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7 Signs of Potential SUDs in Family Members

The presence of family is the biggest support

Drug and alcohol addictions (now more properly called substance use disorders or SUDs) afflict a significant proportion of the American population today. According to NIDA’s National Survey of Drug Use and Health, over 65 percent of Americans 12 years old or older have used alcohol in the past 12 months, and about 18 percent have used illicit drugs.

This means that practically every American family has a member that has used habit-forming substances in the past year, and this doesn’t even include legitimate medications that have addictive potential.

Most drug-taking behavior goes unnoticed, as not all of the instances of alcohol abuse or illicit drug use creates immediately noticeable problems. Most people who use drugs or alcohol also do not develop severe SUDs where the effects are plain to see. Unfortunately the risks of letting a potential SUD go on unaddressed far outweighs any perceived short-term positives. This makes it important to have your affected family member treated as soon as possible.

While only a qualified medical professional can diagnose someone with an SUD, it’s possible to laypeople to get a realistic idea of whether or not someone they know has a problem with drugs or alcohol. Below are some things that can tip you off to a potential substance use disorder.1,2,3 Get in touch with a psychiatrist or other mental health expert to learn more.

1.) Sleep Disorders or Unnatural Sleeping Habits

Alcohol, opioids, benzodiazepines, and cannabis can cause people who use them to sleep much more than usual. These drugs are just some of the substances that can have depressant effects when taken in typical doses. Some people may start misusing these substances because they previously had difficulty sleeping.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have stimulant drugs that keep you awake. These include amphetamines, cocaine, crystal meth, and bath salts, to name a few. Individuals with jobs that require them to be extremely active or awake at odd hours may try these or other drugs to cope. They may also alternate these drugs with depressants so that they could get a good night’s sleep.

Over time, these drugs may no longer work in the way that they used to, compelling more drug use and further disrupting sleep patterns.

2.) Uncovering Hidden Drugs or Drug Paraphernalia

This is usually a dead giveaway that someone has been using drugs at least occasionally and that they don’t want anyone in the household to know. This can be a major red flag and should necessitate a visit to a qualified mental health expert. Be also on the watch for prescription medications that your family member does not have a prescription for.

3.) Withdrawal or Loss of Interest in Old Friends and Hobbies

If you see a child, spouse, or sibling lose interest in old friends or hobbies that used to seriously occupy them, this may signal a mental health issue, of which, an SUD is just one of many possibilities. In any case, it may be wise to get in touch with a counselor or therapist to see if there’s a potential mental health issue to be addressed.

4.) Irritability, Depression, and Mood Swings

Again, this is not specific to any single mental health problem. However, most people who habitually misuse drugs or alcohol will feel depressed, anxious, or irritable when denied access to their substances of choice. Together with some of the other tell-tale signs on this list, it may indicate a potential SUD.

5.) Inability to Control Drug or Alcohol Consumption

Perhaps the most obvious sign that someone has a problem with drugs or alcohol is their inability to control their intake. This is more pertinent with legal substances such as alcohol or cannabis, where the affected individual does not necessarily feel the need to hide their substance misuse. They may be unable to stop even if their substance misuse causes problems at work, in school, and with relationships.

6.) Constantly Borrowing Money or Stealing

If your family member steals money or sells off household items, or constantly borrows money but lies about the purpose or has a hard time justifying it, it may be a sign that they have a potential SUD. They are likely in need of immediate intervention and you may want to get in touch with a mental health expert immediately.

7.) Anxiety Symptoms

Preexisting anxiety disorders can raise the risk of developing an SUD. The reverse is also true, as frequent substance misuse can lead to the individual experiencing common anxiety symptoms.

Symptoms of anxiety can include panic attacks, dry mouth, uncontrollable trembling, nausea, dizziness, headaches, cottonmouth, aggression, and fatigue. These symptoms may not necessarily indicate a drug problem, but they all merit examination by a doctor or other qualified health professional.

Find Help for Family Members With SUD Today

It’s important to seek immediate professional help for family members with a potential SUD. Catching the SUD in its early stages can dramatically reduce the cost and complexity of treatment, allowing for a far better chance at achieving positive recovery outcomes.

Waiting for your loved one to reach “rock bottom” or to exhibit physical withdrawal symptoms often means that they have already developed moderate or severe SUD, which may require years of treatment as well as a serious disruption in school or professional life.

If you’re in the New England area, get in touch with our team at Boston Drug Treatment Centers to find age and gender-appropriate evidence-based treatment programs for your family member. Call (857) 577-8193 to discuss your options.


  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020). National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).
  2. Argyriou, E., Um, M., Carron, C., & Cyders, M. A. (2018). Age and impulsive behavior in drug addiction: A review of past research and future directions. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior164, 106-117.
  3. Newcomb, M. D., & Bentler, P. M. (1989). Substance use and abuse among children and teenagersAmerican psychologist44(2), 24

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