Addiction is a complicated mental health condition involving compulsive substance use (for example, illegal or prescription drugs or alcohol) or compulsive engagement in a behavior (for example, gambling, sex, or shopping) despite negative effects. Some addiction is predominantly mental and emotional in nature, while many forms of substance abuse also have physical components. The negative effects can be physical, mental, or emotional, and are also often related to the person’s life (e.g., affecting performance at work, school, sports, etc.; harming relationships; financial ramifications).
The symptoms and warning signs of addiction are similarly varied. Some are physical—particularly with substance abuse as it progresses—and some are behavioral. And, as addiction is a progressive condition that gets worse over time without intervention, the signs and symptoms tend to change over time and/or become more severe.
If you’re concerned that you or a loved one may be suffering from this condition, here are the most common symptoms and warning signs of addiction to help make the determination. Mental health or addiction counseling is important in overcoming the condition. In addition, treatment of substance abuse involving many types of drugs (including prescription medications) requires medical oversight due to dangers associated with these substances, withdrawal, or abrupt cessation.
Indications of an Addiction
- Rationalization – An addict has excuses for indulging in their addiction. For example, maybe they need that drink to get to sleep or to take that pill to help them focus.
- Tolerance – This is often more noticeable (and more easily quantifiable) with substance addiction, but it holds true of behavioral addictions too. An addict gradually needs increasing amounts of their addiction to achieve the same level of potency, satisfaction, or pleasure.
- Withdrawal – Addicts begin to feel bad—physically and mentally—when they need another dose.
- Scheduling and projection – People with an addiction increasingly arrange their life around it. They also increasingly become irritated or angry when changes or disruptions to their schedule or plans interfere with it. When this happens, they tend to assign blame to others around them to account for their odd behavior.
- Lifestyle disruptions – In the throes of addiction, a person invariably begins to sacrifice other activities, relationships, things that cost money, or other aspects of their lifestyle to devote more time (and often money) to this one need. Relationships are especially vulnerable as an addict’s behavior becomes more destructive over time.
- Suffering performance – Addiction interferes in many possible ways with a person’s ability to perform at work, school, sports, hobbies, and other areas of life.
- Not meeting responsibilities – Suddenly neglecting to do things they’re supposed to do is another one of the hallmark warning signs of addiction. Or, there may be highly inappropriate intersections of the addiction and their responsibilities (for example, watching porn in front of their children or picking them up from practice under the influence).
- Ignoring negative effects – As mentioned at the beginning, addiction is marked by use of a substance or engaging in a behavior despite the consequences. Choosing to continue in the face of declining health, troubled or ruined relationships, financial struggles, job loss, and other negative effects is one of the most telling warning signs of addiction.
- Mood swings – An addict’s mood can vary wildly depending on their access (or lack thereof) to their addiction. They may also seem like a completely different person while engaging in their addiction.
- Lying – When it becomes necessary to conceal their activities from others, addicts won’t hesitate to hide it and lie about it (including its effects). They may also turn to stashing away money that their spouse or partner isn’t aware of, stealing, or using other dishonest means to financially support their addiction.
- Lack of self-care – Addicts generally engage less and less in self-care as the condition progresses. This can include many things, such as failing to keeping up with basic hygiene (showering, brushing teeth, doing laundry, cleaning, etc.), eating poorly, stopping exercise, not going out, discontinuing other activities, and more.
- Physical deterioration – Substance abuse has physical effects on a person’s appearance and health. Of course, the details vary depending on the substance, the severity and duration of the addiction, and other personal factors. But certain visible physical symptoms will manifest eventually. It may be bloodshot eyes, weight gain or loss, a sunken appearance in the face, pallor, bloody noses, loss of teeth or hair, shaking or tremors, vomiting, insomnia or excessive sleeping, memory impairment, track marks from injections, or many others.
- Inability to stop – This is of course not just one of the warning signs of addiction, but also one of its defining characteristics.