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You know your loved one has been using drugs or alcohol. But you may find yourself questioning whether or not the person has an “addiction” in the true sense of the word. How do you know if someone is addicted to drugs?
Some people can engage in use of alcohol and recreational drugs and never become addicted or experience negative consequences. For others, however, casual substance abuse escalates to addiction and causes problems with work, relationships and the law. To help you decide where you or your loved one falls on the spectrum, here are the top 10 signs of addiction:
1. Increase in the intensity and frequency of use.
Someone doesn’t become addicted overnight; drug and alcohol abuse tend to gradually escalate over time. The person may start drinking or using drugs socially on the weekends. That weekend use may extend to a few days a week and then eventually become an everyday habit. You may also see your loved one becoming more tolerant and needing more of the substance to get the desired effects.
2. Changes in demeanor.
As an addiction takes hold, a person may experience shifts in his or her behavior. These changes may include sudden mood swings or personality changes; angry outbursts; hyperactivity, agitation or giddiness; lack of motivation; fearfulness; or paranoia.
3. Increased reliance.
Alcohol and recreational drugs cause surges of feel-good hormones in the brain. The brain remembers these pleasurable feelings and wants to repeat them. As such, a person may start to use drugs or alcohol to cope with stress and anxiety, relax or cheer up. The person may become fixated on the substance and spend copious amounts of time thinking about it, figuring out how to get it and recovering from the effects. Eventually, he or she may choose drugs or alcohol over activities necessary for survival, such as eating and sleeping.
4. Neglected responsibilities.
Drugs and alcohol interfere with an individual’s ability to think clearly and exercise good judgment. As a result, a person may start calling in sick to work or school, stop performing at a normal level, neglect the kids or fail to show up at family functions. An addicted person will continue to use despite these negative consequences.
5. Problems with relationships.
Addictions affect all areas of life. Someone struggling with alcohol or drug dependence may have frequent fights with friends or family members. He or she may fail to please the boss at work or notice once meaningful friendships start to slip away.
6. A change in appearance.
An addicted person may start to look different, with an overall deterioration in physical appearance and hygiene. Potential warning signs of alcohol addiction include bloodshot eyes or pupils that appear larger or smaller than normal; sudden weight loss or gain; unpleasant or unusual smells coming from breath, clothing or body; tremors; slurred speech or problems with coordination.
Someone showing symptoms of addiction may go to great lengths to hide the amounts of drugs or alcohol he or she is consuming. He or she may also resort to dishonest behaviors such as lying or stealing money from friends or loved ones to support the habit.
8. Unsuccessful attempts to stop.
Prolonged exposure to drugs and alcohol change the brain and lead to powerful cravings. Addicts may repeatedly claim they can stop using the drugs or alcohol at any time, but in reality, the brain changes make it very difficult for them to quit by force of will alone. The person may also experience a loss of control with each individual use; for example, he or she may plan to have “just one drink” but then go on to drink to the point of intoxication every single time.
9. Risk taking.
A person who engages in risky behaviors while high on drugs or alcohol sends up a major addiction red flag. Examples include driving under the influence; having unprotected sex; fighting; stealing; spending large amounts of money on alcohol or recreational drugs; or sharing dirty needles.
10. Physical health problems.
The addicted person may experience physical withdrawal symptoms if he or she goes too long without using. These short-term symptoms of addiction and withdrawal may include restlessness, nausea, mood swings, anxiety, shaking or sweating. Substance abuse also causes chronic problems such as blackouts, major depression, paranoia and infections. Someone who is addicted will continue to use drugs or alcohol despite these negative health effects.