A drug addiction or alcohol use disorder can be difficult to identify without an understanding of the signs of addiction. Substance use disorders can change the way people look, how they act and how they feel, and the symptoms of drug abuse can be physical, behavioral and psychological in nature.
Fortunately for concerned family members and friends, there are many easily identifiable characteristics of addiction and many types of drug addictions share similar signs and symptoms. If someone can recognize the symptoms of addiction, they may be able to help a friend or family member who struggles with this disease.
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Warning Signs of Addiction
It can be difficult to tell whether someone struggles with a drug addiction, but in many cases, there are several key warning signs of this disease. Common warning signs of addiction can be physical, like changes in appearance or personal hygiene; behavioral, like frequent mood swings or disregarding priorities; or psychological, like a lack of motivation or the development of a mental illness.
If someone misuses drugs or alcohol, they may exhibit numerous physical signs of drug abuse. Some of these signs may be readily apparent while others are hidden, disguised or occur as gradual changes.
Among the most common physical signs of addiction are:
- Frequent runny nose (common with cocaine addiction)
- Tremors or seizures
- Loss of physical coordination
- Extreme lethargy
- Chemical odor on breath or clothes
- Pinpoint pupils
- Bloodshot eyes
- Changes in weight
- Changes in appetite and eating habits
- Irregular sleeping patterns
- Marks on skin
- Poor personal hygiene
Drugs and alcohol can have various effects on the body, but they almost always affect the eyes. Someone who is high on heroin may have constricted pupils, a condition called miosis, or their eyes may be bloodshot, a symptom commonly associated with marijuana use.
Sudden Weight Loss
Fluctuations in weight are common side effects of drug and alcohol use, although weight changes can vary depending on the drug used. Some substances like marijuana increase a person’s appetite, causing them to eat more than they normally would. Conversely, a person who struggles with an addiction to a stimulant like cocaine, Adderall, methamphetamine or ecstasy may lose weight quickly.
Change in Sleep Patterns
Someone who faces a substance use disorder may experience interrupted sleep patterns, insomnia or hypersomnia (i.e., oversleeping). They may be unable to maintain a consistent sleep schedule and may fall asleep at unusual times during the day or be unable to sleep at night. This uncomfortable symptom of addiction may be addressed during therapy at a rehab center.
Changes in Skin
With repeated drug use, a person may notice changes in their complexion, such as jaundice, acne or paleness. Additionally, someone who injects drugs may develop track marks, scars, scabs or bruises on their skin.
Poor Personal Hygiene
It’s common for a person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol to neglect their physical appearance and normal grooming habits. Dental hygiene, bathing and general physical cleanliness may not be top priorities for someone who is high or recovering from a hangover.
In addition to changes in their physical appearance, a person who misuses drugs or alcohol may act like a different person, too. There are just as many behavioral signs of drug addiction as there are physical symptoms, and some of the most significant include:
- Changes in activities or hobbies
- Shifts in social circles
- Decreased participation in family activities
- Poor performance in work or school
- Repeated lying, dishonesty or deceit
- Legal issues
- Secretive behavior
- Neglecting responsibilities
- Financial issues
Of the behavioral signs of drug abuse, secretive behavior may be one of the most common and telling. Someone who struggles with addiction may become increasingly withdrawn from loved ones and often seek privacy either to obtain or to use drugs. They may feel that they need to keep their drug or alcohol use a secret and may lie about their whereabouts or activities.
Social, emotional and mental isolation are common signs that someone needs help for a drug or alcohol addiction. People who face a substance use disorder may isolate themselves from their partners, friends or family members to keep their addiction a secret and to avoid questioning about unexplained physical changes, like track marks or weight loss, or odd behaviors.
If someone is repeatedly high or under the influence of alcohol, they may disregard their daily responsibilities, like attending work or school, running a household or taking care of pets and children. They may have difficulty remembering details of important appointments or blatantly ignore pressing deadlines or obligations.
Drug addictions can be extremely costly, depending on the substance used. A person may repeatedly ask to borrow money from friends or family members or sell their possessions to maintain their drug addiction. If someone does not get help for their substance use disorder, they may risk extreme financial stress and could face bankruptcy.
