A Disease of the Brain
Technology helps uncover the destructiveness of substance abuse, providing several opportunities to identify addiction.
In 2014, the President’s National Drug Control Strategy stated a commitment to “…a smarter, more humane approach to drug policy in the 21st century,” addressing addiction as a disease of the brain that is preventable through education, and best treated through early intervention.
1. The Double Edged Sword That is Social Media
The media regularly churns out news about twenty-first century addictions, from Facebook to online gaming. Some troubling statistical links exist between teens’ use of social media and their likelihood of smoking, drinking or using pot.
According to The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASAColumbia), teenagers who spend time on social media sites are:
- 5 times likelier to use tobacco
- 3 times likelier to use alcohol
- Twice as likely to use marijuana
The upside of social media is that those images of drug and alcohol abuse, while embarrassing, are public. They provide loved ones with a chance at early detection and intervention.
2. Texts Tell a Tale of Addiction
Gaining access to another’s texts is difficult. However, even a glimpse of a part of a text conversation may be enough to reveal possible addiction issues.
In 2013, a student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst named Logan died of a heroin overdose. His text messages document his demise. Logan’s texts mentioned “shrooms, weed and …molly” along with references to regular shipments from Amsterdam, according to a Boston Globe report. Later, he texted about his troubles with the law and his attempts to go through heroin withdrawal. He also expressed worry over how his parents would feel if they knew about his addiction, but mentioned that if he went to rehab, “they’d be happy I was getting help and also pissed.”
If even one thread of texts had gotten to the right person, Logan may have received the treatment he needed.
3. A Pocket of Paraphernalia
Piecing together small clues may reveal a substance abuse issue. It need not be actual drugs or hard-core drug paraphernalia, such as needles. Even finding a lighter, a roach clip, or a small baggie with an herb-like residue in someone’s pockets may initiate a conversation.
4. Developing Issues at School or in the Workplace
Changes in behavior often indicate of addiction issues.
- Repeated reprimands at work for violations of internet use during work hours
- An increasing pattern of absence or tardiness
- Numerous sick days
- Decreased interest and productivity in school and/or employment
- Strategic avoidance of activities or requirements that would reveal substance abuse
For parents of adolescents and teens, technology may provide some early addiction indicators. For instance, most schools now use parent portals for posting grades, absences, and disciplinary matters.
5. The Internet and Substance Abuse
Addictive behavior encompasses many things:
“Any activity, substance, object, or behavior that has become the major focus of a person’s life to the exclusion of other activities, or that has begun to harm the individual or others physically, mentally, or socially is considered an addictive behavior.”
This is not say that internet use equates a substance abuse problem. However, addictive behavior in one area makes someone a higher risk in developing an addiction elsewhere.
Additionally, browsing the history of a suspected addict in any given day may reveal a great deal about whether or not an issue exists.
6. A Change in Appearance
Although many addicts manage to look and act fairly normally, watch for changes in:
- Personal hygiene and grooming
- Physical appearance of the eyes, complexion, and/or bruising
- Increase in concealing clothing or situational inappropriate clothing
Even if changes in appearance are not apparent in person, social media partying pictures may tell a very different story about the person. A continuous pattern of photos showing someone dressed oddly or inappropriately, with a glazed appearance, or just plain looking wasted may be a harbinger of addiction issues.
7. Sudden Secrecy
Installing a lock on a bedroom door may raise drug use concerns. However, secrecy concerns now show up in the virtual world as well:
- Creation of an alternate identity used on Facebook or other social media sites that differs greatly from the “official” one
- Use of disposable phones
- Travel to unusual locations revealed through GPS histories
8.Income and Spending
When someone suddenly has more money to spend on non-necessities, it is not always because of a wage hike. They may be “earning” extra income from their dealer, or may be spending more due to drug-addled impulse control. A sudden request to borrow money with no good explanation of need may indicate someone who needs drug money. The individual may even steal money and household items, along with prescription drugs or alcohol.
Daily living is more complicated than ever and many parents are unaware of how to be involved in their child’s day to day life. Honing in on certain cues and behaviors can help with early detection. Early intervention results in much better recovery rates, and can save everyone from long-term heartache.