Recognizing Symptoms Of Addiction

Recognizing addiction includes observing the severity of symptoms someone may display in relationship to the stage of addiction they are in.

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Defining Addiction

The American Psychiatry Association (APA) describes addiction as, “A complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence.” As a result of the intense need and desire to have that chemical, someone could put themselves in danger, form relationships with harmful people, become addicted to other substances, and suffer health problems or overdose. Since addiction is complex, it helps to recognize if a loved one is battling addiction. It is worth remembering there is a difference between a drug tolerance and a dependence.

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Recognizing addiction includes observing symptoms (traits someone feels when they are abusing a harmful chemical) and signs (behaviors or traits other people see when someone is abusing drugs) someone has that may vary based on the classification of chemical abused. Addiction can be revealed by patterns and an inability to control or stop substance abuse. The person battling addiction may nurture the addiction by increasing their dosage or someone may chase the high and engage in addictive behaviors.

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Stages And Symptoms Of Addiction

Addiction affects millions of people worldwide daily, encouraging a host of different patterns of behavior, social interactions, physical consequences, or emotional and mental changes. Such symptoms can vary based on the level or stage of addiction. The following stages of addiction that occur include:

  • First use
  • Regular use
  • Risky use
  • Dependence
  • Addiction/substance use disorder (AUD/SUD)

First use implies someone using the substance for the first time. In cases like Meth use, someone can become addicted immediately, which can turn into compulsive, repeated use. In other cases, such as using Marijuana or alcohol, someone’s first use may remain a first use drug. Regular use reveals someone who likes the chemical and continues using it. Someone may abuse substances on the weekends or with certain people; however, a pattern may develop. When these patterns occur, an individual is not quite addicted at this time.

Next is risky use, which is portrayed by a deeper habit of substance abuse. At this stage, people show signs of addiction more clearly. In some cases, someone may be used to abusing substances and become comfortable with doing dangerous things like driving drunk, and their addiction can endanger others. Family relationships have become compromised at this point, as they are using more often they can become isolated, or make friends who abuse the same chemical. Dependence denotes someone who has become used to the effects of the substance. This person may show physical sigs of addiction like:

  • Poor hygiene
  • Weight loss
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Needle marks on their arm
  • Hyperactive behavior
  • Paranoia
  • Cravings
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Fever

The final stage is the addiction phase. At this point, someone can look completely different based off of the drug they abuse. In some cases, some are able to be functional while abusing alcohol or other substances. Typically, however, someone with addiction will maintain certain behavioral, mental, emotional, social, and physical symptoms of substance abuse.

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Recognizing Symptoms Of Addiction: Behavioral And Physical Signs

Someone addicted to a harmful chemical won’t stop at anything to get a supply of the drug, particularly in the case of Opioids, Stimulants, or prescription medications for example. Addictive behaviors can be subtle, including someone lying about whereabouts and being secretive about their life, or more obvious signs like financial challenges, isolation, and having new “sketchy” friends. Someone may spend less time at home, talk about drug use in a joking or serious manner, hoard drugs or have drug paraphernalia around their home. The person may:

  • Have a difficult time maintaining their previous weight (noticeable weight loss or gain).
  • Have spikes in energy or crashes in energy.
  • Demonstrate excessive sniffling or clenching of the jaw.
  • Be extremely tired from insomnia.
  • Engage in risky behavior for drugs (prostitution, stealing, selling drugs for money).
  • Have disjointed or incoherent speech.
  • Speak more rapidly or be more forgetful.
  • Have poor job or academic function.
  • Not show up to work or school days or weeks at a time.
  • Get in trouble with the law.
  • Increase use of the chemical.
  • Fatally overdose.
  • Non-fatally overdose.

Generally, changes in habits like no longer being interested in hobbies or daily activity that once made them happy is a common sign of behavioral symptoms of addiction.

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Recognizing Symptoms Of Addiction: Emotional And Psychological Signs

Other signs of substance abuse like emotional or psychological symptoms may be more subtle. In emotional or psychological cases, someone may be defensive or portray denial when confronted about drug use. He or she may lie when confronted, due to the shame that is associated with addiction or to deflect focus off of their use. Furthermore, if someone has done things to obtain drugs, he or she may have a motivation to hide, deny or minimize or lie about drug abuse. If someone is abusing harmful chemicals to mask a mental condition, that person may have a deeper motivation to abuse drugs and can become angry when confronted. They are past the point of dependence and taking it away from them or encouraging them to stop can be extremely difficult. As a result, someone revealing behavioral and psychological symptoms of abuse may:

  • Have difficulty quitting or controlling their drug use.
  • Continue using regardless of danger they get involved in due to drug use.
  • Become obsessed with the drug.
  • Experience hallucinations.
  • Suffer mood swings without the chemical.
  • Feel anxious or depressed.
  • Have hallucinations.
  • Experience euphoria.
  • Endure tolerances.
  • Suffer withdrawals.

Chemical tolerances occur when someone needs more amounts of the drug to feel its desired effects because their bodies have gotten used to it. Withdrawal symptoms can vary if someone uses heroin, versus alcohol, versus Marijuana. Symptoms can range from vomiting, to insomnia, to hallucinations, and overdoses depending on the drug someone abuses. Some traits of withdrawal can affect behavior and the mind of a person. For example, someone going cold turkey after being addicted would feel nausea, withdrawal symptoms like cravings and depression, which would impact their stress levels and behavioral patterns. Some of these characteristics can overlap with the behavioral and physical symptoms, and can vary based off of chemicals involved and people abusing them.

Despite the challenges someone faces with addiction, enabling them or being overly understanding about them not getting help may not be the best approach. Medically-supervised detoxification and professional monitoring could be a great approach to help someone realize they need help. If someone is unwilling to be accountable for their addiction, staging an intervention may also help.

Take Your Power Back

Fighting addiction has intense effects on the individual abusing drugs as well as their loved ones. Feeling afraid or ashamed is common and understandable; however, know that there is help available, and you do not need to feel this way forever. Contact a treatment provider today and discover available treatment options.

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