Recognizing an Addiction Problem

Written by Mara Tyler | Published on July 24, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD on July 24, 2014

Recognizing A Problem

Recognizing an addiction problem can be harder than it seems. Addicts are often skilled at hiding their behavior, even from their closest friends and family members. Also, what may seem like an addiction could be an experimental phase or how a given person copes with stressful circumstances. But addiction is chronic and usually degenerative, or gets worse over time. Without help in the early stages, an addiction may turn into a debilitating and life-threatening condition. 

No matter the type of addiction, it’s important to recognize warning signs and seek help if necessary.

Early Behavior

In the early stages, a person might not show telltale signs of a full-blown addiction. When it comes to common behaviors like drinking or smoking, it may be that a person is simply using a substance socially or casually. Therefore, it can be difficult to determine whether or not the behavior is unhealthy or how long it might last. But, even in the early stages, some clues may be present. Signs include:

  • being particularly drawn to an activity or substance
  • seeking out situations where the substance or activity is present
  • episodes of binging or loss of control

Alienation

Once a person moves past experimenting or the early phase of addiction, he or she will likely begin to alienate friends and family, pushing away the people who care about them. Addicts tend to surround themselves only with others who either encourage or emulate their addictive behavior. An addict typically won’t put himself or herself in social situations where he or she cannot use their substance of choice or perform the addictive behavior.

At first, alienation may be infrequent, but it will typically progress over time. An addict will try to hide the addictive behavior from loved ones—especially those who may try to stop it. It’s common for addicts to completely cut off contact with their families, friends, spouses, or children. They will avoid phone calls, ignore text messages, and even refuse to answer the door.

Deteriorating Health

Another way to recognize addiction is to pay attention to the individual’s health. Whether the addiction is to a drug or behavior, the addict’s health will almost always decline. Constant illness, injuries, or chronic fatigue may be signs of a problem. The skin, hair, teeth, and nails of an addict may also be in poor condition. This is especially true when the person is abusing illicit drugs like methamphetamines or cocaine. The person may also have a strange sleep schedule or will constantly miss work and other important obligations.

The person’s mental and emotional health may also suffer. The following could be signs of a problem:

  • sudden changes in mood
  • aggressive behavior
  • irritability
  • depression
  • apathy
  • suicidal thoughts

In general, if other factors contributing to mental or physical health issues are absent, it’s likely that a substance abuse or other addiction problem is present.

Onset of Life Consequences

In the middle or later stages of an addiction, the addict will experience negative results from the addiction. These consequences may be limited to an addict’s personal life, but could include professional or legal problems as well. Some common consequences include:

  • dropping out of school or poor grades
  • missing work or neglecting important obligations
  • damaged relationships with friends and family
  • loss of good standing or tarnished reputation
  • accidents, injuries, or hospitalizations as a result of addictive behavior
  • arrests or jail time
  • eviction from the home or failed mortgage payments
  • loss of job
  • loss of parental rights

While similar issues can occur in the lives of non-addicted persons, these can become more common when an addiction is present. It’s important to gauge whether or not the problem is a result of a single incident or a growing problem with the addiction.

Tendency to Make Excuses

Despite the concern of friends and family, an addict will almost always deny the seriousness of his or her addiction. Making excuses is common among addicts. Whether they know they are addicted or not, they will deny it to others. The person will usually have a number of reasons to excuse their behavior.

While a non-addicted person can usually see a negative behavior and eliminate it, this is not the case with an addict. Rather than admit the problem exists, addicts must convince themselves and others why it’s okay to continue the behavior. This is why an intervention or trying to force an addict into treatment often fails. Until an addict “hits bottom” and wants help, he or she won’t be able to admit that they need help. In most cases, an addict must want to change in order for recovery to be successful.

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