How do you know if someone is a drug addict? You might think it’s easy. The marks on their arms from injections, glossy eyes, and slurred speech are all telltale signs that someone is abusing drugs. How often do you really think people walk around like this, though? Most people construct their ideas about drug use from movies and TV. Although these depictions demonstrate the disastrous consequences of addiction, they aren’t often accurate in their illustration of what it’s like to struggle with a drug problem.
If you’re worried that someone you love has started shooting up on heroin, meth or another drug, you have to learn about the real warning signs. They’re a lot more subtle than you think.
Heroin and meth are drugs that many people use through needle injections. Shooting up is the fastest way to get an intense high, but it’s also an extreme danger to the user. When people begin injecting drugs, addiction is soon to follow. The “rush” of euphoria produced by shooting up is immediately followed by a heavy “crash,” which makes cravings intense and increases a person’s desire to reach for another hit.
Learn about the different physical and emotional signs of addiction and shooting up so that you can better identify them in your loved one.
The Physical Signs of Shooting Up
The most evident physical signs of shooting up a drug like Meth or Heroin are needle marks on the arm. Repeated injections damage the veins, which lead to “track marks,” long, dark veins that trail down the arms and legs. Collapsed veins are also common as people who repeatedly use the same spot to inject a drug will cause swelling that blocks the rest of their vein.
Collapsed veins are sore and tender to the touch, and they are often discolored. Inexplicable black and blue bruises along the arms and/or legs aren’t uncommon in injectable drug users.
You may also realize that your loved one develops skin infections. Many people who shoot up share needles with other users, which also poses the added danger of contracting a transmittable disease.
More Subtle Signs of Injectable Drug Abuse
You may not notice any marks on someone’s skin, but that could also be because they inject in veins that aren’t readily visible. Someone may also start wearing long clothing no matter what season it is to avoid any reason to expose their skin.
During drug binges, people are also less tired and hungry. As a result, sudden weight loss and a fatigued appearance with sallow skin and dark circles under the eyes may be evident.
Recognizing the physical signs are just one part of identifying a drug problem. People wrestling with addiction will also display an array of emotional and behavioral changes that can be frustrating and puzzling for loved ones who know them well.
Emotional Signs of Shooting Up
Crystal meth, also known as ice, is a white powder drug that people smoke, snort or inject. Meth is often called by its nickname, ice, as well as similar nicknames like crank, chalk, and speed. Many people start taking meth in a party setting when it’s introduced by “friends” who tell them that they’ll enjoy an incredible high that’s unlike anything they’ve ever experienced.
When people get the rush of euphoria and simultaneous numbing that drugs like meth induce, they are eager to take it again and again. During a period of heavy use, people will be stuck in a cycle of highs and lows. During these high periods, many come off as highly energized and manic while others are prone to experiencing hallucinations and paranoia. Around 40 percent of users experience meth-induced psychosis, which comes with extreme side effects that include agitation, violence, and delusions.
You most likely don’t see your loved one when they’re high because they disappear to use drugs. When they’re off them, though, the “low” side of the addiction cycle hits, and they’ll exhibit many emotional symptoms that might lead you to think they’re depressed.
Some of the most common low signs of addiction include:
- Less energy, such as not wanting to get out of bed, avoiding plans and wanting to stay in or be alone
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts and/or acts of self-harm
- Reported feelings of depression or anxiety
- An inability to experience pleasure (anhedonia)
- Slower speech and delayed actions
It’s vital to understand that these moods aren’t caused by drugs alone. People who start using drugs in the first place may take them to ease some type of emotional pain. No one who is happy or fully content in their lives wants to enhance it with drugs, but those who lack something deep inside, even if they aren’t aware of what that is, will try to fill themselves up with the high that drugs produce.
The low period of drug withdrawal feels more intense because people now have an indescribable sense of joy and peace to compare it to. This is why treatment is so important. Without help, people become trapped in this endless loop and are desperate to feel the same happiness they did the first time. The only problem is that the more they use, the more tolerant their bodies become and the less high they get from a small dose. As people shoot up more and more in pursuit of that same high they once felt, overdose can occur.
