Should be between 50 and 140 beats per minute
Pupil Dilation: Should be evenly responsive to light.
Pain Response: Should respond to shoulder pinch.
Vomiting While Passed Out
Cold, Clammy or Bluish Skin
If you suspect Alcohol Poisoning contact emergency medical response
BAC can continue to rise after one stops drinking. Never leave a person alone to sleep it off.
Protect the person from injury.
Keep the person still and comfortable.
Speak in a clear, firm, soothing voice. Comfort and reassure the person.
If the person is unresponsive, get emergency medical care immediately.
If your friend is unconscious...
A person who has passed out, or is asleep, and cannot be awakened or can only be aroused for a few moments, needs urgent care. DO NOT assume he or she is "just sleeping it off". People who have made this assumption later discovered (too late) that the friend was in a fatal coma. When in doubt, check for these signs:
- breathing is very slow, and perhaps irregular
- pulse is weak, or is either very slow or very fast
- hands or feet are colder than normal
If your friend is conscious...
NEVER leave the drunk person alone. The full effects may not have kicked in yet.
Keep the drunk person from driving, biking, or going anywhere alone.
Turn the drunk person on his/her side or stomach to prevent aspiration of vomit (inhaling own vomit).
Don't give the person any drugs or medication (not even aspirin!) to try to sober him/her up. Coffee, tea, and other caffeinated beverages won't help. You'll only end up with a wide-awaked, agitated drunk person.
You can't prevent the alcohol from being absorbed once it has been consumed
Giving the drunk person food will increase the risk of vomiting.
Skip the folk remedies. A cold shower could make the drunk person pass out or fall.
Exercise won't help and could cause an injury.
If your friend argues with you, don't take what is said personally.
Talk to your friend about his or her behavior later on, in a private place.
When and How to Refer
When considering a referral for a student, it is very important to remember that students may be hesitant to the idea of assistance. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma attached to mental health counseling or even academic skills assistance which prevents many students from taking advantage of the many different resources our campus offers.
Suggestions for a Successful Referral
Know where the counseling center is located and phone number.
Students receive counseling services at no personal expense.
If possible, offer to walk a student to the center – this shows that you care and allows you to know if the student followed through on visiting the center.