How To Help Someone With A Substance Abuse Problem

person with drub abuse problems

Substance abuse, when left untreated, robs people of the quality of life that they would otherwise enjoy with the rest of us. Drug addiction also reduces human beings into tragic shadows of the people they could be. No one deserves to be neglected in their time of need and one thing is certain here: substance abusers cannot get better by themselves.

Why Focus on Substance Abuse?

Mental health and substance abuse disorders are prevalent among youth and can affect the family and the community that they live in. These disorders may develop separately or may be due to prolonged depression and misuse/overuse of painkillers. The most effective way to prevent mental health and substance abuse disorders is to stop them before they start.

Mental health issues and substance abuse disorder does not only involve the individual but as well as the people around. Studies show that there are more individuals who have mental disorders along with substance abuse that needs treatment than those individuals who are only involved with substance abuse.

Who are the people prone to drug abuse?

Here are some of the people who are susceptible to drug abuse and addiction:

People suffering from depression

One of the most common reasons why people do drugs is because they feel alone in the struggles they are facing. Depression makes someone vulnerable to drug addiction because it makes a person feel detached from realities.

Drugs act on the processes in the brain, and this is why people who are depressed feel that drugs are an effective way to escape from the struggles they have.

People exposed to an environment of drug addicts

Influence is a major factor in drug abuse. When people are exposed in an environment where others are under the influence of drugs, they can easily adapt to what they see. Practically everyone – regardless of sex, age, and financial status – is vulnerable to drug addiction if the environment is the problem.


Teenagers are going through an identity crisis, which makes them vulnerable to peer pressure. Adolescence does a lot to a person psychologically and physically, and this makes the process challenging for teens. Their decision-making skills are being molded at this phase, and this is the stage wherein adolescents tend to experiment a lot.

Without proper guidance from families, especially parents, teenagers can easily be attracted to doing drugs.

Children of drug users

When parents are using drugs, their children will most probably copy their routine especially when they are living in the same home. Children’s exposure to their parent’s drug addiction can result in their curiosity to try it too.

Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse

When we talk about drug addiction and its prevention one of the most obvious questions is “how do we know whether our loved ones are into drugs?”

There are certain symptoms which gives an indication and I think recognizing them is an absolute necessity to save those at risk. Before actually recognizing the symptoms, you should be able to understand that there is something wrong in his/her life – health, behavior and attitude, social life, interest, performance in school or office – almost in every sphere.

Naturally, the addict is the last person to realize or admit that he is having a problem. The individual using drugs may never confess or ask for help until and unless he faces the rock bottom.

It is not easy to tell if someone is using drugs unless physical signs are already visible. Here are the most common signs you should watch out for if you think that someone you know might be engaging in drug abuse:

  • Change in appearance – the addict does not care about physical appearance
  • Abrupt weight loss or gain
  • Dilated pupils
  • Tremors, chills, tingling of fingers and toes
  • Severe sweating
  • Dry mouth and lips
  • Inability to have eye contact
  • A blank look
  • Bruises, mouth sores, acne
  • Severe drying of skin and hair
  • Inability to perform usual tasks and activities
  • Slurred speech
  • Tightening and clenching of jaw
  • Nausea
  • Reddening of the eyes and
  • Runny or sniffy nose
  • Looks lethargic and drained all the time (especially after the effect of drugs)

It is also important to know the behavioral signs that occur to a person who is engaged in drug addiction. While there are many symptoms depending on the substance being abused, here are the most common behavioral signs that can be observed among drug addicts:

  • Inability for decision-making
  • Missing school, absenteeism in workplace
  • Lack of focus and coordination
  • Confusion
  • Detachment and interest to spend more time along
  • Sudden shift in interest and peer group
  • Secretiveness
  • Preferring alone, avoiding social gatherings
  • Being energetic (speedy speech, restlessness, increased volume of voice, exaggerated bodily movements, etc.)
  • Intense mood swings
  • Sudden changes in relationships and social networks
  • Drastic changes in sleeping patterns
  • Aggression and irritability
  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • Compulsive lying
  • Manipulative behavior
  • Anxiety
  • Violent behavior
  • Reduced consciousness to reality
  • Increased need for money

In case you want to assess yourself, look for the following warning signs;

  • There is a regular need for the drug, could be in same or increased amount.
  • Obsessive thoughts about procuring the drug and taking the next ‘fix’.
  • Best intentions to stop taking the drugs fail.
  • Drugs help you to function normally.
  • Doing dangerous activities under the influence of drugs.
  • Denying that addiction is a problem in your life.

