More than 23 million adults in the United States have struggled with drug use disorder and 14.5 million have struggled with alcohol use disorder at some point in their lives.[1,2] These astounding numbers make addiction one of the worst public health crises in the country today. Despite drug and alcohol addiction being so widespread, as many as 75% of affected individuals never receive the treatment they need.
People who don’t seek treatment for addiction may face devastating consequences. Left untreated, drug and alcohol addiction can destroy relationships, interrupt one’s career or education, and lead to serious health problems or a potentially fatal overdose. It can also get individuals into serious legal trouble. Without proper care, people who struggle with addiction often end up in jail, in an institution, or dead.
The earlier a person seeks treatment for a problem with drugs or alcohol, the better. Addiction is easier to treat in its early stages because it hasn’t had enough time to devastate a person’s life. Unfortunately, many people avoid seeking treatment until they hit rock bottom. However, this doesn’t have to be the case.
Friends, family, and loved ones are often the first people to recognize when a loved one is struggling with addiction. When loved ones realize someone is struggling with addiction, there are steps they can take to convince their addicted loved one to go to rehab. As a result, it’s important for everyone to be aware of the different behavioral, physical, and emotional signs of addiction.
The Progression From Substance Abuse to Drug or Alcohol Addiction
The media often portrays addiction as a rapidly developing condition. While this is true for some, addiction usually develops more slowly. In the early stages of drug or alcohol addiction, people are usually experimenting with or indulging in drugs or alcohol. Someone may try cocaine at a party, use Adderall to stay awake and study, or take a friend’s opioid prescription to relieve pain from an injury. In almost all cases, people don’t start using drugs or alcohol with the intention of becoming addicted.
During this stage, substance use is still “fun” or “rewarding.” But, over time, some individuals will begin using substances more often or in higher doses. They may find themselves spending more money on drugs or alcohol, using substances to cope with difficult emotions, and engaging in more frequent or heavy use.
Eventually, this recreational pattern of substance use turns into a daily pattern. Users also find themselves needing to drink more alcohol or take higher doses of a drug to feel the same effects. Needing to increase the dose is referred to as tolerance. Once people develop a tolerance, they increase their substance use even more.
Shortly after developing a tolerance, people often develop a mental obsession. They no longer want to drink or use drugs, but they need to drink or use drugs to feel satisfied. They may also develop a physical dependence that is characterized by the need to continue using a substance to avoid going into withdrawal. People who are physically dependent on drugs or alcohol will become sick with withdrawal symptoms if they abruptly stop using the substance they are addicted to.
This progression can happen over a period of weeks, months, or years. Addiction is a chronic and progressive disease, and a person’s addiction will continue becoming more severe until they seek professional treatment.
Behavioral Signs of Addiction
Drug and alcohol addiction changes the way a person thinks, feels, and behaves. Family and friends may begin seeing behavioral changes as soon as a person starts abusing substances. The exact behaviors each person exhibits can vary depending on their circumstances, the type of substance being abused, and the severity of the person’s addiction.
Common behavioral signs of addiction include:
- Lying – People may lie about what they do in their free time, who they spend their time with, the extent of their drug use, and more. They may also act secretive by leaving out key details, avoiding certain discussions or topics, or changing their regular behaviors without explanation.
- Financial troubles – People who are struggling with addiction may spend all of their money and resources on drugs or alcohol. This can lead to difficulties paying bills, budgeting, and paying off debts.
- Career problems – When someone is addicted, everything else in their life comes second–even work. Individuals may call in sick often, seem less productive at work, show up to work late, or be unable to maintain a steady job.
- Stealing – Addiction is a powerful disease of both the body and the mind. It can make people do crazy things such as steal money to buy drugs or steal valuables to sell for drugs. People may also steal prescription pills from their loved one’s medicine cabinets.
- Isolating – Isolation is common among people who struggle with addiction. Individuals may try to hide their addiction from their loved ones or avoid confrontation. They may also be afraid to let their loved ones down. As a result, they isolate themselves from their friends, family, and social events.
- Loss of interest or apathy – As a person’s addiction becomes more severe, their drugs or alcohol become more and more important. This results in a loss of interest in activities that a person used to enjoy or apathy towards their responsibilities.
While a single isolated symptom may indicate another health condition or mental illness, a combination of several of these behavioral signs may indicate a drug or alcohol addiction.
Physical Signs of Addiction
People who struggle with addiction may also display physical changes that occur as a result of their drug or alcohol use. The physical changes people undergo are often influenced by the type of substance they are using.
