1. They may talk about missing or stolen pills & want more refills on their drink. 

  • "The pills spilled into the sink and went down the drain." "My car got broken into, and they took my bag that had all my pills." "My brother's friend who has a drug problem stole my pills." "The pharmacy shorted me on my pills . . . there were supposed to be 120, but there were only 95 pills in the bottle when I got home and counted them." Over time, a higher tolerance to alcohol or drugs leads people with addiction problems to increase the quantity and frequency of their substance of choice without showing signs of being out of control. Prescription drug users will start going through a prescription faster, complaining that they "ran out" or that "the doctor forgot to renew my prescription." You might notice that someone refills his or her glass more often than anyone else or is always the one to suggest opening another bottle of wine. 

2. They may hide stuff around the house. 

  • Finding a bottle or a six-pack tucked where it shouldn't be is one of the most common tip-offs that someone is getting out of hand. Pills and powders may turn up in glove compartments, the inside pockets of purses, jewelry boxes, or the toolbox. You may notice that the person is oddly protective of certain rooms or areas of the house or garage, insisting that they be kept private. Outbursts of temper may ensue if someone disturbs the private territory. 

3. They may start stealing.

  • You notice that checks are missing from your checkbook, sometimes taken from the middle of the checkbook rather than from the back of it. The need for money and the desperation of addiction make anything fair game. Items like cameras and jewelry begin to disappear from your house; family heirlooms are taken to a pawn shop. Sadly, addicts lose touch with guilt and remorse. They'll sell anything belonging to family and friends to get money to buy drugs. 

4. They may want a head start before going out with friends. 

  • "Priming the pump" or drinking alone before going out with friends is a big red flag, experts say. "Alcoholics will often drink wine, beer, or liquor before meeting with friends so it appears that they're drinking the same amount as everyone else -- when, in fact, they're way ahead." Alcoholics want to appear to be just like their friends in public, but their tolerance is much higher, so they have to drink a lot more. 

5. Tricks and manipulations/admitting a little/half-truths.

  • Hiding an addiction leads to constant subterfuge. Alcoholics will often drink before and/or after a social event, then drink very little while other people are imbibing. Teenagers and young adults who are starting to use drugs may throw parents and teachers off the track by admitting to use of a lesser drug, like pot, when harder drugs are the real problem. And all alcoholics and addicts make great use of the "divide and conquer" strategy, manipulating family members by telling one thing to one person, something else to another. This typically takes the form of half-confessions. They may be honest with one family member about one thing and honest about another thing to someone else, but no one family member will know everything, If it feels like your family's getting tangled up in lies and half-truths, it's time to pay attention. 

6. They may start selling stuff and asking for loans. 

  • Drugs are expensive, and so is stopping at the bar four times a week. Just about any unusual money behavior can tip families off to drug or alcohol abuse Bills may pile up unopened, or someone might suddenly start selling possessions on eBay when he or she has never done so before. The manic periods of elation from coke and speed can send people on buying sprees; alcohol can fuel gambling binges. Other tip-offs: Asking friends for loans or using a family member's credit card without asking. 

7. The clear choice - Vodka for alcoholics. 

  • Vodka is a drink of choice for alcoholics for one reason only: It's clear and looks just like water when poured in a tumbler. Vodka can also be added to soft drinks and juice without changing the color or giving off a noticeable smell. "A definite sign of abuse is when people put vodka in their thermos and mix it with their morning coffee," says Neil Capretto, medical director of Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh. If someone you love switches from a previous drink of choice to vodka, it's cause for alarm. Ditto if sipping from their cup of coffee or coke reveals that it's spiked. Pay attention to grocery receipts, too -- is vodka on the list? 

