Substance Abuse on the Rise: Know the Signs
No one thinks it will happen to them, but substance abuse upends families every day. A recent report(1) from the National Institute on Drug Use showed some concerning trends among young adults (age 18-30):
- Daily, past-month and past-year marijuana use reached the highest levels recorded since 1988.
- Reports of past-year hallucinogen use started to increase dramatically in 2020 after being stable for the past few decades.
- Binge drinking (5 or more drinks in a row) rebounded in 2021 after experiencing an historic low in 2020.
- High-intensity drinking (10 or more drinks in a sitting) reached its highest recorded level since 2005.
Of the 5.1 million young adults in the US with a substance use disorder, 87% did not get treatment according to SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services. Being aware of and watching for these signs of substance abuse is a first step toward getting people help:
Signs of Substance Abuse
- Large or small pupils, bloodshot eyes
- Sudden weight loss or gain
- Insomnia/sleep pattern changes
- Poor coordination/rapid or slurred speech
- Unusual body odors/unkempt appearance
- Mood swings, personality changes, outbursts
- Secretive behavior
- Problems at school/work or neglecting home responsibilities
- New friend groups or social activities
- Risk-taking when using – driving recklessly, having unprotected sex
- Legal problems – DUIs, disorderly conduct arrests
How to Start a Conversation about Substance Abuse
Maybe you’ve noticed these signs and you’re concerned about your loved one. How do you start a conversation? Try these steps from SAMHSA(2):
- Identify an appropriate time and place. Consider a private setting with limited distractions, such as at home or on a walk.
- Express concerns and be direct. Ask how they are feeling and describe the reasons for your concern.
- Acknowledge their feelings and listen. Listen openly, actively and without judgment.
- Offer to help. Provide reassurance that mental and/or substance use disorders are treatable. Help them locate and connect to treatment services.
- Be patient. Recognize that helping your loved one doesn’t happen overnight. Continue reaching out with offers to listen and help.
A primary care provider can be a helpful resource if you’re concerned about or a loved one’s – or your own – substance use or abuse. It’s important to know that health care providers will listen without judgment and guide you to essential resources.