How To Spot a Substance Abuser Before You Get Too Involved: Introduction



I was clueless about substance abuse.

I was clueless about substance abuse.

Life with a substance abuser is a special kind of HELL.

It is similar to how the protagonists must feel in those adventure movie scenes where they are being chased by a band of  hooligans who are shooting at them and as they run across a rope bridge precariously strung across some impossibly deep ravine when footing planks begin to drop off  in random intervals like autumn leaves being blown off a tree whilst a large dangerous animal just happens to appear at the bridges other side – no place feels safe, nothing is certain and life seems as if it goes from one crisis to another.

Having been on that disintigrating bridge, with those angry hooligans and the hungry tiger two many times in my life I have made a study of how to spot substance abusers before getting too involved.  I have decided to share my methods with you as a way of minimizing your chances of ending up, as I did, in a long-term relationship with a substance abuser without having a clue as to the signs that would have saved me a lot of pain and anguish.

First a little history:

I grew up in the south in the ’60’s and ’70’s.  For a glimpse into my early childhood life watch the early seasons of MADMEN. I grew up in a world of upper-middle class white America (WASP to the core) where people related to each other through alcohol.  Christmas Eve church service at our church had a distinct aroma of Bourbon wafting about the evergreens and candle wax scents, summer afternoons were for beer, cocktail parties were a frequent pastime activity for adults.  By the time I was 14, if I were at certain friend’s homes (about 75% of the families I knew) on a non-school night at 5:00pm I was usually offered a cocktail and invited to sit with the adults for a few drinks before dinner.  On hot summer afternoons groups of kids would get inner tubes and float down the river, one tube less inflated to hold the  manditory cooler of beer.Keg parties were a large part of the high school social scene, particularly the exclusive private schools – the wealthier and more socially prominent  a family was, the less inclined they seemed to regarded laws concerning substance use. It was an environment that encouraged substance abuse by preventing kids from feeling the consequences of their actions.  I knew several boys who were sent to rehab before the age of 16 only to come out and be sent to boarding schools where they enjoyed greater freedom to indulge in their drug of choice.  One 17 year old boy was caught dealing drugs at my school and was dismissed.  A week later he was back at school and it was announced that his grandmother was donating the money to build the new wing for the school’s library.  Another boy received a very expensive car for his 16th birthday and totaled it two days later while driving drunk.  His father got him a new car the next day and hired a high profile lawyer who got the boy off free of any charges.  A week or so later the same boy wrecked the new car while driving drunk.  His father purchased a third identical car for him and hired the same lawyer to get him off the charges a second time brushing off any problem the boy had as youthful folly. Drugs were everywhere in the youth culture, crossing socio-economic lines.  Although I did not do drugs in high school, I drank.  But so did everyone else.  It was just normal.  I offer these stories as an illustration of the world in which I grew up in an effort to explain why I so slow to recognize the signs of substance abusers – and to qualify my coming advice as worth heeding as I have had a considerable amount of exposure to the group in question.

As an adult I married two men (at different times) who had substance abuse issues in their families and who demonstrated signs of substance abuse issues themselves.  One hid bottles around the house, indulging where I couldn’t see him. The other was so sneaky that no one would see him drink any alcohol all day then suddenly he would be stumbling about the house and slurring his words. How did I miss the warning signs before saying, “I do”, not once but twice?

You see, my mistake was that I thought alcoholics were people who lived on the street and had no job.  Think Otis from the Any Griffith show. I had never heard of a functioning alcoholic so I thought the drinking and drugs were all fun and games – if you had a job, and particularly if you were very successful, you could not have a substance abuse problem therefore any substance you chose to indulge in was fine as long as you maintained your status and image- that was the message I got.

Believing this myth is one of reasons it failed to realize that someone with an education, ambition, a residence and a job could possibly have this type of problem. I was well into my second marriage  before that myth was challenged. I had turned to a therapist for help because my life was spinning out of control following a trip to the emergency room with my spouse who had passed out at the dinner table on a day where no one saw him drink. The therapist pointed out that my husband may have a problem and suggested a twelve step program that might help me.

So my first guiding principle in  spotting a potential substance abuser is:

Know that anyone can be a substance abuser.  Anyone.  Regardless of any job, social standing, background, religious affiliation, ethnicity, level of wealth or anything else.

Keep that in mind when you meet potential dating partners then you can utilize the other evaluative tools I will offer  you in future blogs to determine for yourself is a person potentially has a substance abuse problem.  Remember, I am not a doctor, a psychologist, or a specialist in this area.  I just have a lot of life experience and wish to be helpful in helping others consciously avoid getting involved with this type of person.





2 responses »

  1. I could be standing in a crowd of 100 people and, without a doubt, I will gravitate towards the 3 alcoholics/addicts in the room, even if they are in recovery. I can sniff them out, without even trying, on forums. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had conversations with people online (various social media) and posed the question, “Are you a friend of Bill W.?”, only to have it affirmed. Good thing is, since I’ve been in recovery, the ones I find now are usually in recovery, as well. Alanon saved my ass, again….years after AA!

    • Dear Billie,
      I am so grateful for your comment. I often feel the same way. How is it we are wired thusly? It feels really good to know that other people experience the same things I do and that they have also found a positive way to overcome their issues.

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