Addiction, whether to drugs or alcohol, can affect anyone, from all walks of life; it does not discriminate. There are no races, genders, ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, or levels of education that are exempt. While the reasons that individuals become addicted may vary, once they begin using drugs or alcohol, tolerance and dependency can occur quickly, without the person even realizing what is happening. When that tolerance becomes active addiction, it can be very difficult to break the pattern of substance abuse.
Most people who are in active drug addiction require outside help to break free. Addiction can destroy the body and mind, sometimes slowly and other times quickly, but always progressively. It is a chronic and advancing disease that affects both the individual and their loved ones. It is essential that you seek help if you believe you or a loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol, and the sooner the better.
If you suspect that someone you love is abusing or addicted to drugs or alcohol, but you are not certain, there are signs and symptoms to be aware of that can help. There are external signs to look out for that may be obvious or well-hidden by your loved one. But there are also internal symptoms that an outsider may never see, but the active addict feels intensely.
External Signs and Symptoms of Drug Addiction
The exact symptoms of drug addiction can vary depending on what substance is being used, in what amount, and for how long. It’s also important to note that substances can affect individuals differently. However, there are some common symptoms that will give you an idea of things to pay attention to moving forward. The external signs and symptoms of active addiction are generally broken down into three categories: physical, behavioral and emotional.
Physical Signs and Symptoms
- Bloodshot, dilated, or pinpoint pupils
- Slurred speech or difficulty speaking
- Over-active or under-active temperament
- Excessive sniffling or a runny nose not caused by a medical condition
- Changes in appetite
- Weight loss or gain
- Uncharacteristically disheveled or unhygienic appearance
- Smelling of alcohol
- Looking pale or malnourished
- Seeming lethargic without reason
Behavioral Signs and Symptoms
- Attendance issues at work or school
- Problems or conflicts at work or school
- Change in sleep patterns
- Becoming isolated or secretive
- Missing important events
- Legal issues
- Car accidents
- Relationship issues
- Financial problems
- Conversations centering around drugs or alcohol related topics
Emotional Signs and Symptoms
- Irritable or argumentative
- Unprovoked anger
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Inability to cope with stress or conflict
- Denial of drug use or the amount used
- Rationalization – offers alibis, excuses, justifications for their behaviors
- Minimization – admits to drug problems casually, but not the true extent or severity of the problem
- Diversion – changes the subject or distracts from discussions about drug use
Internal Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
While there are a lot of outward signs that a person is abusing drugs, equally concerning are the feelings they are experiencing internally. Addiction is defined as obsessive thinking and a compulsive need for drugs, alcohol, sex, food, or anything, even when it results in negative consequences. A person in the midst of active addiction feels intense cravings for their drug of choice. They often feel anxiety, depression, guilt and shame over their use.
The cycle of addiction becomes increasingly predictable as it progresses, and it attempts to explain what the addicted person goes through internally as it does. The cycle is characterized by the following:
- Frustration and internal pain that causes anxiety and leads to a demand for relief from the symptoms
- Fantasizing about using drugs or behaviors to relieve those symptoms
- Obsessing about using drugs and how life will improve after using
- Acting on the addictive activity – actually using drugs
- Experiencing loss of control over the addictive activity
- Feeling remorseful, guilty and ashamed for using drugs
- Resolving to oneself to stop the substance use
After a time, the unresolved pain or frustration return, and the person begins the cycle again. The period typically becomes shorter and shorter as the addiction progresses, but the cycle can vary depending on the individual. For instance, a binge user may go through the cycle more slowly than a maintenance, or daily user. Once in the cycle of addiction, it is very difficult to break it, but it can be done when circumstances arise, whether legal, financial, or medical, that force the addicted person to stop using. But without outside help including detox followed by treatment, the addictive behavior is likely to return.
Breaking the Cycle
Just as there is a cycle of addiction, there is also a cycle that an addict typically goes through as they enter recovery. This cycle is represented by the following stages:
- Precontemplation – The person is still using and not considering stopping.
- Contemplation – The person knows at this point that there is a problem and is starting to consider that a change in behavior is necessary.
- Preparation – The person begins to prepare mentally to make a change.
- Action – The person takes action, seeking treatment, support groups, or counseling. Treatment is provided, and the addict stops using.
- Maintenance – The person maintains a clean and sober lifestyle and follows a program of recovery.
Unfortunately, there are many people who relapse during the maintenance stage, and the cycle must start over. But, recovery is possible. With the right addiction treatment, like that provided at Life of Purpose, you can begin a new, clean and sober life.