When someone misuses drugs or alcohol, they may look and act in uncharacteristic ways, and they may also think and feel differently than they normally do. Psychological signs of drug abuse can include changes in a person’s thought patterns, attitudes, beliefs and priorities.
Some of the most common psychological signs of drug and alcohol addiction include:
- Changes in personality traits
- Mental illness like depression or anxiety
- Paranoid, fearful or obsessive thoughts
- Negative self-image
- Dismal outlook on or attitude toward life
- Withdrawing emotionally from loved ones
- Lack of motivation
- Feelings of apathy or disinterest
Sudden Mood Swings
Unexplained, or seemingly unprovoked, mood swings are among the most common warning signs that someone is struggling with addiction. When the person is high, they may be hyperactive, affectionate or excitable. As soon as the high wears off and withdrawal symptoms set in, they may become angry, irritable or even verbally abusive.
Paranoid thoughts are common among people who struggle with drug and alcohol use disorders. Individuals who misuse drugs may mistrust the people around them, become highly suspicious of family and friends or ascribe unrealistic motives to the actions of other people. During addiction treatment, paranoid delusions can be addressed through counseling options like cognitive behavioral therapy.
Lack of Motivation
Someone who struggles with a substance use disorder may feel like a slave to their disease, unable to stop using drugs even when they attempt to. Feelings of hopelessness and despair may accompany withdrawal symptoms like extreme lethargy, which can cause someone to feel unmotivated or unable to overcome addiction.
Drastic changes in mood are common among people who struggle with substance use disorders, along with hypersensitivity and increased irritability. Someone who experiences painful physical withdrawal symptoms may be incredibly irritable and lash out at others in anger unexpectedly. However, like other substance-induced changes in mood, feelings of irritability can be addressed by a therapist in individual counseling.
Risk Factors for Addiction
What causes someone to develop a substance use disorder? This question has driven many studies on addiction risk factors, which are numerous and varied. Risk factors for addiction can be internal (i.e., genetic) and external (i.e., environmental). Some of the most widely-recognized addiction risk factors include:
- Family history of addiction
- Mental illness
- Traumatic life events
- Past abuse or domestic violence
- Lack of a social support system, like family or friends
- Little understanding of health maintenance
Of these risk factors, hereditary substance use and unresolved trauma are two of the most common contributing factors in the development of a substance use disorder.
Although there is no currently identified addiction gene, research shows that genetics and addiction are interrelated. A family history of addiction, genetics and environment can lead to the development of a drug or alcohol use disorder.
For example, studies show that people whose parents misuse drugs are twice as likely than their peers to abuse drugs, and children of alcoholics are up to four times more likely than their peers to develop an alcohol addiction. Regardless of whether someone’s addiction stems from hereditary factors or environmental causes, like trauma, all substance use disorders can be treated through rehab.
Trauma and addiction are often intertwined, and substance abuse often stems from experiencing traumatic events in childhood. Research shows that children and teens who experience traumatic events like physical, verbal or sexual abuse are more than three times as likely to struggle with addiction than their peers.
If trauma is repressed or left untreated, both adolescents and adults can develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This behavioral health condition can cause someone to behave erratically or irrationally, and people who struggle with PTSD may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with symptoms like painful flashbacks and overwhelming stress. Trauma-informed addiction treatment can help heal co-occurring substance abuse and PTSD.
Addiction Treatment Options
Drug and alcohol addictions are diseases, but they are treatable. Addiction treatment is offered at detox clinics, outpatient facilities and full-service rehab centers like The Recovery Village, but the quality of treatment can vary greatly among these facilities.
The ideal treatment for substance use disorders involves a combination of individual counseling and clinical care, which are key components in most rehab programs. The Recovery Village offers a continuum of treatment programs that allow clients to heal progressively. These programs include:
- Medically assisted detox
- Inpatient (residential)
- Partial hospitalization
- Intensive outpatient
If you or a loved one need treatment for a drug or alcohol use disorder, you can search recovery resources by zip code or call The Recovery Village. Representatives are available to take your call, answer your questions about addiction and treatment and guide you toward a program that meets your needs. To get started with comprehensive substance use disorder treatment, call The Recovery Village today at 352.771.2700.