For so long, we thought about drug and alcohol abuse as a “young person’s problem”. We think of the moody adolescent struggling to find their place in the world; the impressionable teenager who starts to like alcohol a little too much; even the pressured student who takes “study aids” too far. The reality is that addiction is a problem that spans all ages. It can be much harder, however, to recognize patterns of addiction in adults than it is in children. This means that the window for getting them help and mitigating lifestyle damage can be a lot narrower because the people in their lives don’t recognize the problem until it’s gotten out of control.
For one thing, we don’t often expect mature adults with established lives and behavioral patterns to fall into substance abuse after their lives are so far along. It’s also not as common for adults to be monitored as closely as children, even by their families. We expect adults to be “in control of their lives”, and are often at a loss for how to react when they don’t. This often leads to unfounded judgment and even more in a delay in understanding what our adult loved ones are going through and helping them to get treatment. If we practice some basic mindfulness and actively involve ourselves in our adult friends and families’ lives, we can intervene earlier in the event of substance abuse.
We should start with a knowledge that everyone is vulnerable to drug and alcohol abuse. We now live in an age in which the impressionable adult who starts taking prescription opioids needs to be monitored as closely as the impressionable adolescent who is exposed to different drugs on a daily basis—the annual overdose numbers have made this a necessity. When we recognize a situation in which our adult friend or family member may be vulnerable to substance abuse, whether it’s a sudden trauma that’s causes them to drink more or a chronic injury that causes them to take opioid for a prolonged period, we can’t simply walk away and say: “They’re an adult. They can handle it.”
What we can do is ask basic questions: “Are you feeling okay?” “Is there anything I can do?” We can even say bluntly that we think they’re self-medicating too much, and ask them if they’ve considered other forms of treatment. By exercising just a bit more involvement in our vulnerable loved ones’ lives, we can better recognize their risk for substance abuse.