What Are the Signs of Substance Use Disorder?

What Are the Signs of Substance Use Disorder?

Published on September 23, 2020 by First Responder Wellness

Using alcohol and/or substances has many variations. For some, the relationship to chemical-induced escapism is no more than a social convention. Others become hardwired to constantly crave using alcohol and/or substances to the point that a disorder develops.

Even among frequent users, there is no blanketing personality by which one can identify a person’s tendency or behavior. There are many reasons why individuals develop chemical dependency upon alcohol and/or substances. For first responders, many of these reasons relate to the stress and strain of increased exposure to traumatic events.

Still, the personal and familial predilections for using may create a perfect storm for abusing alcohol and/or substances, especially when combined with a work culture that often champions “grabbing a beer” after work as opposed to talking about the haunting moments that occurred during a work shift.

The rate of substance use disorders (SUDs) is much higher among first responders when compared to other careers. Whether it is a family member, friend, or co-worker who has made a profession out of saving lives, knowing some of the signs of a SUD could end up saving their life.

Noticeable Intoxication

Obvious signs of SUDs often manifest exactly as one might expect — with unpredictable and frequent bouts of blatant intoxication. At first these episodes may display themselves under the guise of celebrating “good times,” but then continue into seemingly inexplicable occasions. Nobody needs to light a joint or have a drink in order to make it through their nephew’s piano recital.

Some gatherings can and should be enjoyed without relying upon the high of using. The real risk of relying upon alcohol and/or substance use to make it through what seem like otherwise mundane life events is when they begin overestimating their ability to function with these substances in their system. For first responders, this represents a particularly dangerous trend.

If the person responsible for ensuring the safety and well-being of a large population shows up to work with cocaine in their system, those who they have sworn to protect could be susceptible to that individual’s aggressive behavior. Staying aware of a person’s behavior and knowing the signs of intoxication can benefit the health of everyone in a given community.

Evidence of Paraphernalia

Some individuals can mask their intoxication with surprising efficacy. While their behavior may belie their sobriety, the physical evidence of alcohol and/or substance use will often speak for itself. Alcohol and/or pill containers, receipts, needles, smoking apparatuses — all of these objects can reveal overlooked SUDs.

This is not to say that anyone should snoop or pry into another’s personal belongings, as that could irreparably damage trust between two individuals. However, researching the paraphernalia associated with using could help one identify an underlying problem before it is too late.

Intensified Mood Swings

The highs of using tend to balance out with the eventual lows of sobering up. When the smoke clears, there is often an increase in cranky behavior, as if the individual is hypersensitive to their own stresses and anxieties. For younger individuals, this behavior is often a result of hormonal imbalance, so it is best not to assume an adolescent has been using alcohol and/or substances based solely on increased mood swings.

Still, if a typically even-keeled adult begins demonstrating unpredictable variance in their day-to-day disposition, it may be worthwhile to inquire about their well-being and let them know they have a safe space to share their issues.

Thoughts of Using During Inappropriate Times

One side effect of chemical addiction is the uncontrollable nature of the desire to use. Addiction essentially rewires the brain’s reward complex, shifting feelings of wanting to the external gratification of using. When this chemical dependency has taken root, the addicted individual may experience their mind constantly wandering back to the thought of when they can use next.

Sometimes this can result in off-handed comments about “how badly I could use a drink,” or the inability “to wait to get home and get high.” If these remarks become more frequent, sit down and talk with that person openly about how much they use alcohol and/or substances on a weekly basis. Chances are, if they feel comfortable enough talking openly about their desires, they have trust in you to share their truth.

Physical Signs

If an individual develops physical symptoms that are in line with alcohol and/or substance use, this may be a clear indication they are dealing with underlying addiction. Physical scars from intravenous drug use, development of a “smoker’s cough,” and the frequent smell of alcohol and/or substances on an individual are all examples of physical signs.

As a first responder, you are exposed to stressful, disturbing, and harrowing situations on a regular basis. As these events and memories pile up over the years, it can become difficult to stay in the driver seat of managing this trauma — and using may become your escape. In fact, it’s estimated that first responders experience problems with alcohol and/or substance abuse at twice the rate of the general population. We understand the unique challenges faced by the men and women who put their lives on the line to keep the public safe. Our First Responder Wellness program is geared specifically for first responders and combines addiction treatment with mental health services to help clients understand their substance abuse and learn to address their problems in a healthy way. To learn more, please contact our staff 24/7 or call True Recovery at (888) 743-0490.