Worried about a loved one? Know the signs of addiction.
What is the disease of addiction?
The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction (or Substance Use Disorder) as a chronic disease that involves a complex interaction among a person’s genetics, the environment, and the reward system within their brain. Behaviorally, addiction involves the inability to control the use of legal or illegal substances. Physically, addiction may cause deterioration of health, damage to major organ systems, or even death.
Signs and symptoms of alcoholism and drug addiction
Because addiction can take on many forms, it can sometimes be difficult to recognize the signs and symptoms in ourselves or our loved ones. Obvious signs of substance abuse include frequent intoxication, hangovers, or drug paraphernalia. Other signs and symptoms may take behavioral, physical, and emotional form.
Behavioral Signs of Addiction
The abuse of any type of mind-altering substance is going to affect a person’s behaviors in one way or another. Unfortunately, the more that drugs or alcohol are abused, the more severe the behavioral consequences of that abuse can become. Some of the most common behavioral signs of addiction can include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Being secretive about whereabouts
- Isolating from others
- Continually engaging in risky behaviors despite the potential consequences
- Spending excessive amounts of money on drugs or alcohol
- Asking others for money frequently but never paying them back
- Participating in illegal activity, such as dealing, stealing, or prostitution
- Having several legal problems as a result of drug or alcohol abuse
- Being unable to control how many drugs or alcohol are consumed
- Neglecting responsibilities at home in order to use
- No longer participating in previously enjoyed activities or hobbies
The behavioral signs of addiction are often the ones that put up red flags for onlookers. Parents, friends, spouses, etc. take notice when these behavioral symptoms begin, especially when they are completely out of a person’s typical character. Also, these specific symptoms can end up impacting others around the user, which tends to become the breeding ground for anger, resentment, and distrust that threatens the wellness of the relationship.
Physical Signs of Addiction
The extent of the physical damage that drug or alcohol addiction can do is typically directly related to a number of factors that include what type of substance is being abused, how often the abuse is occurring, and how much is being used at a time. Some drugs, such as meth and cocaine, can quickly cause a deterioration in appearance. Others slowly erode away at the cardiovascular system or other types of systems in the body, for example. And, similar to any other type of consequence of addiction, the more serious the addiction is, the faster physical symptoms can start to develop.
Someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol can begin displaying any number of the following signs:
- Poor hygiene (e.g. not brushing teeth or hair, rewearing clothes several times without washing them, a general unkempt appearance)
- Changes in weight, which can include gaining or losing weight depending on what substance is being abused
- Problems with sleep patterns, such as sleeping too much or not enough
- Bloodshot eyes
- Development of withdrawal symptoms when not using (a sign of physical dependence
- Contracting bloodborne diseases such as hepatitis and HIV
- Increased tolerance for drugs or alcohol, meaning that more needs to be consumed at a time in order to develop a sense of being high
- Changes in appetite
- Track marks on arms if using intravenously
Unfortunately, having an addiction to drugs or alcohol puts a person at risk for developing physical symptoms such as these, as well as ones that are due to an underlying issue triggered or caused by the substance abuse itself. For example, someone who is addicted to alcohol may begin appearing jaundiced if their substance abuse has led to liver damage. Or, a person with a pre-existing heart arrhythmia may suffer a stroke or heart attack as a result of cocaine addiction. When severe physical symptoms such as these start to develop, it is critical to stop using as quickly as possible.
Emotional Signs of Addiction
Emotions can be difficult to deal with even if you are not abusing drugs or alcohol. But if you are addicted to mind-altering substances, you will face emotional challenges. Ranging from pervasive sadness and hopelessness to extreme euphoria and excitability, the emotions that can be produced by drugs or alcohol can fluctuate over and over again. And, of course, being under the influence of any substance can impair you from being able to manage your emotions appropriately.
Frequently experienced emotional signs of addiction include the following:
- Aggression, anger, or irritability
- Sudden changes in mood
- Anxiety, panic, or fear
- Feeling unable to function without drugs or alcohol
- Turning to the use of drugs or alcohol in order to cope
- Euphoria followed by pervasive sadness
- Suicidal thoughts
Addiction changes the way that the brain functions. This is the precise reason why it is known as a disease, as the structure of the brain becomes altered permanently. Therefore, these emotional signs of addiction can begin as mild symptoms but quickly become more pronounced and unmanageable. And what were once simply emotional signs of addiction can linger for the remainder of a user’s life even if they put an end to their active addiction, as mental illnesses like depression and anxiety can continue as a result of the structural changes of the brain.
Are you or a loved one struggling with alcoholism?
One or more of these symptoms can create serious problems in life. The good news is that addiction is treatable! If you are unsure whether drug or alcohol addiction is evident in yourself or a loved one, chat with us now for an assessment.