Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

Addiction is a complicated and misunderstood condition affecting millions around the world. When you have an addiction to drugs or alcohol, the signs can be progressive. They might start as being fairly mild and not having much of an impact on your life. Then, over time, the signs of addiction can become more pronounced to the point they’re affecting every aspect of your life.

Over the long term, alcohol and drug abuse and addiction can be detrimental to your health, your relationships and your overall well-being.

By understanding the signs of drug addiction or alcohol addiction, you’re better positioned to help yourself or someone you love.

Understanding Addiction Development

Addiction is considered a relapsing disorder that’s characterized by out-of-control or compulsive substance seeking despite the harmful consequences it creates. Evidence shows addiction is a brain disorder because it involves changes in both its structure and function, especially in the areas that are related to self-control, reward and motivation.

Not everyone who uses substances will go on to develop an addiction. Whether or not addiction develops is influenced by risk factors like your individual biology and genetics as well as your environment. Having co-occurring mental health disorders can, for example, be an increased risk factor for alcohol use disorder or drug addiction.

Initially, substance use is voluntary, but for some people, repeated exposure to drugs or alcohol leads to changes in their brain circuits, and that results in a loss of control over their impulses to use substances. In turn, that contributes to intense cravings.

The stages that often characterize addiction development include:

  • Initiation: This stage is the first exposure you have to a substance. You might use drugs or alcohol initially to get pleasure, to deal with mental health symptoms, because of curiosity or peer pressure.
  • Experimentation: During this stage of a substance use disorder, you could find that you occasionally use a substance in social settings or because you have a sense of curiosity.
  • Regular use: As tolerance develops, you might increase how often you’re using a substance and the quantity of your use. You could be doing this to keep getting the desired effects, like self-medicating mental health symptoms or to feel a euphoric high.
  • Problematic use: During this stage of substance abuse, you might start to have negative consequences occur in your life as the result of your use of drugs or alcohol, like problems in your relationships, health issues or legal problems.
  • Dependency: This occurs when you’re physically or psychologically reliant on a substance to function in a way that now feels normal to you. If you don’t use drugs or alcohol at this point, withdrawal symptoms might happen.
  • Addiction: Finally, addiction is defined by compulsive drug or alcohol-seeking use and behaviors even though it results in negative consequences. The substance you’re addicted to becomes your main focus in your life, to the detriment of your other interests and responsibilities.

Common substance addictions include:

  • Alcohol.
  • Opioids include illegal opioids like heroin and prescription pain medicines.
  • Stimulants, including cocaine and methamphetamine.
  • Marijuana, also known as cannabis.

By understanding how addiction develops and the signs of addiction, you can take steps toward recovery.

The Signs of Addiction

The signs of drug addiction or alcohol addiction can differ depending on what the substance is and the person, but generally, the criteria used to diagnose the condition medically include:

  • Loss of control: Even if you want to stop, you may find that you can’t control your use of drugs or alcohol, no matter the problems it’s creating for you.
  • Cravings: You have intense urges to use the substance, and it’s overwhelming to the point that you can’t focus on anything else.
  • Tolerance: Over time, you need larger amounts of the substance to get the effects you’re chasing.
  • Withdrawal symptoms: If you don’t use the substance or you cut back substantially on how much you use, you have withdrawal symptoms like nausea, irritability, anxiety or tremors.
  • Neglecting responsibilities: Addiction leads you to ignore other important responsibilities throughout different parts of your life, like at home, school or work. You’re prioritizing substance use over other commitments.
  • Loss of interest: Your relationships, hobbies and interests are no longer important to you, and you lose interest in them.
  • Continued use despite consequences: When you’re struggling with addiction, you continue to use the substance even with known consequences occurring that are apparent in your life.
  • Secrecy: You may be deceptive or dishonest in hiding your substance use from others.
  • Mood changes: Substance use and addiction can lead to changes in mood, depression, anxiety and irritability, especially when you aren’t able to use the substance.
  • Social withdrawal: You could find yourself pulling away from friends or family and activities involving other people.

Diagnosing an addiction involves an in-depth assessment and can include a physical exam and a psychological evaluation. The criteria for diagnosis are outlined in the DSM-5. Addiction can also be diagnosed along a spectrum as mild, moderate or severe. This is based on how many signs or symptoms you display.

Physical Signs of Addiction

Along with the criteria above that are used to diagnose an addiction, physical signs can occur as well. These can vary depending on the substance you’re addicted to and the addiction severity but generally can include:

  • Changes in appearance include unexplained weight gain or loss, poor hygiene, bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils.
  • Changes in sleep patterns include insomnia or problems sleeping, being excessively sleepy or lethargy.
  • Appetite changes include either increased appetite or loss of appetite.
  • Physical health issues like headaches, nausea or vomiting, liver or kidney problems, chronic cough or cardiovascular issues like irregular heart rate or high blood pressure.
  • Tremors or shakes.
  • Track marks or injection sites.
  • Dental or oral health issues like tooth decay or gum disease.
  • Physical withdrawal symptoms include sweating, nausea, and flu-like symptoms.

Treatment for Addiction

If you notice the signs of addiction in yourself or someone you care about, treatment programs are available. A multifaceted approach is often best to address all of the physical, mental and social components of addiction.

This might include medical detoxification as the first step of treatment. During a medical detox, your withdrawal symptoms are safely managed. From there, you might receive medication-assisted treatment for cravings, behavioral therapies like counseling and holistic approaches such as yoga or meditation.

Getting treatment for addiction can take place on an inpatient or outpatient basis. Your treatment plan should always be specifically tailored to you and evolve as your needs do.

If you’d like to learn more about addiction treatment programs, please reach out to Invigorate Behavioral Health.

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