8. They may become missing in action/unreliable/forgetful/late. 

  • That birthday party that Dad didn't show up for, the high school graduation they slip into halfway through -- these are the kinds of things people remember when they look back and wonder why they didn't recognize a loved one's addiction sooner. Becoming unreliable and secretive is a trademark of the alcoholic or addict. They start to forget appointments, miss important events, roll in late to work or school. Maintaining and hiding an addiction takes time; you have to make your connection, pop by the bar on the way home, stop for coffee to sober up. Sneaking around the house is another tip-off, including slipping into the house to reach the bathroom (and the toothpaste and Visine) before talking to anyone. If every time you turn around, your loved one seems to be somewhere else, trust your instincts and start checking up. 

9. They may have a loss of interest in friends/family& going places. 

  • As addiction takes hold, it tends to block out other interests and activities that used to be important sources of pleasure and fulfillment. Loss of interest in friends, sports, social activities, and anything else that used to define someone can be a clue that something's not right. Sometimes the signs of addiction can be as subtle as a sense that the person isn't himself anymore. "You might notice someone finding an excuse not to go to family functions because they know they'll be under tremendous scrutiny from the extended family." Another sign of isolation is changing their daily routine without a good reason; they may be redirecting their steps as they try to avoid friends, coworkers, and family. 

10. They may water down liquor bottles and hide bottles. 

  • Checking the state of the liquor cabinet is a time-honored ritual for those who live with heavy drinkers. Harder to spot but even more telltale is the "magic bottle" -- the bottle that never seems to get empty. If the liquid levels in liquor bottles seem to rise and fall mysteriously, your only recourse is to taste. Watered-down liquor is a sure sign that the person you're worried about wishes to hide his liquor intake from you. You might also suspect that bottles are being hidden. "Many people with alcohol abuse and alcoholism hide beer cans, wine bottles, etc., at the bottom of their recycling bins so their neighbors don't get suspicious about their problem. If you hear the clink of bottles being moved around in the recycling bin or carried out to the car late at night, your secret addict may be doing a midnight drop-off. 

11. They may have rapid weight loss. 

  • Crystal meth, cocaine, and other "uppers" stimulate energy to the point that people feel like they can go and go and go without eating. Many have no appetite at all. A natural side effect of this behavior pattern is, of course, rapid weight loss. While this seems like an obvious sign of abuse, it's actually frequently missed because it's not considered something to worry about, experts say. Weight loss is usually seen as a positive thing in our society, so it's often overlooked as a symptom of drug abuse. 

12. Excessive mints, gum, mouthwash, perfume, eye drops. 

  • Sure we all want to be hygienic. But overuse of certain products signals that someone's trying to hide something. Constant use of gum or breath mints? Someone might be trying to mask the smell of alcohol. The same goes for excessive use of mouthwash or hand gel (and constantly smelling like these products). Antistatic dryer sheets treated with a fragrance can be used to disguise the smell of smoke on clothes. A bottle of eyedrops in the purse can be a tip-off that someone's trying to hide reddened eyes, especially if he or she seems to go through bottles remarkably quickly. And eyedrops first thing in the morning? 

13. They may steal from bathrooms. 

  • Someone who's abusing prescription drugs won't be able to resist the temptation to scrounge them in other people's houses, usually by making pretenses to visit the bathroom. Watch for overly frequent trips and taking a long time during bathroom visits. Hint: Listen for the sound of water running for an extended time to disguise the noise of cabinets and drawers opening and closing. Another telltale oddity: When visiting a home with more than one bathroom, a drug user will find excuses to use a different bathroom each time. People abusing prescription drugs may even attend real estate open houses just so they can look in unsuspecting homeowners' medicine cabinets. 

14. They may have unstable moods. 

  • Watch for any kind of unstable mood and unpredictable emotions and actions. Moods can go from numb and calm to extremely aggressive within minutes, often with no apparent explanation. Someone smoking a lot of pot will be in "slow-down mode, with no ambition or energy." They're playing it mellow, but what's really happening is that thinking and feeling are impaired, as is the ability to make rational choices or to follow up on decisions. 

