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If your loved one starts behaving differently for no apparent reason—such as acting withdrawn, frequently tired or depressed, or hostile—it could be a sign he or she is struggling with a substance use disorder (SUD). 

Friends and family may overlook such signs, believing them to be temporary (due to stress or puberty) or avoid confronting the changes for fear of offending or further distancing a loved one.

Other signs include:

  • Disinterest in activities that were previously enjoyable

  • Change in daily routine

  • Changes in mood

  • Change in weight or appearance

  • Change in sexual behavior

  • Change in eating or sleeping habits

  • A decline in performance at work or school

  • Change in peer group

  • Secrecy regarding phone

  • A tendency to disappear for hours at a time

  • Deteriorating relationships

  • Inability to be present when in conversation.

Due to recent advances in brain imaging technology, we know a lot more about how substances affect the brain. We also know that those who develop a SUD can be successfully treated and go on to lead healthy, productive lives. Because SUD is a progressive disease, intervening in the early stages greatly increases the likelihood that the person will recover. Take warning signs seriously and don’t wait for the disease to get worse before having an honest conversation with your loved one and offering to help them get an assessment--the critical first step.

If your child is struggling, set up a doctor’s appointment with a provider who can screen for SUD and other mental health conditions using standard assessment tools, and refer your child to an appropriate specialty treatment provider if needed. Make sure to specify your needs when making the appointment because many doctors are not adequately trained in addiction medicine. If your primary care doctor isn’t qualified to treat SUDs, ask to be referred to a clinician who is.

Many adolescents don’t enter treatment willingly, but are either pressured by family or are offered treatment as an alternative to arrest or prison when caught up in the juvenile justice system. Because this is a particularly sensitive and scary juncture for the person who is struggling, try to be a pillar of support and patience while prioritizing getting them in to see a doctor with experience treating SUDs, who is more likely to be successful in engaging your child in treatment.

Signs and Symptoms

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