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One Big Change: Five Signs of Covert Addiction

From an amped-up social schedule to decreased interest in sex, behavioral changes are often the first clue to addiction.

One of the many unfortunate realities of addiction is that it can be difficult to spot in loved ones until they are in deep. Sure, there are the stereotypical signs, such as unseasonable long sleeves worn to cover needle marks or the mysteriously dilated pupils of meth, cocaine, and psychedelics users. While these are obvious and extreme, garden-variety addiction can go unnoticed for months, or years. Fortunately, paying attention to the following areas will give you a head start toward helping someone who may be getting into trouble.

Energy Swings

People use drugs to regulate their feelings and ability to function. So if your family member or friend finds herself overindulging in stimulants, such as amphetamines and Dexedrine, to increase motivation and energy, or in depressants to reduce aggression, stress, or anxiety, it's going to be noticeable. One telltale sign: significant shifts in energy over the course of a single day. She might wake up tired and unmotivated, then suddenly get a massive jolt of vitality, only to crash at midday or in the evening. With this sort of behavior, you can be sure that something is happening behind the scenes.

Hot or Cold Libido

Is your spouse or partner acting unusually frisky lately? This could be a sign of stimulant abuse. Methamphetamine is linked with increased sex drive, as well as with the ability to perform more often than usual. The danger may lie in a partner who actually appreciates the activity; never mind that no one realizes it suggests a larger problem is looming. By being aware early on, you might catch the problem while it's much easier to resolve. On the other hand, opiate users and many people who abuse benzodiazepines—antianxiety medication like Xanax and Valium—lose interest in sex. While this can be a source of great stress and resentment in a relationship, it may have less to do with interpersonal issues and more to do with users simply getting their fill of pleasure from the pills.

Slim Down, Bloat Up

Does your loved one look as if he's gained or lost a significant amount of weight in a suspiciously short period of time? It's possible that drugs are the culprit. Stimulants like Adderall or cocaine may initially cause significant weight loss, making the user look as if he's been hitting the gym. Conversely, marijuana smokers may gain weight during the initial period of use as the infamous "munchies" take hold, and some cocaine users actually become bloated.

Missing Items

Things seem to get lost more frequently when an addict is around. Pay attention to the obvious, such as pill or liquor bottles that curiously disappear or become empty faster than normal. As drug and alcohol issues develop, a user does a better and better job of hiding her pilfering; early on in the process, she has yet to master the tricks and thus may be easier to catch. Put on your Sherlock Holmes cap and keep your eyes open. If you notice that a specific prescription is being used up quickly or that vodka is being watered down, it's time to worry. If illicit drugs—heroin, cocaine, or illegally obtained prescription pills—are the vice, you might detect that your valuables are disappearing. No one wants to believe that a family member is stealing from them, but it's worth considering, especially if some of the other signs mentioned here are present.

New Friends

Everyone changes friends once in a while, but if you've observed a significant difference in the people your loved one is spending time with, perhaps a major lifestyle change has occurred. Though it seems like a domain that primarily affects teenagers, the reality is that peer pressure never goes away. For adults, pressure can come from many sources—the boss, a spouse, friends, and colleagues are all important influences. If your family member seems to be staying out late for an uncharacteristic number of nights or regaling you with stories of unfamiliar friends and social events, it might be cause for your concern.