People who abuse stimulants such as meth, cocaine, and Adderall may show the following physical signs:
- Rapid or unexplained weight loss
- Decreased appetite
- Dilated pupils
- Twitching or uncontrollable body movements
- Speaking or moving faster than usual
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Scabs or scars on the skin from picking at the skin
On the other hand, physical signs of addiction to depressant drugs such as benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, etc.) or opioids (heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, etc.) include:
- Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
- Constricted or pinpoint pupils
- Pale skin or flushing of the face and skin
- Moving more slowly than usual
- Falling asleep or drifting in and out of a state of consciousness
- Slowed reaction time
- Decreased heart rate and breathing
Some substances, such as meth, are infamous for causing decaying teeth, gum disease, or “meth mouth.” Alcohol is known for causing liver damage, kidney damage, muscle loss, and premature aging. Marijuana can cause bloodshot eyes and an increased appetite.
Further, the method of administration of substances can lead to additional physical changes. For example, IV drug users may have track marks on their arms or abscesses at injection sites. People with a long history of snorting drugs may have a deviated septum, breathing problems, or loss of smell. Lastly, people who smoke substances may develop gum disease, lung disease, heart disease, and more.
Symptoms of Drug and Alcohol Withdrawal
One tell-tale sign of addiction is withdrawal. Withdrawal occurs when a person who is physically addicted to a substance stops using that substance abruptly. This is because, over time, the body gets used to having that substance in the body. The brain and body adapt to the substance and begin requiring the substance to function normally. And, when the substance isn’t consumed, the brain and body go into overdrive, resulting in uncomfortable, and sometimes life-threatening, withdrawal symptoms.
The exact symptoms of withdrawal a person experiences depends on the substance he or she was addicted to. However, withdrawal symptoms that are common across most addictive substances include:
- Mood swings
- Stomach cramping
- Muscle weakness
- Body pain
- Intense cravings
Some substances, like benzodiazepines and alcohol, may produce life-threatening seizures and delusions. The longer a person has been using drugs or alcohol, the worse their symptoms will be.
Drug and alcohol withdrawal is best managed at a medical detox facility. The problem is not everyone who goes into withdrawal is ready to get help. Many people who struggle with addiction will occasionally run out of money or be unable to get their hands on the substance they are addicted to. Although they don’t want to go into withdrawal, doing so becomes a dreaded consequence of addiction that many addicts must face on a regular basis. Additionally, many people continue using substances simply to avoid going into withdrawal–even if they want to be sober.
Psychological Signs of Addiction
Addiction doesn’t just affect a person’s body and behaviors–it also affects their mental and emotional well-being. Various ways substance abuse and addiction can affect a person’s mood include:
- Sudden and unexplained mood swings
- Aggressive or paranoid behavior
- Suicidal thoughts
Long-term substance abuse can also contribute to the development of various mental health conditions, including schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, PTSD, and bipolar disorder. Many people who struggle with addiction will also neglect self-care. They may not work out, have a normal sleep schedule, or eat a healthy diet. This can lead to worsening psychological health.
Additional psychological signs of addiction include:
- Mental obsession – Getting high or drunk may occupy the person’s mind the majority of the time. This obsession makes it extremely difficult to control, moderate, or stop one’s substance use.
- Loss of control – People who struggle with addiction are usually unable to control how often, how much, and when they use substances. Even when consequences are present, these individuals struggle with a lack of control over their own actions.
- Inability to stop – Many people who struggle with addiction want to stop but are unable to do so due to the physical, emotional, and psychological side effects of getting sober.
- Continuing to use substances despite health problems and other consequences – People who are addicted will continue to use substances even if their substance abuse is contributing to a problem in their life. This problem could be related to their health, relationships, work, or the law.
- Risk-taking behaviors – The disease of addiction changes the brain’s ability to make sound, clear decisions. As a result, people who struggle with addiction may engage in risky behaviors such as unsafe sex, breaking the law, selling drugs, or driving under the influence.
- Denial – Some people who are addicted will be in denial. They may not realize that their drug or alcohol use has become problematic. They may also not realize how their behaviors affect other people. Unfortunately, denial can make people reluctant to accept professional help.
Start Healing From Addiction Today
Addiction is a far-reaching disease that affects every aspect of a person’s life. An effective substance abuse treatment program heals the mind, body, and spirit to address all of the ways addiction affects the individual. Here at Moving Mountains Recovery, we help individuals find the motivation to get sober, learn the skills they need to stay sober, and maintain the support required to live a lifetime in recovery.
Learn about our addiction treatment programs in New Jersey or find help or yourself or a loved one by giving us a call today.