Signs of Addiction

An addiction doesn’t develop or happen overnight. In general, the path leads first to abuse and then, in some people, to addiction. So the most important thing you can do is to avoid that path, or get help in stepping off of that road as soon as you recognize a possible problem. In most cases, an addiction typically starts with experimental use and progresses over time into a need to use regularly, even at the expense of health and safety.

Over a period of time (how long depends on the individual and the substance or behavior), the addict compulsively seeks out and craves the substance or behavior, needing more and more to attain euphoria or the “high.” At this point, the addict is no longer able to stop using. Because addiction is a disease, treatment and ongoing support are typically necessary, and relapses are common and to be expected.

It can be extremely difficult to admit to a possible problem – and even harder for the addict to recognize that he or she is addicted. Here are some of the most common signs of addiction, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

  • Change in friends and hangouts
  • Changes in mood, motivation, attitude
  • Absenteeism at work or school
  • Increased need for cash
  • Bloodshot eyes or enlarged pupils
  • Sudden weight changes (gain or loss)
  • Secretive behaviors; lying
  • Tremors in the hands
  • Ignoring once-loved activities

Answering “yes” to the following questions can also indicate a problem:

  • Are you feeling more irritable or angry? Are you more often aggravated with those around you at home, work or school?
  • Do others accuse you of being lazy or inattentive – not getting your work or assignments done well and/or on time – or criticize you for missing important events or obligations? Are you disappointing those in your life you care about so you can use?
  • Do you find yourself being secretive about your use, hiding it or lying about it?
  • Do you feel agitated?
  • Are you sleeping less in order to devote more time to an activity or substance?
  • Are you using eye drops or sunglasses to cover up tired or bloodshot eyes?
  • Are you losing or gaining a significant amount of weight? Have others noticed a change in your weight or appearance?
  • Are you buying breath sprays, mints, perfume, air fresheners or body mists to hide odors from substances you’re using?
  • Do you crave and seek out the substance or behavior?
  • Do you need to use more often to achieve the same pleasure or high?
  • When you can’t use do you experience physical symptoms of withdrawal (vomiting, muscle aches, sweating, tremors, fever, diarrhea, yawning and/or insomnia)? Do you experience psychological symptoms of withdrawal (anger, upset and sadness)?
  • Has your mood deteriorated to the point where you feel desperate or hopeless? Have you contemplated, planned or attempted suicide? (Call 911 immediately if you have any suicidal thoughts or plans.)
  • Have you changed your daily routine to allow more time or opportunities to use?
  • Are you hanging out with friends who use?
  • Are you spending more time in places where you have easier access to a substance or problematic behavior?
  • Do you need more cash to fund your use?
  • Have you missed bill payments?
  • Are you asking friends and family to fund your use or to cover expenses you cannot pay as a result of your use?
  • Do you make secret withdrawals, get cash advances from the bank, or have you set up a credit card in your own name (without telling your partner or family) so that you can hide your spending?
  • Are you stealing money or things or considering doing so to pay for your use?

If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, it’s worth reaching out to your doctor or a counselor for additional screening. If you’re diagnosed with an addiction or compulsive behavior a health care professional can help you find the types of treatment that are right for you.

Sources: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.); Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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