The American Psychiatric Association defines addiction as a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by substance use despite harmful consequences. People with addiction (severe substance use disorder) have an intense focus on using a certain substance(s), such as alcohol or drugs, to the point that it takes over their life. They keep using alcohol or a drug even when they know it will cause problems.
Over time people with addiction build up a tolerance, meaning they need larger amounts to feel the effects. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people begin taking drugs for a variety of reasons, including:
- to feel good – the feeling of pleasure, “high”
- to feel better – e.g., relieve stress
- to do better – improve performance
- curiosity and peer pressure
People with addictive disorders may be aware of their problem, but be unable to stop it even if they want to. The addiction may cause health problems as well as problems at work and with family members and friends. The misuse of drugs and alcohol is the leading cause of preventable illnesses and premature death.
Symptoms of substance use disorder are grouped into four categories:
- Impaired control: a craving or strong urge to use the substance; desire or failed attempts to cut down or control substance use
- Social problems: substance use causes failure to complete major tasks at work, school or home; social, work or leisure activities are given up or cut back because of substance use
- Risky use: the substance is used in risky settings; continued use despite known problems
- Drug effects: tolerance (need for larger amounts to get the same effect); withdrawal symptoms (different for each substance)
Many people experience both mental illness and addiction. Mental illness may be present before the addiction. Or the addiction may trigger or make a mental disorder worse.
Signs of Addiction
Recognizing the signs of addiction is the first step to getting help for yourself or guiding someone you care about to rehab. For this reason, it is critical to have an understanding of the signs of addiction. There are behavioral, physical, and psychological aspects of addiction.
Behavioral signs involve a person’s outward relations with the world whereas physical signs relate to the body’s manifestation of side effects due to the presence of drugs in the system. Behavioral signs include but are not limited to:
OBSESSIVE THOUGHTS AND ACTIONS:
Acquiring and using the drug becomes the main priority of life while all or most other obligations including work, family, or school are sidelined.
DISREGARD OF HARM CAUSED:
Although drug abuse is causing physical and mental distress to the individual and their loved ones, the person struggling with addiction continues using drugs or alcohol.
LOSS OF CONTROL:
Even in the face of wanting to stop or reduce their drug use, the person cannot do so.
DENIAL OF ADDICTION OR HIDING DRUG USE:
When confronted, the person battling addiction will deny or downplay their drug use. To avoid having to explain themselves to others, the person may do drugs in secret.
Drug abuse cannot remain hidden for long. Its impact is too dramatic, and the person using drugs can spiral out of control fast. Changes in behavior, neglecting responsibilities, exhausting financial resources, and engaging in criminal conduct are some of the most obvious signals of a drug problem. Family members, loved ones, and coworkers are usually in the best position to recognize a drug problem as they are familiar with the person’s behavior and habits.
Physical signs of addiction can manifest as side effects of use, during an overdose, or as a result of withdrawal. It may be very difficult for someone to pinpoint the cause of the physical signs, but severe effects will require immediate medical treatment. Also, it is important to understand that withdrawal symptoms arise when the body adjusts to the absence of familiar quantities of a drug. It is a natural process, but withdrawal can be dangerous.
General physical signs of addiction include but are not limited to:
- Enlarged or small pupils
- Sudden weight loss or gain
- Bloodshot eyes
- Unusual body odors
- Poor physical coordination
- Looking unkempt
- Slurred speech
Typical signs of an overdose may include but are not limited to:
- Drowsiness or trouble walking
- Aggression or violent behavior
- Difficulty breathing
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of consciousness
According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, withdrawal symptoms may include but are not limited to:
- Shakiness, trembling, and jumpiness
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Insomnia and fatigue
- Headaches and fever
- Confusion and hallucinations
Drug abuse also impacts a person’s psychological state. When they’re in the grip of the addiction, the person might not realize or recognize these changes. The psychological signs of drug addiction may include but are not limited to:
- Lack of motivation
- Irritability or angry outbursts
- Changes in personality or attitude
- Emotional and mental withdrawing from people
- Sudden mood swings
- Unexplained paranoia
Family members and loved ones are often key players in getting someone into rehab. Although there may be hindrances to lending help, such as denying the existence of the problem as a coping mechanism, witnessing the signs and symptoms of drug abuse will often motivate a concerned person to action. Also, when a person knows the particular drug of abuse, they can deepen their understanding of that drug and learn additional ways to help their loved one.
If you or a loved one need are struggling with substance abuse, contact us!