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Signs of alcohol or other drug dependence

Understanding the signs can help you know what to pay attention to and when to respond.

Drug and/or alcohol use is usually considered a problem when:

• It has frequent negative impacts on a young person’s health and wellbeing.
• A young person has less control over their substance use than they desire.
• Substance uses gets in the way of important activities such as school, work and family life.

Signs a problem is developing:

Withdrawal is what you experience when you stop using or reduce the use of a drug or alcohol. Physical withdrawal symptoms may include aches and pains, anxiety, strange dreams, hot and cold flushes, nausea and other flu-like symptoms.

Stopping or reducing doesn’t always cause withdrawal symptoms. Your level of dependence and whether or not you experience withdrawal symptoms is usually related to:

The type of drug(s) used (some are more likely to cause more physical dependence than others)

• Changes in appetite or significant weight loss/gain.
• Sudden or frequent changes in mood.
• Fluctuating energy levels. Hyperactivity/agitation or lethargy and low mood.
• Unusual smells on the young person or in the house. Many drugs have distinctive smells (especially if smoked).
• Extensive efforts by a young person to cover up smells such as strong perfume etc.
• Signs of intoxication-slurred speech, unstable on their feet.
• Changes in school performance.
• Not turning up to school.
• Changes in friendships, seeing less of friends they used to.
• Financial problems or a need for money.
• Loss of interest in hobbies.

With every single one of these situations there can also be other reasons, apart from the emergence of a drug problem that could explain why they are occurring. Mental health concerns, relationship difficulties or even the normal ups and down of growing up may account for some of these.

Understanding these signs will help you pay attention to you young person and their wellbeing but they won’t diagnose a problem. Open and supportive communication remains the most important element in finding out what is going on for your loved one.