Addiction occurs when an individual is no longer able to control their use of a particular substance. The use continues despite the potential for harm. What starts out as recreational often progresses until the person becomes addicted. Recognizing indicators of addiction helps you encourage a loved one to seek help or for you to seek help for your own substance abuse. The specific symptoms of addiction and the severity of those symptoms vary based on the individual situation, substance, and genetics.
Physical Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
The physical signs of addiction are the changes that take place inside the body or the person’s outward appearance due to the substance abuse. They involve the various systems of the physical body. These physical side effects are often due to the drug use itself. Other physical symptoms happen during the withdrawal period when the person stops using the substance for any period of time.
These signs are perhaps the easiest to spot for both the substance user and loved ones. Changes to the outward appearance alert others about the problem. It may take time to notice some of the changes, but as the addiction progresses, the physical effects tend to increase, making them more noticeable. The addict may also be aware of those physical symptoms when looking in the mirror. Internal physical symptoms aren’t easy to spot for others, but the individual abusing substances can feel them. Nausea and headache are two examples of symptoms felt by the individual but not easily detectable by others.
Watch for these physical signs and symptoms that can occur with substance abuse:
Eyes: Drug and alcohol use often shows itself in the eyes, which may look red or bloodshot due to the offensive chemicals in the system. Some addicts may try to cover up those signs by using eye drops excessively. Dilated pupils or a glassy appearance can also indicate substance abuse.
Nose: The individual may sniffle or have a runny nose without any medical cause. They may also have frequent bloody noses.
Skin: The skin may appear pale or ashen.
Weight Change: Drug or alcohol use may cause sudden weight gain or loss. Clothes may fit differently. Many drugs stimulate energy, causing the person to go nonstop without feeling the need to eat or sleep, which can lead to significant weight loss.
Body Odor: Addiction sometimes causes people to neglect basic hygiene tasks. Because of this poor personal hygiene, body odors and bad breath may occur.
Substance Odor: The scent of the substance, either on the breath or on clothing, is another potential warning sign. Some addicts may try to cover up those odors by using breath mints or gum. Addicts sometimes use perfume or other scented products to mask the odors on clothes.
Lack of Coordination: Being under the influence may cause coordination or balance issues.
Slurred Speech: Some people experience slurred speech or other changes in speech patterns while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Bruises or Infections: The injection site for certain drugs may appear bruised or infected. Other bruises or injuries can also happen due to the loss of coordination while under the influence.
Frequent Illness: Whether or not the addict is actually ill, they may often say they are sick to cover up the ill feelings often caused by drug and alcohol abuse. They may also use sickness as an excuse to miss work to spend more time drinking or doing drugs.
Addicts experience withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop taking the substance, even for a short period. These withdrawal symptoms may include shaking or trembling, poor appetite, nausea or vomiting, fatigue, headaches, sweating, fever, and seizures. Withdrawal can also cause irritability or other mood changes.
Substance abuse also manifests itself in the body physically in the form of tolerance. As the body gets used to the substance, it requires more to get that same high feeling. This causes the individual to consume more alcohol or increase the amount of drugs used. Refilling drinks faster than normal is one example of spotting tolerance. The individual may start drinking before going out to meet friends to get a head start. A person who abuses prescription drugs might say they ran out of medication or the doctor didn’t renew the prescription to cover up the increased consumption of the drugs.
Psychological Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
Drug abuse sometimes causes psychological effects. Those mental health problems occur due to the chemical altering of the brain. These symptoms may be more noticeable to the addict, as they are typically internal, but the psychological effects may cause behaviors that others can spot. Some of these symptoms mainly occur while the person is under the influence, but regular substance abuse can permanently change the personality.
Some psychological signs and symptoms include:
- Paranoia: Certain drugs tend to cause paranoia during use. Cocaine, amphetamines, and hallucinogens, in particular, may cause paranoia.
- Panic Attacks: Stimulants tend to cause panic attacks. Other people who abuse substances feel intense anxiety. That anxious feeling often occurs when the person worries about having that next drink or getting their hands on more drugs.
- Inability to Focus: Focusing while under the influence is often challenging. Even when not under actively abusing, an addict typically thinks about the substance of choice that it is difficult to focus on anything else.
- Poor Decision-making: The changes to the brain caused by substance abuse often interfere with decision-making and exercising good judgment. The person may have difficulty thinking clearly even when not under the influence.
- Rationalizing Substance Abuse: Addiction causes a strong urge to engage in substance abuse. Addicts often find ways to rationalize drug use or deny that the addiction causes any problems.
Behavioral Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
Substance abuse often changes the behaviors of the addict. Behavioral signs revolve around how the person relates and interacts with the outside world. The signs and symptoms in this category are often easier to spot for those who are close to the individual. Those people with close relationships know what types of behaviors are normal for the person, so when those things change, they stand out as odd.