Why is it difficult for drug addicts to quit?

When a drug addict decides to quit and do it by himself, the whole thing usually fails. Drug addicts do not have the ability to quit easily because they have lost the capability to make firm decisions for themselves. Because drugs react with and disrupt the normal chemical processes in the brain, it is very difficult for them to fight their impulses and sudden mood swings.

Addiction becomes a brain disease, and this controls the person’s ability to quit. The addict loses sight of the bad effects that drugs can cause because of his or her sense of reality is distorted. Repeated and lengthened drug abuse becomes a routine, and this tricks the brain and the whole body system to feel that the drugs are the reason for one’s positive feelings.

As a result, the addict will keep on looking for ways on how to get the dose he or she needs to maintain the euphoric feeling. This is especially true for those who are facing struggles in life and have turned to drugs as a way to escape from realities.

Health Risks of Drug Abuse & Addiction

Drug abuse is associated with various medical problems including:

  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Stroke
  • Hepatitis
  • Lung disease
  • Cancer

The Economic Costs of Drug Abuse & Addiction

People who get involved in drug abuse and addiction naturally end up experiencing financial difficulties. Here are some of the expenses that may be incurred by the individual or the government when drug abuse is in the equation:

Health Care

The treatment of substance abuse will result in great savings on health care. Substance abusers who stay untreated or undertreated consume a big chunk of this country’s health care dollars. They crowd clinics and emergency rooms again and again for various ailments brought on by their compromised health conditions. A recent study on federal and state spending found that over $200 billion is spent annually on health care for alcohol, tobacco and drug abuse patients. A total of 2.3 million hospital admissions are due to substance abuse alone.

It was found that even the children of drug users incur three times the health care costs of the children of non-using parents. Women who used cocaine while pregnant give birth to babies who cost over $5000 more to care for than infants who had not been exposed to the drug.

Men who have received substance abuse treatment demonstrated a 26% drop in their total medical costs. This figure came from a recent study done in California, which suggests that more investment must be made towards appropriate substance abuse rehabilitation in order to achieve greater overall savings on health care.

Legal Costs

The more drug abusers that become rehabilitated, the less drug-related crimes there will be. We can only imagine how many hours are spent sorting out the many drug-related cases in our courts, not to mention all the financial and human resources spent on law enforcement, restitution, state-sponsored counseling and community service projects etc.

Substance abuse and addiction destroy lives, families and careers. It affects the community in a negative way. Society has a stake in the fight against drug addiction - a fight that we all cannot risk to lose. We need to help find a way to break the addiction cycle. This is the number one objective of drug addiction rehabilitation. Only then can we hope to bring back a lost soul into the folds of mainstream society, whole again and able to function independently and productively.

The Impact of Early Intervention in Substance Abuse Treatment

Early intervention should be done. With early intervention, it decreases the amount of time that the individual is in a “psychotic” stage.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is focusing on some high-risk individuals like the youth, ethnic communities, Native Indian Americans, veterans and their families and members of LGBT.

Early intervention can result in a much higher success rate and speed in recovery compared to those who are left untreated for more than 5 years, which may lead to poor recovery.

The number of substance abuse cases has greatly increased over the years. The government may have been able to provide funds for the treatment of substance abuse victims. However, an early intervention could significantly bring down medical costs as well as save the lives of these individuals from worse health conditions. It is feared that in just a matter of a few years, mental health disorder will be the leading health issue worldwide.

Early intervention for substance abuse has been used by social workers, physicians, therapists, nurses, non-government organizations and health centers. It has been proven to be effective in helping individuals with problems of substance abuse to commit to therapy.

