While Lady Gaga promoted her new film, A Star Is Born, at the Toronto Film Festival, she stressed during a press conference that people struggling with addiction need compassion.
Addiction is a big topic in the movie, which follows the story of a young woman (played by Lady Gaga) who meets an alcoholic rock star (Bradley Cooper) and has a relationship with him as she becomes more famous and he struggles. “I think what would be wonderful is that we intervene early in life when we see people struggling,” Lady Gaga said during the press conference, according to Variety.
It sounds good in theory, but the early signs of addiction are “often hard to detect, getting explained away as ‘it won’t happen again’ or ‘it only happened once,’” Kevin Gilliland, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and executive director of Innovation 360, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “There tends to be a progression from social drinking, then having some problems with the way you drink or use a substance, and then finally have a drinking or a substance problem/addiction,” he says. “The transition from use to abusing tends to be a change in how often and how much.”
There may also be some “nonspecific” behaviors that surface, says Jed Magen, DO, associate professor and chair of the department of psychiatry at Michigan State University. “People may get really preoccupied and withdraw,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle, noting that a reaction like that can be a sign of depression. “In general, if you see a marked change in behavior, you have to wonder what’s up,” he says.
“People start to have problems in relationships and then maybe work or life,” Gilliland says. “It looks different for everyone but there are usual suspects like losing some control over when and how much they use, problems in their social lives with missed appointments or change in time with friends and hobbies, and some behaviors where their use is risking their or other people’s safety.”
A person may also look drowsy or fatigued a lot, keep forgetting things, or have trouble concentrating on everyday activities, Caroline Fenkel, DSW, LCSW, an addiction specialist for Newport Academy rehabilitation centers, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
The changes are often “subtle,” Gilliland says, which may necessitate conversations about the changes you’ve witnessed and then setting some goals to help measure success. For example, if someone has a problem with alcohol, you may ask that person to have no more than two drinks in a week, no shots, and no drinking during the week. “You want to start a conversation, not talk [once] and be done. That won’t help,” Gilliland says. “Open the conversation and keep having it. Not every day and not twice a year.”
It’s crucial to approach the conversation without judgement, Fenkel says. “Those struggling with drug addiction often feel guilt or shame,” she says. “A nonjudgmental intervention can help them to understand the medical nature of the disorder.”
If you suspect that a loved one has a substance abuse problem, Gilliland recommends doing your research by visiting the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism or DrugAbuse.gov to learn the facts. “Information is powerful and a good place to start,” he says. Then, “don’t be afraid of having a difficult conversation,” he says, adding that it’s important to cite data during the conversation that is neither emotional nor subjective.
Finally, try to convince your loved one to seek treatment, Magen says. “Early intervention consists of individual or group therapy, along with drug tests,” he says. “There is some evidence that if people know they’re going to be randomly checked, they’re more likely to abstain.” A doctor may also prescribe relapse-prevention medications that are designed to reduce cravings. “They’re primarily used for alcohol and opioids,” Magen says.
Overall, experts stress that early intervention is crucial. “Like a lot of behavior change, it’s easier to do it when it doesn’t have a lot of momentum or power,” Gilliland says.
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