Not everyone who abuses prescription or recreational drugs becomes addicted. However, the National Institutes of Health report that 10% of Americans struggle with substance use disorder in their lives. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5, a substance use disorder is an addiction. However, only about 25% of the people who struggle with addiction receive treatment. Recognizing the signs of alcohol and drug addiction can help you or a loved one get the help you need.
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What Is Addiction?
Addiction is the compulsive need to use a substance or engage in a behavior even though it negatively impacts your physical, psychological, emotional, or social wellness. The American Society of Addiction Medicine states that addiction is a chronic disease.
The mechanisms of action for different drugs vary. However, all substances interact with the central nervous system and the brain’s reward circuitry. Drugs alter the body’s natural network of checks and balances, providing artificial pleasure in place of the positive feelings that your body chemicals produce. Over time, you can become physically dependent on a substance because your body has adapted to its presence.
Psychological dependence also plays a significant role in drug and alcohol addiction. Some drugs aren’t as likely as others to produce physical addiction. However, if you believe that you need the substance to cope with life and struggle with behavioral and emotional issues when you aren’t using it, you might be dealing with psychological addiction.
Both types of addiction are severe. However, they can present with different symptoms. Awareness of the signs of addiction can steer you toward the right kind of support.
What Are the Signs of Physical Drug Addiction?
Physical addiction happens as the drugs that you take change the chemistry in your brain. Some substances also alter your vital signs, and they may increase your heart rate or decrease respiration. When you use certain substances repeatedly, your body gets used to this new way of functioning, and the modified performance feels normal.
When you don’t take the substance, you feel off. You may experience withdrawal symptoms as your body tries to adjust to what used to be its normal state. Because that’s no longer the standard way of operating, your central nervous system goes haywire.
For example, alcohol addiction can slow your respiration and pulse, and your body learns to operate at that level. If you suddenly stop using alcohol, your heart rate and respiration pick up. However, the increased activity overstimulates a system that has gotten accustomed to moving more slowly. You’ll feel withdrawal symptoms as your body readjusts.
The symptoms of physical dependence are often experienced in the body. However, signs of physical addiction can be psychological.
Some signs that you are physically addicted to drugs or alcohol include:
- Depression – If your brain is used to being activated by drugs, it stops producing its feel-good chemicals. When you eliminate the substance from your system, you may feel depressed until your inner reward circuit returns to normal.
- Anger – Drugs lead to abnormal communication in the brain. Substances impact the parts of the brain that regulate planning, decision-making, and self-control. Addiction can cause poor impulse management, which may manifest in outbursts of anger.
- Intense cravings – Chronic overstimulation of the brain’s reward circuitry triggers you to seek out the drug compulsively. When you can’t use, you’re preoccupied with thoughts of obtaining or consuming the drug.
- Tolerance and Dependence – As your body adapts to the drug, you need more of it to feel high. Eventually, your brain’s pleasure centers become desensitized, and you feel ill, achy, and unwell unless you use the drug. You end up requiring the drug to relieve undesirable symptoms instead of getting high.
- Withdrawal – Withdrawal symptoms when you don’t have the drug in your system indicate that your body has become reliant on the chemical to feel normal.
- Changes in appearance – Depending on the type of drug used, its side effects can alter the way you look. Addiction often causes sudden and apparent changes in weight, hygiene, and skin condition.
Experiencing one or two of these signs alone doesn’t confirm that you are addicted to drugs or alcohol. However, if several of these physical signs resonate with you, keep reading to determine if you have psychological signs of addiction.
Do you have doubts about whether or not you are addicted to drugs or alcohol? Try our “Am I addicted?” Quiz.
What Are the Signs of Psychological Drug Addiction?
Addiction is characterized by more than physical dependence, and it involves taking actions to pursue substance use even though it causes adverse consequences. Even if you recognize that continuing to use is harmful, you can’t control the habit. The biological component, the change in brain chemistry, is the foundation for psychological drug addiction.
Some of the emotional and behavioral DSM-5 criteria for substance use disorder include:
- Not being able to reduce drug use even if you want to
- Using more of a substance than you intended to
- Prioritizing drug-related activities over responsibilities, obligations, and other enjoyable pastimes
- Continuing to use even if it is putting you or others in danger
- Withdrawing from friends, family members, work, school, or hobbies
- Sustaining drug use even when it causes relationship difficulties
Do Any of These Characteristics Sound Familiar?
Addiction is not simply a mental disorder, and it involves physiological changes that have emotional, psychological, and behavioral consequences. Most people who struggle with drug or alcohol addiction exhibit changes in their normal behavior, and their personality, friends, interests, and attitude toward life may shift.
However, personal growth can also change a person. Some ways to evaluate whether the uncharacteristic behavior is representative of addiction include:
- Lying – Addiction can cause people to lie to obtain substances, cover up drug use and maintain the impression that there is no problem.
- Financial problems – The continual need for drugs or alcohol can drain the bank account. People with substance abuse disorder may neglect to pay for necessities to fund their habit, causing them to borrow money, generate debt, and default on credit lines.
- Broken promises – It’s difficult for someone with an addiction to commit to anything. They may renege on obligations if their drug use is a priority or withdrawals make them sick.
- Instability – Addiction can lead to mood swings and emotional instability. Intoxication can also make individuals act strange. Someone with substance use disorder may work fine one day and completely out of the ordinary the next, repeating this pattern frequently.
- Secretive or defensive behavior – Someone who is struggling with addiction may isolate themselves from others. They generally also become more private about their lives, keeping belongings secured and avoiding curious questions from people they trust. They may react with hostility when their unusual behavior is brought up.
- Erratic behavior – The swing in your brain chemistry may lead you to take risky actions and make poor decisions. Using can make you feel euphoric, and withdrawals bring on anxiety and despair. Addiction can make you act in unpredictable ways.
- Poor sleep habits – Acute and chronic drug use affect your sleep schedule and circadian rhythm. You may be fatigued during the day and awake at night, develop regular nightmares or experience ongoing insomnia.
It’s important to remember that substance use disorder often co-occurs with other mental health conditions. In many cases, drug use is a coping mechanism for existing trauma. On the other hand, repeated recreational drug use can alter the brain to generate mental health issues, such as anxiety and OCD. Being aware of and treating all relevant conditions can help you achieve success in recovery.
At Long Island Treatment Center, we can guide you or someone you love who is battling addiction. Many signs of addiction overlap with other psychological and physical symptoms, making it difficult to decide if drug and alcohol addiction treatment is the right option. Call us today to learn more about whether we would be a good fit for you.