Recognizing Addiction: Knowing When to Seek Help

how to recognize the addiction

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Addiction is sometimes hard to recognize. If one needs help determining whether a loved one has an addiction or a dependency, it is the right place to discover it. Thankfully, there are ways to recognize drug and alcohol abuse, even in the most elusive addicts.

The Stereotype of Drug Abuse

drug-addiction-stereotypeWhen most people think of drug addicts, they imagine people standing on street corners, needles in hand, begging for money, or selling themselves to get a hit. They’re often dirty, disheveled, and haggard in appearance. They may have sores on their face and mouth, and their eyes are often red, watery, and vacant. While this may be true for the most severe of addicts, a person might come in contact with drug abusers all the time without realizing it. The insurance agent who walks through a new policy may be doing cocaine when on break. The attorney who defends innocents may be smoking marijuana after hours.

Drug addiction doesn’t know race, gender, or socioeconomic status. It affects successful professionals as well as the poverty-stricken. The fact is, it is impossible to always recognize the drug addicts by looking at them. One may not even be able to recognize addiction in oneself. Addiction is something that may happen quickly, but it can also happen gradually over time. This makes recognizing addiction in someone loved, or oneself, that much harder to grasp.

Signs that someone is an addict:

Signs that someone may be an addict:

  • Secretive behavior
  • Social withdrawal
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Frequently asking to borrow money
  • Changes in behavior, mood swings
  • Loss of interest in activities unrelated to drug use
  • Paranoia
  • Unexplained injuries
  • Red or watery eyes
  • Sleeping more than usual or a lack of need for sleep

The Stigma of Drug Abuse and Denial

There is also a stigma surrounding drug abuse. Many people still falsely believe that drug addicts are selfish, weak-willed, and lazy. Some do not understand the nature of addiction, so they believe that an addict can stop just by wanting to. Loved ones may believe that if the addict loved them, he would quit using his drug of choice. But addiction doesn’t work that way. Anyone can become addicted, and it has nothing to do with will or work ethic.

Because of the stigma surrounding addiction, however, any addicts find themselves in denial of how serious their dependencies are.

A drinker may convince himself that he only drinks socially, or to relax on weekends. When an extra beer or glass of wine creeps in during the week, he may tell himself that it was a stressful day or that it’s a one-time thing. He may legitimately not notice when things start getting out of hand until he’s suffering from a full-blown addiction and is having trouble coping at work or having issues with loved ones.

Likewise, a loved one may not want to face the fact that his or her friend or a family member has a drug or alcohol problem. He may ignore evidence when it first begins to appear and even make excuses for the person to avoid facing the issue. Only when more severe issues come into play is the addiction acknowledged. Other times, the addict is good at hiding the evidence, and loved ones may not notice the more subtle clues pointing toward a substance dependency.

How do I know if I’m addicted to a drug?

A person might be addicted to drugs or alcohol if any of the following are true:

  • using the drug every day
  • feeling anxious, depressed, or angry without it
  • the greater need of the drug to feel the same effects
  • the drug has negatively impacted one’s relationships and other aspects of life
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Signs that The Loved One is an Addict

Although in some cases it may be hard to tell whether the loved one is actually an addict, especially if he or she suffers from a condition with symptoms that mimic addiction, it is always good to be on guard. If the loved one is suffering from substance abuse, he may exhibit some or all of the following symptoms or behaviors:

  • Secretive behavior, withdrawal, or locking doors
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Spending money rapidly or asking to borrow money frequently
  • Changes in behavior
  • Loss of interest in activities once loved
  • Poor grades or poor performance at work
  • Loss of social life or ignoring friends and family
  • Mood swings or depression
  • Anger or aggressiveness, even if unprovoked
  • Paranoia
  • Lack of coordination of unexplained injuries
  • Red, glassy, or watery eyes
  • Odors on body or clothing, especially the smell of smoke
  • Sores on the face, arms or mouth
  • Nose bleeds
  • Sleeping more than usual or lack of a need for sleep

These symptoms can also be signs of a mental disorder or physical illness. Either way, they should be checked by a licensed physician to rule out other possibilities, or a drug test can be performed to confirm that drugs are being used. If the person is using a prescription drug, he or she may also switch doctors frequently and request being seen by a doctor he has never seen before.

Is it easy to recognize an addict?

While it may be easy to recognize an addict with a severe drug problem, people are often skilled at concealing their drug abuse. Addiction knows no gender, race, or socioeconomic status. Usually, it is not possible to tell if someone is an addict just by looking at him or her.

Questions to identify an addict:

  • Does one have to use the drug every day?
  • Does one become anxious, depression, or angry when can’t use the drug?
  • Has one tried to quit using without success?
  • Is the drug use negatively affecting life, including work and social relationships?
  • Does one feel sick, depressed, or anxious when can’t have the drug?
  • Does one require more of the drug now than before to achieve the same results?
  • Are personal relationships suffering?
  • Does one spend most of the time acquiring, using, or recovering from the drug?

If the answers are “yes” to any of these questions, there is a big chance one is suffering from drug dependency or addiction. Without proper treatment, a person may suffer from an overdose or legal troubles as a result of drug use.

Getting Proper Treatment

journey-to-recoveryOnce a drug problem is recognized, the next step is seeking help and guidance. While there are a lot of treatment options available, promising amazing results, the most effective way to handle a drug problem is through an inpatient rehabilitation program. Checking into a rehabilitation clinic ensures receiving medical care and supervision during detoxification, counseling, support, peer relationships, and additional therapies to help combat drug abuse and addiction. This, combined with outpatient counseling afterward, will help to stay clean and sober over the long haul. There is hope.

View Sources
  1. Frances, R. J., & Miller, S.I. 1998. Clinical Textbook of Addictive Disorders, Second Edition. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. 2013. Preventing and recognizing prescription drug abuse. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/prescription-drugs/preventing-recognizing-prescription-drug-abuse.

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  • Daphne Gilpin
    Thanks for explaining that it can be hard to recognize when a loved one is abusing drugs because we tend to avoid facing the issue. I think my younger sister might be abusing drugs, but I’ve convinced myself that that couldn’t possibly be true. I’m glad I read your article because you gave me a reality check and helped me feel motivated to talk to her about drug addiction.