The program for mental health and substance abuse disorder focuses on the prevention of further diseases like heart disease, liver problems and lung diseases. This alone costs more than half a billion US dollars. The Institute of Medicine and National Research Council reported that early intervention can save millions of dollars because of this, there is a minimal need for medications and the duration of treatment is shortened.

The development of mental health and substance abuse disorder takes several years before it is finally detected. A 2014 NSDUH report indicates the trend in substance and alcohol abuse among children age 12 and older. A large percentage of the group use marijuana and non-prescription pain relievers.

One out of 5 individuals aged 18 years old and older was determined to have some form of mental illness.

  • It allows the individual to easily cope up with work and school allowing the individual feel a sense of belongingness.
  • It leads the user away from getting involved with crimes.
  • It reduces the risk of harming others and the individual himself.
  • It limits the suffering under the psychotic stage.
  • Appropriate support groups are provided to ensure full recovery of individuals.
  • It produces faster recovery.
  • It leads to a lower percentage of relapse and the possibility of hospitalization.

The Intervention’s Goal

The basic goal for an individual who has a substance abuse problem is to eliminate the possibility of risking the safety of his environment with the continued use of prohibited substances.

According to a research conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), there is a “definite connection between mental illness and the use of addictive substances” and that mental health disorder patients are responsible for the consumption of:

  • 38 percent of alcohol
  • 40 percent of cigarettes
  • 44 percent of cocaine

Proper assessment needs to be done to determine the behavioral health of an individual who is found to have such disorder. These are the factors that need to be considered:

  • Frequency of usage
  • The kind of substance abuse
  • Outcome of his behavior

Not all individuals who have been using these illicit substances for a long time may want to be treated. The program will slowly let them quit the frequency of substance intake, decrease the number of substance they use, and encourage them to join group discussions until they slowly turn away from the substance. The whole process may take months, and to some, even years.

People have different characteristics and they may respond differently when faced with adversities. Some may cope easily while some tend to go into a depressive state, which when left untreated can lead to either mental health disorder or substance abuse.

Behavioral Assistance Program

Widespread dissemination of information within the community, schools and private organizations should be the primary concern in order for the public to be aware of the importance of being both physically and mentally fit. Implementation of this program intends to provide complete care and assistance to the community, most especially to those who are afflicted with mental health disorders and substance abuse.

Here are some of the salient points of a good behavioral assistance program:

  • At the first sign of a behavioral change of an individual, immediate intervention should be provided to prevent the possible substance or alcohol abuse.
  • A complete specialized treatment plan should be prepared to individuals who were diagnosed to have mental disorder or substance/alcohol abuse.
  • With early intervention, small behavioral changes can be significant in the complete recovery of the individual.
  • A continuous support system should be provided to prevent relapse and become useful individuals in the society.

The Advantage of Early Intervention

It is of great concern that the individuals with substance abuse problems be provided with the right treatment and care. There may be different approaches, but all have the same goal.

There is a high percentage success rate in inhibiting the prolonged use of illicit substances in a classroom set up. This allows individuals to open up freely and feel their importance in the society and in their respective families. Interacting with different people allows these individuals to learn social skills and learn the effects of their abuse better and earn their way back to where they were.

The means of disseminating information is no longer limited to the use of television, radio and newspaper. The Internet also plays a big role in letting people be informed. It is a great medium to convey messages related to health and substance abuse to spread awareness among the youth.

Social media can also influence the way children think nowadays. In fact, influential personalities use these online channels to promote their advocacies as a way to influence people into action.

Compliance check should be implemented to control young individuals from getting exposed to these substances. These illicit substances are sold discreetly. The community plays a vital role in keeping guard that these substances should not in any way be circulating and be bought. Whoever is caught using these illicit substances must be apprehended.

There should be a joint effort between the community and law enforcers to prosecute those found to be involved with the use of illicit substances.

