Battling addiction and ready for treatment?
Identifying the Warning Signs of Addiction
It can be difficult to see signs of addiction in your behavior. The people we’re close to are often best positioned to point out potential addictive behavior. For many, however, addiction involves a lot of secrecy, making it difficult for loved ones to notice the behavior before it gets out of hand.
If you suspect you have an addiction, there are some signs to look out for in your behavior. Whether you’re worried due to a family history of addiction or concerned about your health, tracking changes in personality and health can be extremely helpful.
Some of these changes could be attributed to other mental health conditions, so make sure you consider all other factors. If you have any doubts, talk to your doctor about your experience.
Addiction Warning Sign #1: Changes in Personality
Common personality changes that occur during addiction include:
- You’re having trouble getting along with co-workers, teachers, friends, or family members. They complain about how you act or how you’ve changed.
- You have a new set of friends with whom you do drugs and go to different places to use the drugs.
- You keep taking a drug after it’s no longer needed for a health problem.
- You go to more than one doctor to get prescriptions for the same drug.
- You hide drug use or the effect it is having on you from others.
- You can’t stop using the drug, even if you want to. You continue using it even though it’s negatively affecting your life.
- You spend a lot of your time thinking about the drug: how to get more, when you’ll take it, how good you feel, or how bad you feel afterward.
- You’ve lost interest in things you once enjoyed.
- You have a hard time giving yourself limits and end up using twice that amount. Or you use it more often than you intended.
- You look in other people’s medicine cabinets for drugs to take.
- You borrow or steal money to pay for drugs.
- You have sudden changes in mood like sudden aggressive behavior, irritability, depression, apathy, or suicidal thoughts.
Addiction Warning Sign #2: Changes in Health
Common health changes that occur during addiction include:
- Your appearance visibly worsens. For example, you have bloodshot eyes, bad breath, shakes or tremors, frequent bloody noses, or you have gained or lost weight.
- You begin to have bad skin, hair, teeth, and nails (especially when substance abuse involves illegal drugs like methamphetamines or cocaine).
- You have memory loss or problems with recall.
- You have changes in speech, like slurred words or rapid rambling.
- You’ve begun having trouble doing normal daily things.
- You need more and more of a substance to get the same effects.
- You experience intense cravings for the drug.
- You sleep too much or too little, compared with how you used to. Or you eat a lot more or a lot less than before.
- You feel strange when the drug wears off. For example, you may be shaky, depressed, sick to your stomach, sweat, or have headaches. You may also be tired or not hungry. You could even be confused, have seizures, or run a fever in severe cases.
Long-Term Life Consequences of Addiction
The longer you live in addiction, the more likely you will experience permanent, negative long-term effects. You mustn’t allow yourself to ignore or trivialize these outcomes in favor of addiction. It’s never too late to turn things around and avoid the devastation and ruin that addiction brings to many.
Potential long-term consequences of addiction include:
- Contracting infectious diseases, especially through shared needles
- Dropping out of school or getting poor grades
- Damaging relationships with friends and family
- Losing good standing or getting a tarnished reputation
- Arrests or jail time
- Ruined credit and financial health
- Eviction from your home or failed mortgage payments
- Loss of job
- Loss of parental rights
How Can I Tell if It’s an Addiction?
Addiction describes the uncontrollable urge and compulsion to use dangerous substances or participate in harmful activities to experience temporary “highs” despite negative consequences. This experience is so pervasive that physicians classify addiction as a chronic, lifelong disease. People with addiction are often physically or mentally unable to stop, sometimes despite their best efforts.
When untreated, addiction problems can damage relationships, cause problems at work or school, and lead to financial and legal issues. Even worse, excessive drug and alcohol use can result in a range of serious health problems, some of which are fatal.
Common Types of Addiction
While most people associate addiction with substance use disorder, behavioral addictions like gambling pose a serious health risk. Substances and behaviors that provide positive feelings, effects, or sensations of euphoria can potentially become issues for people vulnerable to addiction.
Generally, addictions fall under two categories:
- Substance Addiction (e.g., drugs and alcohol addiction): Substance addiction can quickly become a danger to human health, leading to life-threatening emergencies or illnesses after years of abuse.
- Behavioral addiction (e.g., gambling, shopping, sex or porn). On the other hand, behavioral addictions can destroy a person’s social life, financial security, and overall mental health.
Because the mechanism of addiction in the brain is the same for both types, it’s important to acknowledge the risk of a behavioral addiction leading to substance addiction and vice versa.
Substance addiction can be any one or more of the following:
- Nicotine or tobacco
- Inhalants like household cleaners, spray paints, or other aerosol products
- Drugs, illicit or non-illicit
- Prescription drugs (opioids, sedatives, and stimulants)
Behavioral addiction can be any one or more of the following:
Dependence Vs. Addiction
Dependence and addiction may sound the same, but key differences exist. Describing a person as dependent on a drug relates to how the drug interacts with their body. Their body becomes used to consuming the substance and presents withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking it. This is particularly common for people taking prescription medications that have the risk of addictive effects.
Addiction, on the other hand, describes the impact desire for the drug has on a person’s decision-making and day-to-day life. Their behavior and inability to stop thinking about the drug are vital in identifying if an addiction exists. Dependence often leads to addiction, but it’s possible to be dependent without forming an addiction.
Taking Steps Towards Recovery
Luckily, treatment and recovery from addiction are not impossible. Many treatment programs, health professionals, support groups, and sober communities can help you on your journey. Even if you’re not yet ready for complete recovery, many harm reduction strategies are available that don’t rely on full commitment to sobriety.
Some treatment options might include medical detoxes, like with alcohol abuse or Xanax addiction, as withdrawal symptoms can be severe.
Others may do well with behavioral therapy like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).
Each addicted person has a different set of circumstances and obstacles facing them. While inpatient rehab may be ideal for one person, an outpatient program might be perfect for another. By working with a healthcare provider or treatment center, they can help you decide what options are best for your situation.
Finding Treatment for Addiction
If you’re struggling with addiction, know that treatment centers and physicians are ready to help you on your journey to recovery. Whether you’re ready to jump into treatment or wish to know your options, SAMHSA’s online treatment locator can help you find the right local program.
Frequently Asked Questions About Recognizing Addiction
What is an addiction?
Addiction is a condition that causes someone to seek and use a harmful substance or drug. They continue to pursue these harmful behaviors despite knowing the consequences and seeing how their behaviors affect the ones around them.
How do you know if you have an addiction?
Many signs can point to addiction, but the most common include constant thoughts about the drug or behavior, using the drug despite the danger to your health, hiding the drug or behavior from others, and stealing or lying to continue using the drug or behavior.
What is the difference between addiction and dependence?
Dependence refers to your body’s reaction to the drug or behavior. Often, a person will continue the drug to avoid the negative side effects of withdrawal. On the other hand, addiction is the compulsion to continue using a drug or behavior regardless of the negative consequences. Dependence often leads to addiction, but a person can be dependent without being addicted.
What are the five key signs you're addicted to something?
A lack of control or inability to stay away from a substance or behavior
Decreased socialization, abandoning commitments, or ignoring relationships
Ignoring risk factors (i.e., sharing needles, despite potential consequences)
Physical effects, like withdrawal symptoms or needing a higher dosage for the same effects
Stark and visibly worse changes in appearance (e.g., bloodshot eyes, bad breath, shakes or tremors, frequent bloody noses, weight gain or loss, and bad skin, hair, teeth, and nails).