Knowing the signs of addiction is the first step to determining whether or not your loved one has a problem with drugs or alcohol. Since addiction is a disease, early treatment increases the chance for a successful recovery.
General Signs of Addiction
Sometimes addiction begins in social settings or with drug use that is recreational or experimental. When a person becomes addicted, their craving and frequency of use increase—making the need for early intervention urgent.
Although there are some signs of substance addiction that are unique to the specific type of drug used, there are many signs of drug use that are common for all types of substances.
The general warning signs of addiction are grouped into three categories:
The physical signs of addiction are the ones most outwardly noticeable. If your loved one has an addiction, they may have trembling or shaking hands. Their palms may feel cold and sweaty. The pupils of their eyes could be smaller or more enlarged than usual. Their eyes may look glassy, red, or simply have a blank stare. You might notice bruises or marks that they cannot explain or sores on their legs, arms, or face. Needle marks on their lower legs, arms, or on the bottom of their feet may be evident. They may exhibit speech problems such as slurring their words, using repetitive speech patterns, or mumbling incoherently.
Additional physical signs of addiction include:
- Frequent nosebleeds, an excessive runny nose, or sniffling
- Noticeable increase or decrease in energy
- Hacking cough
- Unusual body orders or strange breath
- Changes in sleep patterns or extreme lethargy
- Looking undernourished or pale
- Sudden weight loss or gain
Your loved one may have coordination problems. They may walk very slowly or stagger. Falls or missteps could become more frequent.
If your loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol, you might see changes in their personality and attitude. They may have sudden outbursts of anger, become irritated very quickly, or have sudden mood swings. They are often unpredictable, unable to focus, or experience periods of confusion. Blackouts or memory loss could occur.
Other emotional signs of addiction include:
- Anxiousness, fearfulness, defensiveness, or paranoia
- Periods of unusual hyperactivity
- Excessive giddiness, silliness, or talkativeness
- Laughing at nothing
- Unable to deal with stress
If a person is suffering from an addiction, they often try to rationalize their behavior by offering excuses, alibis, or justifications for their actions. They might try to place the blame for their behavior on someone else or on something that happened.
It is often difficult to tell if your loved one is suffering from an addiction because they often try to hide their problem. In fact, many are in denial and do not think they have a problem. You might notice behaviors that seem suspicious or secretive such as hiding the screen on their phone or computer. They may avoid explaining a phone call or open a secret bank account.
There could be an increase in spending that they cannot explain or they may always need to borrow money. Lying or stealing could begin or increase. Your loved one may seem unreliable, withdrawn, and evasive. They might miss work, school, or social engagements.
Examples of other behavioral changes include:
- Loss of caring about their personal hygiene, appearance, relationships, work, or school
- Loss of interest in things they used to enjoy such as hobbies, social activities, or favorite pastimes
- Spending less time with family and friends while spending more time with new friends
- Loss of motivation
- Risk taking behaviors such as driving, going to school, or working while using
- Diminished or loss of sex drive
A person addicted to prescription drugs might have more than one physician or change doctors often in order to get multiple prescriptions. They may fill prescriptions at different pharmacy locations to get the drugs their body craves.
Often, addiction that has been a problem for several months or more results in relationship, financial, or legal problems.
The Next Step
Addiction is complex. Because every person is different, it is often difficult to identify. Some people may only display a few signs of addiction, while others may exhibit many signs. If you believe, or have determined, that your loved one is suffering from substance abuse or addiction and they are reluctant or unwilling to accept that there is a problem, holding an intervention is essential.
Seek qualified help for a plan of action. It is critical that your loved one gets treatment as quickly as possible before the disease progresses further and causes additional harm to their physical, mental, and emotional health.
A skilled, professional interventionist will be able to help you communicate with your loved one in an effective way—increasing the chance that they will agree to get treatment for their substance addiction. An intervention should always be led by an experienced, certified professional and not by family members alone.