If you’re reading this, then it means one of two things. Either you think that someone close to you might be struggling with addiction, or you think that you might have a problem yourself. And you shouldn’t feel alone, because we at Amethyst have experienced addiction from both sides. It can be painful, and it can tear families apart. But how do you know that addiction is the cause of your problems? What signs of addiction can you look for to help you make sure that you aren’t overreacting to what might just be a teenager’s rebellious phase, a spouse or parent’s mid-life crisis, or any one of other numerous causes for odd behavior?
Well, the truth is that there are several signs of addiction that might signal that either you or the loved one about whom you are concerned are in the midst of a deadly and gripping disease. Addiction can be as baffling and cunning as it is powerful, so we certainly aren’t about to blame you for needing a little bit of guidance. If a person exhibits a fair number of the following signs of addiction, then there is a good chance that it might be time to consider professional counseling for drug and alcohol dependence, or even a stay at a rehabilitation facility.
Note that some of these signs have been discussed before. Nonetheless, we would like to expand a bit and provide some more understanding regarding the situation in which you or your loved one are now immersed.
Sign #1 – Rise in Substance Abuse
This is one of the simplest signs of addiction to watch out for, yet you would be surprised by how often it can be overlooked. After all, a person’s increasing substance abuse may not seem like anything significant at first. Sometimes people experiment. Sometimes people we know to be mostly reasonable might overdo it on the odd occasion. It isn’t anything that seems new to us at first.
And if the issue is a loved one, then there might be other reasons that factor into your initial inability to recognize what seems as if it should be one of the more obvious signs of addiction. Early in their period of substance abuse, when things were relatively tame, you might have actually enjoyed their company when they were using. You might think to yourself that he or she used to be so funny and charming after a few drinks. They used to be so spontaneous, so adventurous. But how are they now? If you’re reading this article, then the answer is likely unpleasant. And ask yourself another question. Back when you enjoyed their company, were they using less?
If you’re the one you suspect to have a problem with drinking or drug dependence, then ask yourself the same questions. How much were you using when you started? How much are you using now? Are you as happy with who you are as you were back then? This last question is technically not as important when identifying this sign, since it’s possible that you were never truly happy. You wouldn’t be the first addict or alcoholic who used substance abuse as a means of mood control. But the first two questions are crucial. You need to answer them honestly, without letting denial get in the way.
You also need to consider, whether you are reading this for yourself or for a loved one, how much time has passed since the substance abuse began increasing. If it has been increasing over a long period of time, then it is unlikely that this is just a simple bender. Because of the fact that so many casual drinkers have overdone it in the past, this can be one of the trickier signs of addiction to identify. It can be easy to justify and make excuses for yourself, or the person whose dependence appears to be on the rise. But an honest appraisal can be truly eye-opening.
Sign #2 – Major Behavioral Changes
This is one of the first signs of addiction that you are likely to notice. And why shouldn’t it be? You’ve spent years getting to know Jekyll, and now along comes Hyde. Behavioral changes can take many forms, but we’ll try to cover some of the most notable (not to mention the most troubling) among them. In a sense, this is many signs of addiction grouped together, but many of the below examples will often show themselves simultaneously, forming a pattern of behavioral changes that causes the addict to behave in stark contrast to their usual selves.
First, let’s look at some of the major behavioral changes that you might be able to observe from the outside. Perhaps the potential addict in your life has started to change their daily routine. There are gaps in this routine for which you cannot account, and their new air of secrecy is causing you to become suspicious. They might also be socializing with a new group of friends, people who mirror some of their new unseemly behaviors. They are likely spending more money than usual (drugs are not cheap, nor is buying rounds at the bar), and they might be keeping different hours to accommodate their new lifestyle.
Now, let’s look at some behaviors that can be observed from the inside (although many of these can be observed from the outside as well). If you are worried that you might have a problem with addiction, then ask yourself for a moment if anyone has ever pointed this out to you. If so, how did you react? Did you become defensive? Do you tend to become stubborn, grandiose, or combative whenever someone questions your behaviors? Perhaps you find that you are much more dishonest with people, even to the extent that you lie when you don’t need to. These are all decent signs that your substance abuse has grown out of hand, especially if these behaviors are costing you in the form of relationships you once held dear.
These types of behavioral changes can all be seen as possible signs of addiction. Isolated incidents involving these behaviors might mean nothing, but you should be wary if they have become so frequent as to establish a pattern. In such cases, the explanation may very well be drug dependency. The more unmanageable these behaviors come, the greater the chance there is that substance abuse may be the cause.
