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How to Identify Addiction

Identifying Addiction


Why are some people addicts and others are not? We still don’t know. But if you suspect someone you care about is hiding a drug or alcohol habit, this article will help educate you on the facts about addiction and guide you through how to identify the signs of substance abuse.

How To Identify A Substance Addiction

You are likely to notice when someone you care about unexpectedly displays changes in appearance and behavior, especially when the changes begin to negatively impact your relationship with that person. Without knowing it, you may be witnessing the onset of substance addiction, but, to be certain, you’ll need to learn how to spot the signs.

What Constitutes An Addiction?

According to modern diagnostic practice and cognitive neuroscience, addiction is “a compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal.” In order for an individual’s behavior to be considered an addiction, two unique factors must be present:

1. The behavior is maladaptive or counter-productive, and undermines the person’s ability to function as he or she normally would in daily life.

2. The behavior is persistent, or occurs frequently enough to continually engage the person.

In recent years, professionals in the medical and science fields have categorized addiction as a brain disease because of its similarity to other mental illnesses, like depression, in the way it instills distinct brain changes. In fact, with chronic drug use brain function changes over time. Addiction is a real medical disorder that affects the brain, but also like depression, it can be treated effectively.

What are the Warning Signs of Substance Addiction?

Some symptoms or side effects of addiction can be subtle and easier for a person to hide. Other signs are quite obvious, especially as the addiction advances and the addict grows less self-conscious. Warning signs of addiction can be categorized three ways:

Physical warning signs:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Changes in appetite – weight loss or weight gain
  • Deterioration in physical appearance, personal grooming habits, or hygiene
  • Drastic shifts in sleep pattern
  • Persistent coughs or sniffles
  • Pupils are larger or smaller than usual
  • Tremors, slurred speech, or impaired coordination
  • Unusual odors on the breath, body, or clothing

Behavioral warning signs:

  • Changes in friends or hobbies
  • Drop in attendance/participation at school/work
  • Financial problems, possibly accompanied by stealing
  • Frequently getting into trouble – fights, accidents, illegal activities
  • Repeated unexplained outings, often with a sense of urgency
    secretive, lying

Psychological warning signs:

  • Appearing fearful, anxious, or paranoid without reason
  • Appearing lethargic or “spaced out”
  • Changes in energy – suddenly and extremely tired or energetic
  • Changes in personality or attitude
  • Lack of motivation
  • Sudden mood swings, angry outbursts

Keep in mind that you will need to see multiple warning signs occur simultaneously and repeatedly in order to identify the likelihood that someone has an addiction. Someone you care about who experiences a rough day or two and displays changes in appearance or behavior may not be an addict, but close observation of that person on your part may be helpful in detecting addiction early in its onset.

What Are Common Factors That Lead To Addiction?

One way to identify if someone you know has an addiction is to consider certain factors in that person’s life that are commonly known to contribute to addictive behavior. A person’s background or current environment can influence the onset of addiction. Some factors to consider include:

  • Abuse, neglect, or other traumatic experiences
  • Family history of addiction
  • Mental disorders (depression, anxiety, etc.)
  • Noticeable increase in use of substances
  • Reliance – believing a substance fulfills a “valuable need” or fills a void

An individual is not required to have any of these factors to become an addict, but someone living with any of these factors is at a higher risk of acquiring a substance addiction than a person not living with these factors.

Next Step: Getting Help

By now, you should have a better understanding of which signs to look for that likely indicate someone you know is living with an addiction. The next steps you choose to take, however, will be critical in helping your loved one receive the help needed to redirect him or her away from a destructive life path. The role you play in an addict’s recovery will not be easy, but strategies and support are available to help you through the crucial processes that lead to recovery. You are not alone.

Red Rock Recovery Center is a Colorado state licensed substance abuse extended care treatment program designed to help you or your loved one recover from the struggles associated with alcoholism and drug addiction. Located in Denver, Colorado we offer a safe haven for those afflicted by the ravages of untreated addiction. Our program is based on a compassionate 12-step model that applies behavioral as well as life skill therapies, which will enable our clients to heal and recover.