Thanksgiving is a time to gather as a family. For many families, it means gathering people together from all across the country for a meal that can bring out the best and worst in your clan. Between the mashed potatoes and turkey, there are months — if not years — worth of life events to recount. Mom started Pilates, and Uncle Roy bought a new house. Cousin Jessica is dating a new guy, while your brother is on the heels of a divorce. But underneath all the small talk is an opportunity to recognize and acknowledge the accomplishments, hardships and hidden aspects of each family member’s life.
For some, the annual family gathering can be an opportunity to see friends, children and extended family members in person for the first time all year. If you’ve heard whispers or seen other family members show faint concern for others, Thanksgiving weekend can be an opportunity to identify issues and have open conversations.
When you’re gathered around the dinner table this holiday, keep an eye out for some of the subtle signs of substance abuse and addiction. If you have an inkling that one of your family members is struggling, take a closer look at the following signs of drug addiction:
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Changes in Appearance
Some of the most apparent signs of drug addiction include physical changes. They may be subtle signs like weight loss or gain, or more apparent like bloodshot eyes or dilated or smaller pupils. Keep an eye out for things that are out of character, like unkempt hair or deteriorating hygiene. Some substance like heroin and meth can leave physical traces including abscesses and needle marks. If a family member is overprotective of potential injection sites, or wearing clothing that is seasonally inappropriate, it could be a sign that they are trying to cover up revealing marks. Some people may even pick at their skin, especially if they are experiencing withdrawals. Other signs of alcohol abuse or drug use may include shaking and tremors, scabbed and bruised skin, and constant sniffling and runny or dry nose. While some gradual changes in appearance are normal, compounded differences can be a sign of drug addiction or alcohol abuse.
For many, life changes like a sudden job loss, or the inability to maintain a job over a long period of time, may be an indication that something is off. Many companies have a zero-tolerance drug policy. If a person doesn’t pass a random drug screening while on the job, they may be terminated without notice. Even if a drug or alcohol use disorder goes undetected by a physical test, it can still have a large impact on performance at work. A drug or alcohol addiction can keep people from work, or make the day-to-day tasks of their job nearly impossible to complete. If you have a family member who is constantly between jobs, and displays other signs of addiction, it may be best to have an open discussion to ensure they get the help they need.
Isolation and Secrecy
Substance use disorder is as diverse as people’s personalities. While some people develop a dependence on alcohol or another drug after using it socially, others may use substances alone. But addiction itself can be a lonely experience, whether a person uses substances alone or with others. Oftentimes substances are used as a means to cope from other difficulties in life, especially co-occurring mental illnesses like depression, PTSD and anxiety. When these issues go untreated and are instead numbed by drugs or alcohol, they can create a dangerous combination. If you notice a relative who is uncommonly quiet or reserved, it can be helpful to speak with others about the situation to see if anyone else in your family has noticed inconsistent behavior. Facing a substance use disorder alone can be difficult, if not impossible, so having someone else on their side may be just what your loved one needs.
Legal or Financial Issues
While every family member has their unique quirks, some issues may be more constant — or out of character — than others. Does your cousin always seem to be in a financial bind? Has your brother or sister recently been dealing with undisclosed legal trouble? If you notice these patterns, speaking up could help save a life, and prevent any further damage. Many people struggling with substance abuse have a difficult time managing money, as it often goes toward supplying more drugs or alcohol. Others may have constant run-ins with the law. These issues can be difficult to hide, but many people may try to deflect from the reality or hide the severity. No matter what the issue, it’s best to address it, instead of hiding it. Enabling by providing cash for legal fees or substances can worsen the problem and potentially put the person’s life at risk.
Marital or Relationship Strain
Thanksgiving is a time for the family to come together, but it can also be a trying time as it kicks off the winter holidays and stresses that go along with them. If you notice relationship tension at the dinner table, it could be more than simple seasonal blues if it is combined with other signs of addiction. Substance use can be a strain for everyone involved, especially partners. Even if the partner is unaware of a drug or drinking problem, the ripple effects can impact daily life, making the relationship difficult.
If you sense an unusual aura between family members while carving the turkey, it can’t hurt to sit down sometime after the meal to make sure everything’s OK. Instead of taking both parties aside, it may be best to speak with each person individually. If you suspect that your aunt is dealing with a substance use issues, for instance, it can be helpful to speak with her husband to see if he has similar concerns. By addressing small issues between individuals, you can help make sure that the entire family is healthy together.
While addiction isn’t the ideal topic of discussion for Thanksgiving dinner, being aware of the signs of substance abuse can help your family draw closer together in the long run — which is always something to be grateful for. If you need assistance with starting the conversation about addiction, or would like to guide someone you love to treatment for a substance use disorder, The Recovery VIllage can help, even on the holidays. Call 352.771.2700 today to speak with a specialist who can assist you in finding the best care for your family member.