Social Signs of Drug Addiction
When people get into heroin, meth or other hard drugs, their personalities change. You may feel like your best friend is now a total stranger or that your own sibling has become unrecognizable.
Shooting up drugs isn’t just a danger to someone’s health; it also destroys their social lives. The drug is all-consuming, and there is little space left in a person’s mind for anything but their substance of choice when they’re addicted. As a result, they stop paying attention to their past responsibilities, even in the face of negative consequences.
One of the earliest signs of addiction is a drop in work or school performance. Someone who once had perfect attendance might show up late with no reason. They may decide to sleep in and skip their shift, call in sick or just simply not show up. Some may even lie and say they are going to work or school but instead go off to shoot up somewhere.
Work and school become chores because intellectual and social demand requires energy that substance users simply can’t afford. It’s impossible to concentrate on deadlines or multitasking when your brain is either overwhelmed with cravings or feels half-dead from withdrawal.
People who are close to users are the first to notice that something isn’t right with their loved one. They could suddenly become detached and secretive and then become argumentative or even hostile when questioned.
Social isolation from once-close relationships leaves friends and family members hurt and confused. They may even steal or lie to others to cover up their drug use, which only leads to a great sense of rejection and betrayal.
Borrowing money or selling personal effects is another sign of a growing addiction. People may say it’s for their bills or ask if someone can cover their rent. They may also call and say they need money for “an emergency” and insist that they’ll pay you back.
If you suspect that your loved one may be addicted to heroin, meth or another drug, make sure you don’t enable them. Even if you have only just begun to suspect them of substance abuse, many actions people take to help someone can actually facilitate their addiction.
The isolating effects of drug use will have a serious addict cutting off close ties, severing relationships and prioritizing their drug-using friends over others. It’s painful to witness and even more hurtful to experience, but you must understand that this isn’t your fault.
There are many reasons why someone becomes addicted to drugs or starts experimenting with them in the first place. Shooting up can happen at a party or other social event. Pure curiosity could cause someone to take heroin and realize that they love how it makes them feel.
Whatever the reason, someone who starts to shoot up these powerful drugs shouldn’t be ignored. Heroin and meth are extremely potent and highly addictive. These warnings signs are cause for alarm because they threaten a person’s physical, mental and emotional well-being.
What to Do If Someone You Love Is Shooting Up
Confronting someone about their drug problem is nerve-wracking. You may worry that they’ll become angry and storm off and maybe even stop speaking to you altogether. If you suspect that they will become hostile or violent, you should not speak to them alone. Drugs can make people do things they never would sober, so you should also avoid any type of conversation when you suspect someone is high or otherwise intoxicated.
Staging an intervention isn’t easy, and you may find that the formal sit-down approach you see on television isn’t going to go over well. If you have to trick someone into showing up, they’re most likely going to get angry and lash out.
Understand the perspective of a user. They may not even know where the root of their problem comes from, and many people who develop an addiction will outright deny they have a problem and will say that they could quit if they wanted. Don’t invalidate their opinion or tell them that they’re lying. Denial is a safety net, and it can help mask the shame, pain, and guilt that often underscores a substance use disorder.
Wait until you have a moment to speak with your loved one face-to-face. You don’t want to lecture or scold them, so practice using “I” statements instead of “you” claims. For example, instead of saying, “Your drug addiction is ruining everything,” try saying something like “I feel like you’ve changed a lot since you started using drugs.”
Ultimately, you cannot force someone to get help if they don’t want it. When it comes to substance abuse, all you can do is encourage someone to seek treatment and offer a recovery-focused means of help. Instead of giving them money or letting them crash at your place when they lose their job, focus on providing them with information about local rehabs. Offer to research treatment options together and find a model of therapy that works for them.
Never oversee someone’s withdrawal on your own. If your loved one wants to quit drugs, it would benefit them greatly to find a good local rehab center that will be able to guide them through detox, addiction therapy and long-term recovery programs.