15. They may constantly want to sleep. 

  • "Mommy's asleep on the couch and won't wake up," is how a young child typically describes the behavior. Alcohol and many common drugs are sedatives, or "downers," which means they make you feel more relaxed but also make you sleep, and sleep heavily. If you notice that someone you're concerned about falls asleep at inappropriate times or has a hard time waking up, pay attention. Excessive sleepiness can also signal crashing out after a drug binge. "After cocaine or meth binges, users become listless and very low on energy and will sleep for days. One clue that this isn't just the flu or a need to "sleep in" is that, just as suddenly, the person wakes up with a ravenous appetite. 

16. They may talk of pain that never ends.

  • Prescription drug addiction is one of the most common types of addiction today, and abusers learn many tricks to get hold of medications. Back pain is one of the most common symptoms used to get pain meds, doctors say, because it's nondescript and hard to prove, even with testing. It's also relatively easy to fake. If a young, healthy person claims to be suffering from chronic back pain and asks for narcotic pain medication, look closely. Another tactic is going to more than one doctor and getting prescriptions for similar drugs or claiming that certain drugs don't work. "If someone tells their physician that they're allergic to NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as Motrin, and they say that only narcotics work for pain, that's a red flag. When a patient says this, a doctor is automatically limited and can only prescribe narcotic painkillers. 

17. They may have frequent sickness without any cause. 

  • When people are abusing alcohol or drugs, they just don't feel good much of the time, so frequent, vague illnesses can be a sign that something's up. Sickness can also be an excuse to duck out of work. Typically, you'll hear a lot of different explanations, all of them vague and hard to prove or disprove. Seafood poisoning, headache, diarrhea, constipation, and "my back went out" are all common -- and sometimes real, sometimes not. Low energy, fatigue, and depression that seem to come on suddenly without reason may not be caused by the drug itself but by withdrawal.. All of these symptoms are likely to be accompanied by irritability and even flashes of anger, especially if you question their authenticity or seriousness. 

18. They may have paranoia and panic attacks. 

  • Attacks of paranoia are a well-known occurrence to anyone who's smoked pot, but they're also a common side effect of many other drugs and alcohol. Panic attacks, too, can be caused by many drugs, particularly stimulants. Sometimes these symptoms are temporary, but over time drug addicts' personalities can completely change. Cocaine alters the brain and can cause a variety of psychological symptoms, including thoughts that 'everyone is out to get me' or 'the walls are closing in around me. Those abusing alcohol and drugs may develop social anxiety, feeling nervous and anxious in public situations and avoiding them whenever possible. 

19. The storyteller - They may lie to get what they want. 

  • Someone who proclaims dramatically that he hasn't had a drink in two weeks is probably an alcoholic. It Telling stories to yourself and others is a natural reaction for someone who can't admit he has a drinking/drug problem. Even more frustrating, he may not even know they're stories. Drugs and alcohol cause memory lapses and blackouts; he may honestly not remember what happened. It's hard to admit that, of course, so rather than confess to a blackout, he makes up a story about it. The lies don't just involve family members -- they can extend to bosses, doctors, cops, anyone in the person's life. Prescription drug addicts often take a family member such as a child or an aging parent to the doctor and try to get a prescription that they really intend for themselves. "The person will say: 'Listen, my mother won't tell you, but she's in terrible pain and really needs painkillers‘.

20. The blame game - Nothing is ever their fault. 

  • The craziness that overtakes families when a family member is abusing drugs and alcohol can feel like a contagious disease. The need to deny the addiction leads to an epidemic of blame. Addicts and alcoholics are known for blaming, guilt-tripping, and making others responsible for their misery. Endless excuses for bad behavior become the norm, but no matter what happens, somehow it's always someone else's fault. The blame game ups the conflict level; a formerly peaceful family can begin to feel like a war zone. But the conflicts are always the fault of someone other than the alcoholic or addict.  