Sign #3 – Work/School Troubles
When the above types of behaviors grow too out of hand, there will almost always be consequences. And if you didn’t notice the above behavioral changes when they first began to occur, you might still be inclined to notice the fallout from these behaviors. While such signs of addiction will almost always affect the addict or alcoholic’s relationships (we’ll get to that a bit further down), they will also usually affect one’s institutional life as well. Depending upon the age of the possible addict in question, such institutions may include work, school, or both.
Issues such as drug dependency and substance abuse tend to have a major impact on the brain. For those who are enrolled in school, this can make it very difficult to focus in class, or to do well on homework and exams. As such, grades will start to slowly slip, and eventually will begin to plummet. Of course, this might not even be due to trouble focusing. It could also simply be that no care has been given to schoolwork, as the addict’s drug of choice has become priority number one. In this case, a drop in grades might be complemented by a rise in detention or other punishments.
The same thing will often happen at work. There is no longer a drive to succeed, and the addict’s work will begin to suffer as a result. Sick days will be cashed in for the sole purpose of staying home and using. Even when money begins to grow tight, the gut instinct of the addict or alcoholic may not be to work overtime to make ends meet but rather to squeeze out every last dime for the sake of one more fix. The employer can reprimand the addict all they want, but they will often find such measures to be of no avail.
In the worst cases, trouble at school or work could easily lead to expulsion or unemployment. But even such consequences might make little difference. When in active addiction, drinking and drugging is almost always going to take precedence over going back to school or finding a new job. Oddly enough, such cases can almost make this one of the harder signs of addiction to identify if the student claims peer pressure or the newly unemployed worker blames their predicament on the economy. But just like the two signs above, it is much more identifiable when stopping to think about how long the school or work troubles have been compounding over time.
Sign #4 – Swings/Alterations in Mood
This goes back to what we said earlier about Jekyll and Hyde, although in this case the issue manifests itself more in the form of the addict’s general demeanor than in their specific behavioral patterns. Addicts and alcoholics are often prone to mood swings, sometimes dependent upon whether or not they have used recently. Some might exhibit harsher mood swings while they are on a drunk or a high, whereas others may exhibit such swings when they are on withdrawals.
But this is about more than just sudden and abrupt bursts of negativity or manic behavior. Other signs of addiction may exhibit themselves in the form of moods that are much more long-lasting, yet stand in notable contrast to the general mood displayed by the addict or alcoholic prior to the onset of their addiction. These moods may lead to some of the behaviors discussed earlier. For instance, an addict in a manic state might be inclined to spend too much money, whether on drugs or simply non-essential items and entertainment.
The negative behaviors associated with such alterations in mood are, naturally, much more tragic. The addict may find themselves becoming depressed and isolated. They might experience bouts of guilt over their addictive behaviors, despite their inability (or sometimes outright refusal) to stop. In particularly extreme cases, they may become abusive, be it physically, emotionally, mentally or even sexually. While some of these possible signs of addiction might sound like behavioral changes, the key identifier for this sign should be the associated mood and where it stands in relation to the suspected addict’s former behavior.
This is easier to identify if you are the one that you suspect might be struggling with addiction. If you find yourself less happy than you used to be, and frequently use in order to try (and often fail) at rectifying this, then it is very likely that substance abuse has played a part in your mood alterations. But if you are reading this list because you suspect someone else of struggling with addiction, then you should not jump to conclusions unless your suspicions are corroborated by the other signs on this list. There may be other factors at play, and cognitive behavioral therapy might be able to lend a helping hand on its own.
Sign #5 – Changes in Personal Values
We said earlier that we would address the issue of relationships, and this seems like the best place to do it. While an addict’s relationships will often suffer largely due to the types of behavioral and mood-related signs of addiction discussed above, another part of the problem is that they will often simply stop putting forth the effort to maintain the things they used to care about. This shift in values also plays a part in the signs of addiction related to work and school. But there are other certain value shifts which might indicate that something is wrong as well.
Much like the issues described in the preceding paragraph, value-related signs of addiction will often relate to the addict’s moral and ethical values. There are, however, some personal values that do not fall into this realm. By this, we mean that the addict or alcoholic will often start to let go of their own personal hopes and dreams. Not only will they stop putting their efforts into work and school, but even some of their previously cherished hobbies might fall by the wayside if said hobbies interfere with their ability to fulfill their drug dependency.
A person in the throes of addiction will even cease to value major social conventions. They may miss family outings, holiday get-togethers, or even funerals. They will almost always have an excuse, but the true explanation is generally either that they would prefer to stay home and use, or that they intended to make an appearance at the function in question but used too much to conceal their altered state of mind in public. Of course, the latter case does not sound so much like a change in values. To loosely paraphrase the 12 Steps, the addict is powerless over drugs and alcohol—their life has become unmanageable.