Behavioral signs and symptoms of an addiction include:
- Absence or tardiness: The substance abuse may cause the individual to show up late to (or even miss) work or school. The person may start missing meetings, appointments or social events. Sometimes they will make up excuses to miss those events. Other times they simply won’t show up.
- Problems at Work or at School: As substance abuse increases, the addict may start receiving lower grades in school or receive warnings at work due to poor performance.
- Isolation: Disappearing for hours to engage in substance use is common. An addict may also isolate himself so others don’t see the symptoms of substance abuse.
- Poor Sleep Habits: Drug and alcohol use often interfere with normal sleep patterns. Some addicts experience insomnia. Others feel exhausted all the time or spend the day sleeping after staying up at night.
- Withdrawal from Activities: Quitting hobbies or activities that were once enjoyable or important often occur with drug or alcohol abuse. The individual may stop hanging out with their favorite people, quit exercising or stop doing enjoyable activities. This often occurs because the person spends more time engaging in substance abuse.
- Risky Behaviors: Addicts often take greater risks to get the drugs or alcohol they need. They may also take risks while under the influence, such as driving while intoxicated, engaging in risky sexual behavior or committing crimes.
- Continued Use: Someone who is addicted to a substance continues using, despite the potential for danger. Some people continue using even after experiencing negative effects, such as failing at their job, arrest or losing friendships.
- Secrecy: Hiding the addiction may come in the form of disappearing to engage in drug use or not being honest about the frequency of substance abuse. The person may start fibbing about where they go or what they do to hide the addiction. In some circumstances, they may simply stop talking to loved ones as often.
- Hiding Substances: Roommates or spouses of addicts may find bottles of alcohol, prescription drugs or street drugs hidden around the home. If you spot substances in an unusual or concealed spot, the person is likely trying to hide them to cover up their addiction.
- Neglecting Responsibilities: Getting high or drunk becomes an obsession for an addict. This often leads to neglecting basic responsibilities at home, school, and work. While under the influence, your loved one may not remember to complete basic responsibilities or simply may not care whether they get done.
- Legal Issues: Breaking the law, whether or not the person is caught, sometimes comes along with addiction.
- Financial Difficulties: Spending excessively to fund the substance abuse, even if it means not paying bills, sometimes occurs with addiction. The individual may borrow or steal money to pay for drugs or alcohol. They might tap into savings or retirement funds. You may notice they can’t seem to pay their bills or find money to cover essentials, yet they continue their drug or alcohol use.
- Hygiene Issues: Failing to handle personal hygiene tasks occurs as drug or alcohol abuse progresses.
- Lacking Control: The individual might try to control drug or alcohol use but consistently goes beyond those limits they set for themselves. They lack control over their actions to stop the substance abuse or limit their consumption.
How Relationships Are Affected By Addiction
Relationships often change as substance abuse progresses. Loved ones see and feel the negative impact of the addiction, but the addict does not always see the effects of their actions. The person abusing substances may lash out against the people who are closest to him, especially if they point out changes in personality or directly address the substance abuse.
Some relationship signs of an addiction include:
- Friction or Arguments: The substance abuse may cause the individual to argue with friends, family, coworkers, and others. The changes in personality and behavior can cause friction in relationships.
- Distance: Addiction can cause a person to put distance between themselves and loved ones. This can be emotional distancing or even physically keeping a distance from others so they can’t smell the drugs or alcohol. Physical distance also prevents others from finding drugs or alcohol kept on the body or in a bag.
- Loss of Friends: The person abusing substances may start losing friends, either by choice or because their behaviors push people away.
- New Friends: The person may start hanging out with new friends who engage in the same substance use. The addict often hides those new friendships in order to avoid being caught with other addicts.
Emotional Symptoms of Addiction
A person’s mood and emotions often shift as substance use starts to take over. Drugs can be stimulants or depressants, both of which alter moods. The increased reliance on drugs to cope with negative emotions or achieve a sense of euphoria puts stress on the person. This cycle often causes fluctuations and changes in emotions.
Look for emotional outbursts or other changes in emotions, including:
- Irritability: The substance abuse may cause increased irritability or aggression.
- Defensive: A person abusing substances may be defensive or argumentative if someone brings up the issue.
- Personality Changes: The person may act more or less energetic than usual or seem obnoxious or overly silly compared to normal.
- Depression: Various types of depression sometimes occurs when addicts isolate themselves and withdraw from their loved ones. Other addicts feel depression when the substance consumption isn’t high enough to produce that feeling of euphoria initially felt.
- Mood Swings: Sudden changes in mood commonly happen based on whether or not the person is currently under the influence. They may seem irritated or cranky if they don’t have their substance of choice in their system. They then suddenly appear happy, relaxed or upbeat once they has a drink or gets drugs in their system.