21. Missing Spoons. 

  • Drugs can be crushed into powder and "cooked" on a spoon using a lighter underneath the spoon. ​ 

Suggestions for Family and Friends of an Addict: 

  • Know that addiction happens to the old, young, poor, and rich. It can happen in any profession, any religion and in any family. Seek out and attend Al-anon meetings. They are a great support and non-judgmental. Seek out private counseling if needed. A therapist can help you sort out feelings and help you set healthy boundaries. If you are working harder than the addict – it needs to change. Do not enable the addict. Start by setting clear boundaries for yourself that you are comfortable with and stick to those boundaries. Some examples are: I will not tolerate lies. I will not lie for you. I will not be stolen from. I will not pay your bills. Set whatever boundary works for you.

  • Helping your addicted loved one.... Many times friends/family do not realize the addict is struggling because they “seem ok now”. Once the addict stops using (or have been through rehab)... the effects of addiction are NOT over! During the addiction the brain is greatly affected to the point of irrational thinking causing poor decisions, memory dysfunction, lack of emotion, lack of concentration, etc... 

  • This change in brain function does not correct itself automatically once the addict stops using....it takes time and proper ongoing supports. Up to two years or more AFTER they stop using.

Two stages of withdrawal 

1. The first stage is the acute, intense and immediate withdrawal that occurs directly after stopping use.

2. The second stage is the long-term effects or withdrawal symptoms that occur after initial withdrawal symptoms. This usually occurs 3 - 6 months and can last 2 years or more. 

The severity of the second stage usually depends on two factors. 

The first is the amount and degree of brain dysfunction that has been caused by:    
Length of use.       
Type of chemicals used.
Any injuries that occurred associated with the use. 

The second thing that can affect Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms (PAWS) are:     
 Stress factors experienced early in the recovery process.       
Severity of the psychological and social stressors that may occur within the first year or more.


Here are some symptoms of how PAWS affects the thinking process FOR UP TO TWO YEARS: 
Having hard time learning and remembering new information.
Both short-term and long-term memory can be affected.
Inability to handle stress or uncertain situations. 
Fuzziness of thinking, an inability to think clearly or logically.
Difficulty with solving problems and abstract reasoning. 
Difficulty concentrating for any length of time or blanking out
All or nothing, black or white thinking.
Having a difficult time prioritizing goals and putting them into action. 

Some emotional PAWS symptoms may last UP TO TWO YEARS: 
An inability to sleep soundly.
Having nightmares or dreams about using alcohol or drugs.
Drug use will deplete dopamine in the brain, causing the person unable to feel happiness. 
Emotional symptoms are increase due to lack of sleep.
A frequent occurrence of radical mood swings. 
Difficulty to relate to others.
Disproportionate emotions for a situation, for example flying into a rage over a small incident.
Having inappropriate emotions.

How To Help

Help by expecting the person NOT to remember all dates/times/appointments - it will take time and practice for the brain to start functioning properly. Don't set the person up for failure by expecting too much - too fast.

Help by reminding the person of events, appointments. Use tools such as calendars, cell phone reminders, daily to-do lists.

Help by setting small goals and supporting the person to meet deadlines.

Help by not getting upset because you feel they are not trying hard enough.

Help by trying to ease or eliminate stress until they become stronger mentally and physically.

Help by understanding this is a real problem and they are not just acting lazy or helpless...give a hand-up (not a handout)

Help by talking them through situations they feel are confusing or difficult.

Help by being supportive, but not enabling!!!

Help by being a person they can trust and talk to without judging them (or find them a person if it cannot by you).

Help by seeking education regarding diet/exercise/supplements to help balance and function of the brain.

Help by understanding happiness may not just "happen" for them. Brain function can take up to 2 years or longer to regain balance.

Help by encouraging proper nutrition and exercise. Remember - They are trying each day and it is much harder than you can ever imagine.

Encourage counseling, support groups and ongoing medical & mental health appointments as needed. Each day the recovering addict wakes up wanting to succeed and have a great day, however, they have many factors which may make the day difficult and challenging. They need supportive people who understand part of what they are going through. 

This website is always under construction as things change. 

United way & Family and Children First Council


​​Seneca Help

Signs of Addiction