Warning signs and getting help

Patterns of addiction similar for drug and alcohol abusers

Posted: Sunday, November 24, 2002

Drug users often tip off others to their addiction, but not everyone recognizes the clues.

Editor's note: This is the first in a three-day series that looks at drug trends in the capital city.

Sunday: IV drugs

Monday: The new problem drugs - Meth and OxyContin

Tuesday: Kids and drugs

Nicole, a former addict whose identity is being withheld for this article, said when she was snorting cocaine regularly she had a chronic runny nose. A cocaine smoker gets black fingers, akin to the nicotine stains of a heavy cigarette smoker.

"Another sign is a person goes through money," she said. "You make tons of money - how come you never have any?"

A substance abuser develops a pattern of tardiness and absenteeism, said Matt Felix, who has worked with drug and alcohol issues for 25 years. Addicts often are hungover on the job, sometimes extremely hungover.

"You can't really hide it over time," Felix said. "For the majority of people these things pop up and make it obvious. Employment is a big one. There's an accident on the job or somebody finds a bottle in the desk."

Encounters with the police also are part of the pattern.

"It's really hard to use drugs and alcohol for a long time without running afoul of the law," said Felix, who heads up the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence in Juneau. "You can't drink and drive or fight with your spouse too many times without the police getting involved."

Felix said problem alcohol and drug users also isolate themselves. Nicole said she began hiding in the bathroom.

"Her scenario is typical," Felix said.

Felix runs a program that trains families to intervene. People meet twice for an hour or two and learn how to best confront the problem.

"We never talk to the addict or alcoholic," Felix said. "We bring the family and friends in, their boss, as many people as possible, and then train them how to conduct an intervention."

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