Tips for Spotting the Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
Most people abusing substances won’t come clean or admit to the problem. Denial is a big part of addiction. It’s often up to loved ones and those who are close to the individual to spot the signs.
Loved ones often start noticing small changes as the addiction takes over. The signs become more pronounced as the addiction gets worse. If you’ve noticed some changes but aren’t sure, follow these tips for spotting an addiction:
- Know the Signs: Being aware of the signs of addiction is a good place to start when determining if a loved one is abusing drugs or alcohol. Familiarize yourself with the common signs. If you notice one of them, start digging to see if your loved one also exhibits other signs.
- Trust Your Gut: If you think there is a problem, you are probably correct. Follow up on your gut instinct to find out for sure if your intuition is accurate.
- Pay Attention: Take note of the changes you see in your loved one. Pay more attention to the number of drinks they consume or the number of times they disappear for an extended period. Look for patterns in their behavior. The changes aren’t always huge or easy to identify. They may start as subtle differences. Once you start seeing the signs, look with a more critical eye to see what other symptoms are present.
- Don’t Fall for Denial: You want to believe your loved one is fine, but don’t let their denial trick you into believing their substance abuse is acceptable. Denial is often a red flag for addiction.
- Ask Others: Check with other family members or friends who know the individual to see if they’ve noticed any changes. Compare notes to see if certain behaviors happen in all areas of their life.
- Believe the Signs: Don’t ignore the signs your loved one exhibits. Hoping the substance abuse will stop on its own or disbelieving what you see only prolongs the issue and denies your loved one the help they need.
What to Do if You Notice Addiction Signs in a Loved One
If your loved one exhibits any signs of addiction to drugs or alcohol, get help immediately. Waiting for your loved one to hit “rock bottom” increases the risk of serious consequences. These include overdose, losing a job, causing irreversible health problems, arrest or injuring someone else while under the influence.
The longer someone uses a substance, the stronger the addiction becomes and the more difficult it is to break. Entering a treatment program early increases the chances of the treatment being successful.
If you recognize any of the warning signs of addiction in a loved one, take action immediately. Steps you can take include:
- Research Treatment Options in Your Area: Evaluate the scope and severity of the substance abuse to narrow down the treatment options.
- Start a Conversation: Let your loved one know you see how the substance abuse is affecting their life. Show your love, concern, and support for the person without being judgmental. Ask your loved one to consider treatment.
- Connect the Person With Resources: Providing literature about treatment or providing contact information for treatment specialists gives the person helpful resources for taking control of the addiction. This option arms the person with information while minimizing the feeling of a confrontation.
- Consult With an Intervention Specialist: These trained professionals can provide you guidance in getting your loved one help for the addiction, including the available treatment options.
- Initiate an Intervention: An intervention gives you an organized way to tell your loved one that treatment is necessary. Interventions typically involve several people who are close to the addict and affected by the addiction, giving you additional support. The goal of the intervention is to get your loved one to agree to treatment and start repairing the damage done by the addiction.
- Set Consequences: Consequences are often part of the intervention process. The consequences are not threats, bribes or punishments. Instead, a consequence is your way of setting boundaries to avoid getting hurt more by the addiction. Examples of consequences include cutting off financial support, asking the loved one to move out, limiting contact with children or breaking up if you are in a romantic relationship with the person. Only choose a consequence you will actually follow through with to make it effective. In addition to protecting yourself, experiencing the consequence may help your loved one realize the addiction is serious.
- Avoid Enabling Your Loved One: Don’t make excuses, cover for your loved one or protect your loved one from negative consequences.
- Get Help for Yourself: As a loved one, you feel the effects of the addiction in many ways. See a counselor or join a support group to get the emotional and psychological support you need to handle the situation. Focus on keeping yourself healthy.
If you are facing addiction and realize you need help, try these options:
- Reach Out to a Loved One: As your addiction becomes stronger, your loved ones likely see the signs and symptoms whether or not they approach you about them. They want you to get help and want to support you. Some people may not know how to reach out to you. Instead of waiting for loved ones to intervene, talk to them about your addiction and ask for their support. If you don’t feel you can go to a family member or close friend, reach out to a therapist, counselor, recover addict, healthcare provider, addiction support group or clergy member.
- Find Treatment Options in Your Area: If you already see negative effects of substance abuse in your life, find a treatment program that fits your needs and sign up. Do not delay treatment for any reason.
- Create a Support Network: Fighting addiction is never easy. Pull in your loved ones to provide you continued support through your treatment and beyond. Reach out to that network whenever you need it.
Whether you think you have an addiction or you are concerned about a loved one, JourneyPure Emerald Coast can help. Contact us for more information on addiction and the available treatment options.