Addiction is a disease that has damaging effects on all aspects of life. It impacts the brain, reward system and circuits operating memory and motivation. It also leads to an abnormal pursuit of reward in spite of consequences increasingly damaging to a person’s social, physical, emotional and spiritual life.
It may be difficult for users themselves to identify as an addict, so here are a few things to look for.
6 Symptoms of Addiction
Tolerance occurs when a user takes a drug for some time and develops a need to take more in order to gain the same effect. The user increases the dose and/or takes the substance more often. Not every addict will experience this symptom, but it is an early indicator that the drug is beginning to gain a foothold on the user.
After the user develops some tolerance to the drug, they may begin to experience withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to remove the drug from their system. This means that the user experiences symptoms that are not present when the drug was in their system.
Withdrawal symptoms vary, according to the drug being used. Some withdrawal symptoms can be fatal. Users who have been taking a substance for long periods of time may have physical or emotional pain when they stop using the substance. Others may hallucinate or become physically sick during withdrawal.
Benzodiazepine medications have particularly dangerous withdrawal symptoms. In fact, they can be lethal if not monitored by a physician. Alcohol is another drug that can be fatal during withdrawal. Those who wish to stop taking either should seek medical advice before attempting to stop.
Pain medications may cause physical symptoms of withdrawal that are painful and create severe discomfort. Some addicts may require medical intervention to get off these substances.
Most often, withdrawal from any substance may cause depression, anxiety and lack of energy for the user. Other symptoms may occur, some of which may be psychological and/or physical.
Recurring thoughts about the substance are known as cravings. These may be persistent, ongoing desires that begin with thoughts and become physical demands for the substance. Users may also have emotional responses to cravings which can be brought on by triggers, another symptom linked to addiction.
Cravings can either lead users back to the substance or a substitute for the drug. For example, those who drink may begin to crave alcohol and if the drinker is adamant about not drinking again, they may begin to use another substance that gives them the same effect. Then the cycle of addiction begins again, only now with a new substance.
Triggers are emotional reminders of places, times of day or special items that are part of the substance use experience. For an addicted drinker, driving by their favorite liquor store or bar may bring an emotional response that triggers their craving for alcohol. For an addict who smoked crack, the smell of burning matches may trigger the craving for smoking the crack pipe.
Relapse is returning back to active use of alcohol or drugs after the substance has been removed from the body. Though many users will make strong vows to stop use of drugs or alcohol, it is often very difficult to do so.
Behavorial Changes in Addiction
As drugs take over a user’s life, changes begin to occur. Some of these may be extremely noticeable as they are in direct opposition to the user’s normal ways of behaving.
Here are a few behavioral changes common in those who suffer from drug addiction:
- Lying, stealing or otherwise committing dishonest behavior patterns to cover up substance use
- Selling personal belongings to obtain money for alcohol or drugs
- Missing work or important appointments because they are too high or coming down from a high
- Stop paying bills on time or using grocery money to buy drugs or alcohol
- Strange behavior when under the influence observed by family and friends
- Isolation from family and friends or spends time with others who are using
- Unusual physical or emotional symptoms not present before
- Dramatically altered sleeping, eating and other regular habits
Addict vs. Addicted: Is There a Difference?
Not all people who take drugs are addicts. A person can take a drug, like Benzodiazepine or pain medication, as prescribed and become dependent on the drug. They may then go into a medically supervised program, get off the drug and never abuse another medication. They are addicted, but not addicts.
The only person who can tell if they are an addict is the person himself. While medical and mental health professionals may recognize the symptoms of addiction, they are not able to diagnose someone as an addict. They can merely diagnose the dependence on a substance, such as alcohol or drugs, but cannot tell the user that they are an addict.
This distinction may be difficult to understand, but an addict will eventually display other symptoms of addiction when they are taken off one substance. They frequently use and relapse over and over until they can permanently abstain from all substances in question.