In fact, if you are reading this because you suspect that you yourself may have an issue with substance abuse, then you might actively reject the notion that such unmanageability constitutes a shift in values. To overcome this way of thinking, simply ask yourself whether or not you would have missed a given function or sacrificed a certain relationship if you had not been using. And while you might not like the answer, remember that this does not make you a terrible person. If you are reading this, then you are probably at least considering a fundamental change in your life. It may not feel like much, but it’s a great start. Out of all of the signs of addiction on this list, a shift in values has the potential to unleash the most havoc on the addict and those around them due to the manner in which it ties into other signs of addiction listed above. But it can still be overcome through a process of recovery.
Sign #6 – Physical Signs of Addiction
The above signs of addiction all pertain to mood and behavior, but there are also many physical signs of addiction that can be quite telling. We’ll give you a link in the next section that will elaborate on some of these physical symptoms, but for now we’d like to simply cover some of the ones that you might be more inclined to notice. Some of these pertain to the actual health of the addict, while others are related more to hygiene and appearance.
We’ll begin with hygiene, since hygienic signs of addiction are more likely to present themselves early on. As the addict or alcoholic undergoes the types of value shifts described in the section above, they may start to place less emphasis on their morning ablutions. They might be less inclined to shave, shower, brush their teeth, style their hair, or even put on deodorant. As they become mired further and further in their addictive ways, they might even stop doing laundry or changing their clothes for days on end. In some cases, this is not only related to their shifts in values but may also be related to the onset of depression which sometimes accompanies substance abuse.
Other physical signs of addiction may only surface after long-term use, and can sometimes be dependent upon the addict’s drug of choice. Cocaine addicts might suffer frequent nosebleeds, while those addicted to methamphetamine will often suffer from severely poor dental hygiene. Many addicts will also exhibit bags under their eyes from staying up for long hours into the dead of the night. Of course, one of the most notable physical signs of addiction is the track marks displayed by needle users.
Some signs of addiction may only manifest themselves during periods of withdrawal. A few of these may appear at first to be flu symptoms, such as vomiting, sweating, and tremors. But if the person you suspect of addiction seems to come down with an illness every few days, then they may be using illness as an excuse to mask hangovers or withdrawals. There are also less obvious withdrawal symptoms, such as a lack of appetite (some alcoholics are not accustomed to eating when sober). It should be noted that many of the above symptoms do not necessarily indicate addiction when displayed on their own. But a combination of many of these symptoms, especially when combined with other signs of addiction on this list, may point toward substance abuse.
Sign #7 – You’re Reading This List
While the preceding six signs of addiction can all be troubling to read if they happen to ring true, this one is probably going to sting the most. The fact of the matter is that most people tend to have better intuition than they think. If you are already suspecting that you or a loved one may suffer from drug or alcohol dependence, then you may unfortunately be onto something. After all, you probably know people who drink. Do you consider them to be alcoholics? How often do you think non-addicts and non-alcoholics (or the friends and family of non-addicts and non-alcoholics) find themselves asking these types of questions?
If you are reading this because you think you may have a problem, then the overwhelming odds are that this is not the first time you’ve thought about it. You may have found yourself drinking yourself into a stupor, constantly telling yourself that you’ll have “just one more” before discovering that one more just wasn’t good enough. Maybe you’ve even tried to go without drugs and alcohol in the past, but found yourself jittery and anxious. When addiction becomes particularly bad, a person sometimes feels as if they need to drink or do drugs simply to reach a state of normalcy. They find themselves stuck in a negative feedback loop, unable to break the cycle because they simply can’t stay sober for long enough to detox. If you understand any of the feelings described above, then it might be time to check out our programs and get help before it’s too late.
If you are reading this because you think that somebody close you may have a problem, then the same principles apply. Again, you probably know plenty of people who drink casually. You may even know people who take drugs, such as prescription painkillers or (depending upon which state you live in) even marijuana. If you find yourself worrying about a person in ways that you would never worry about the casual drinkers in your life, then it’s a good sign that something about their behavior is off. They may have gone off the deep end. They might even be feeling some of the things we’ve described above, but are simply too embarrassed, stubborn, or just plain scared to ask for help. If so, it’s time to consider staging an intervention. They might not appreciate it right now, but you have to cut this problem off at the knees if you don’t want it to escalate further.
Bear in mind that the above steps do not cover all the signs of addiction. Just look at this list of symptoms published by the Mayo Clinic if you don’t believe us. But if you or someone you know suffers from multiple items on this list, then the issue might easily be drug or alcohol dependence. Please, seek help for yourself or your loved one. It might seem hard right now, but everyone involved will be grateful in the end.