Helping Someone With A Drug Abuse Problem

Here are some tips and techniques on how to address a drug abuse issue with care and concern:

Discussing the issue with the addict

First off, it is important that you encourage a drug addict to accept and acknowledge the problem. There are some cases that drug addicts themselves make the important step of initiating to face the issue by discussing it with his or her family members and friends.

Open doors for the person to discuss the reasons why he or she decided to do drugs. Then, keep on reminding the person that you will do your best to extend the help he or she needs.

Motivate the person to also discuss the issue with other family members and friends; try to do this by saying that the burden will be lighter if it will be solved with the people the person loves. From there, you can easily convince the drug addict to seek the help of an expert to clearly define the possible solutions that can be done.

It is not easy to convince an addict to get an expert’s advice, but you should always take the extra mile to push him or her to do it. An expert will be very straightforward with the person’s needs, either it is a rehabilitation treatment or if it is a program that should be implemented at home.

Of course, it will always help to monitor how a person is doing. Take the time to ask questions, and give more time to listen to the answers the person will give. Always take the effort to make the person feel that you are ready to talk about everything, whether it’s a new hobby or some plans to go on a vacation.

Discussing the issue with the drug addict is not enough; you should also discuss how he or she is doing all through the treatment.

Helping recovering addicts in treatment

The first thing you have to do is to understand the effects of the substance someone is taking so that you will get a better picture of the whole thing, and it will be easier for you to explain to the person what he or she is going through throughout the process of getting treatment. Getting someone screened by an expert also helps, and this is for you to know the emotional, physical, and mental status of the person for you to easily track improvements.

Recovering addicts should be made aware the stages of the treatment that he or she will go through to make the person understand that the process will be a challenging one but is possible to accomplish.

Take the time to talk to the person. Ask how he or she is feeling because you will easily tell that there is progress by the way a person shares his or her stories. Make sure that other friends and family members are also involved in the process so that the person will feel that there is a strong support system and that he or she is not alone.

Anyone who has tried doing drugs is vulnerable to relapse. Therefore, the person should be exposed to things like new hobbies, traveling, going back to school, and working out so that his or her mind will not go in that direction again. The people around the recovering addict should monitor the activities of the person so that it will be easier to fight the possibility of the person’s relapse.

Groups involved in drug abuse intervention and treatment


Family is a major part of one’s support system. The whole process of drug addiction treatment would not be successful if a person is not getting the support he or she needs from the family.

Family members, especially the immediate ones, should be involved in the treatment process so that the person will not feel that he or she is neglected or forgotten by the family. It is highly recommended that families dedicate time to activities with the recovering addict. Activities can be some sort of a new hobby, sport, or getting involved in charity work.


The community is also vital in one’s battle to fight drug addiction. This includes the person’s friends and people from the local church.

Usually, communities implement their own strategies to divert people’s attention from drugs. This is a good venue for someone to survive drug addiction because being active in the community creates a sense of responsibility. Treating drug addiction should be done not only by the individual and the family but also of the surrounding community.

Self-help groups

What better way to learn how to face the battle other than learning from people who are going through the same thing? Self-help groups are a good way for recovering addicts to understand their situation. This gives the person a venue to share his or her experience without being judged.


Addressing drug abuse in someone you know may not be easy, and it takes a lot of patience and understanding. However, given the right mindset and emotional posture, you could very well be the person that a recovering addict needs to be with.



In the pursuit to decrease the number of individuals with mental health and substance abuse disorders, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is undertaking all actions needed to promote better behavioral health.

It is the agency’s aim to provide a program that will help prevent, treat and continuous assistance towards recovery for those suffering from either mental disorders or substance abuse or both. According to a World Drug Report in 2015 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), about 20 million individuals who were under substance abuse were not able to receive treatment because it wasn’t covered by the current health care system. There are also about 11.8 million individuals found with mental health problems who were not able to receive health care assistance.

SAMHSA aims to increase awareness and understanding of the community with regards to mental and substance use disorders; to foster emotional health and wellness; to inform the public on the prevention of mental illness and substance abuse; to provide effective treatment to those individuals in need; and to provide further assistance towards the recovery of the individual.