Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

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Note: for symptoms of specific drugs, please see our list of addiction types.

In popular usage, the word addiction can mean everything from a bad habit all the way to the most pitiful hardcore junkie -- whose addiction has made them a physical and mental wreck, hardly human. While the latter is certainly an addict, there is a range of what constitutes true addiction. Not all healthcare professionals agree, and some of the modern uses (like video game addiction or shop-a-holic) are probably not ‘true’ addictions.

If you think you might have a problem with drugs or alcohol, call 877-331-2545 for more information about treatment options.

Along with the variety of addictive substances, there are a variety of people who use them. Not all users of illegal drugs are necessarily addicted, but the potential for addiction is much higher and physical dependence occurs in almost all cases with regular use.

Some of the symptoms used to decide on a diagnosis of addiction are:

Denial
An addict may vigorously dispute any suggestion that his use is harmful, even when clear evidence is presented. At some point, most addicts come to admit, at least sometimes and maybe only to themselves, that they have a problem but may still resist the word, addiction.
Justification
A long, difficult week at work will entitle the addict; getting high is his prerogative because he earned it, he earned the right to relax, to escape for a few hours. In fact, it's therapeutic; come Monday he's refreshed. Justification can also come by way of an actual medical condition – pain, depression or anxiety. The ‘cure’ however, is both inappropriate and worse than the original problem.
Coping
What began as spotty, irregular drug use has spilled over into the week because he's discovered that getting high is rewarding, it softens bad experiences and he thinks he's able to confront otherwise difficult interactions better when high. In the end, the only thing coped with is withdrawal symptoms.
Lying
In an effort to hide or conceal drug use, small lies emerge. These then lead to even bigger lies to cover even more use.
Increased Devotion
Getting high begins to take precedence over other activities. Pleasant diversions are either sacrificed or made to include drug use. More and more of life is cut off in service to the drug.
Physical Changes
These vary by drug and route of administration. Depending on the drug, an addict may: suffer chronic nasal congestion or glassy eyes; suffer alternating fits of hyperactivity and fatigue; drastic mood swings, between euphoria and depression; exhibit obsessive behaviors or vague compulsions that lead to snap decisions.
Personality Changes
Irritability and aggressiveness; paranoia; trading old friends for drug buddies; hygiene issues; a distinct loss of passion for life beyond obtaining and using; inability to make and follow through on plans.

Progression of Addiction

While not all symptoms are visible in all addicts, those that are usually progress as use increases. Many addicts think they are concealing their symptoms, but they are usually obvious to loved ones. It only takes one slip on their part for the whole fantasy to come crashing down. One arrest will do it. One instance of an employer discovering a ‘kit’ in a locker will do it. One beverage container that clearly smells like vodka will make things plain.

Most addicts will require a crisis of some sort before they can come to grips with their addiction. One overriding hallmark of addiction is that they will not stop. Addicts are stuck in an endless rollercoaster of ups and downs as they cycle through being high and recovering for a short period until the next high – which isn’t as good as before. This is the well known spiral of addiction. As it progresses, the drug is no longer an entertainment, but necessary to prevent withdrawal.

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