Identifying the Signs & Symptoms of Addiction – Many people begin experimenting with drugs or alcohol in response to peer influences, out of curiosity, or in a misguided attempt to cope with daily stress, mental illness, or a history of trauma. Others develop abusive patterns related to the use of prescription drugs, such as opioids and benzodiazepines, that have a potential for dependence and addiction, despite their legitimate therapeutic value.
Fortunately, not everyone who abuses drugs or alcohol will go on to develop a substance use disorder. Unfortunately, though, there is no way to predict if a person’s substance use habits will develop into an addiction. There are specific factors, however, that have been recognized as contributing forces in a person’s predilection toward addiction.
Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
Investigators have revealed several risk factors that can make a person more susceptible to developing a substance use disorder. Of note, the existence of one or more of these factors does not necessarily imply that addiction will develop, but their presence does increase the likelihood that it may occur.
Among the most common risk factors that indicate a person may develop an addiction include the following:
- Having a close relative(s) who was diagnosed with a substance use disorder, especially if they are a first-degree relative (e.g., parent or sibling)
- Being diagnosed with a mental health condition such as anxiety, major depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, etc.
- A history of childhood trauma, such as poverty, neglect, and physical or psychological abuse
- Early age initiation—the earlier a person begins using alcohol or drugs, the greater the potential that addiction will develop
- A history of childhood aggressiveness, violence, or having poor social skills
- A history of inadequate parental supervision in childhood
- General availability of intoxicating substances
- The type of drug used and the most common method of administration (e.g., a person who injects heroin is significantly more likely to develop a severe addiction versus a person who only smokes marijuana)
Physical and Behavioral Effects
Substance use disorders are hallmarked by a person’s patterns of drug or alcohol use, the effects this use induces, and an inability to control use despite the incurrence of a number of adverse effects.
Common physical signs and symptoms of addiction include the following:
- Changes in one’s behavior, such as becoming unreliable and irresponsible, becoming less involved with or withdrawing from friends or family, and failing to fulfill important obligations
- Physical changes, such as notable and unexplained weight loss or gain, skin sores, dental hygiene problems, nosebleeds, or an overall unkempt appearance
- Neglect of appearance and personal hygiene
- Red, bloodshot, or glassy eyes or chronic congestion
- Basic lifestyle patterns that appear negatively altered, such as sleeping too much or not enough
- Sudden and repeated complaints of feeling ill or experiencing flu-like symptoms (physical signs of withdrawal)
- Requiring more of a substance to achieve the same effect that was once induced at lower doses (tolerance)
Emotional and Social Effects
Substance use disorders are characterized by a combination of both physical and psychological problems associated with the excessive use of drugs or alcohol.
Some of the psychological and emotional signs and symptoms of addiction include the following:
- Mood swings, depression, irritability, agitation, and aggression
- Intense cravings for drugs or alcohol
- Resorting to substance abuse as a means to cope with stress or unwanted thoughts and feelings
- Continuing to believe that one’s substance use is “normal” or not problematic despite the incurrence of multiple adverse consequences, such as financial or legal issues, tense relationships, poor academic performance, or loss of employment
- Becoming defensive when confronted about substance abuse
- Experiencing alternating episodes of unusual hyperactivity and overexcitement with depression and irritability
- Experiencing periods of fatigue and exhibiting a lack of motivation
- Having unexplainable episodes of high anxiety, intense fear, or paranoia
- Experiencing feelings of severe depression, anxiety, and intense cravings that manifest after attempting to quit using a substance, and may be followed shortly by relapse (psychological signs of withdrawal)
Other Warning Signs
Several clear warning signs may suggest that a loved one has developed a substance use disorder. While only a licensed health provider can formally diagnose a substance use disorder, concerned family members or friends can reference these signs and symptoms of addiction and urge their loved one to undergo a substance abuse evaluation and seek professional treatment if needed.
In addition to the previously mentioned physical and emotional signs, other red flags that loved ones can look out for include the following:
- Abrupt and radical changes in mood or personality in combination with known drug or alcohol use
- Unusual deception and secretiveness
- Association with a new and possibly sketchy social circle that appears to glorify and engage in substance abuse
- Frequent examples of significant problems involving family, friends, coworkers, and peers that didn’t usually occur before
|Diagnosing a Substance Use Disorder
|Continuing to use a substance despite the incurrence of significant damaging effects related to work, relationships, health, education, and other areas of life
Frequently using more of the substance or for a longer period than was initially intended
Spending a significant amount of time obtaining drugs or alcohol and recovering from use
Experiencing persistent cravings for the drug of choice
The neglect of important obligations in favor of substance use
Using a substance in situations where it may be hazardous, such as driving while impaired, using the substance at work or school, and combining it with other intoxicating substances
Being unable to reduce or discontinue the use of a substance despite communicating a desire to do so
Developing a tolerance to a substance and encountering withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation of use
Among the most enduring and harmful myths surrounding addiction is that a person should hit “rock bottom” before seeking help and entering a rehab program. In truth, however, the only thing required to begin an addiction treatment program is the motivation to take the first step. In general, the earlier one receives help, the easier it is to kick the addiction.
Despite what some might suggest, substance use disorders are considered to be very treatable conditions. Many people who receive appropriate treatment go on to enjoy sober, healthy, and fulfilling lives.
Approaches to addiction treatment vary depending on the person’s unique profile and the type of substance used. Effective professional treatment, however, typically consists of the following:
- A comprehensive physical and psychological assessment employed to identify all problem areas, including mental health conditions and a history of trauma
- Detox and withdrawal management that can be performed on an inpatient or outpatient basis
- Targeted addiction therapy that helps identify the specific factors that contribute to substance abuse
- Training to facilitate the development of coping and relapse prevention skills
- Diagnosis and treatment for comorbid psychological or physical conditions in conjunction with substance use disorder treatment
- Administration of medications, if prudent, to mitigate cravings and withdrawal symptoms, or manage the symptoms of a mental health disorder
- Strong social support from loved ones through family therapy, friends, and peers who are also in recovery
- Informed long-term aftercare planning that is designed to promote a lifestyle consistent with recovery
Harmony Recovery is dedicated to helping all clients we serve by providing them with the education, tools, resources, and support they need to achieve abstinence and experience long-lasting sobriety. Contact us today to discuss treatment options and discover how we can help you begin your journey to recovery!