Addiction affects the lives of millions of Americans, including teenagers and adults, but not everyone has a firm understanding of what signs of having an addiction might look like.
What’s important to understand, first and foremost, is that no one is immune. Anyone can develop addiction regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.
When properly identified, addiction can be effectively treated. Achieving recovery is possible.
What Is Addiction?
Addiction, also known as substance use disorder, is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder.
This is when someone is unable to quit using a substance (e.g. drugs, alcohol), or is unable to stop engaging in compulsive behaviors to continue using the substance.
What Are The Most Commonly Abused Drugs?
Some of the most commonly abused and addictive substances include prescription painkillers, sedatives, illicit stimulants, and alcohol.
Common drug addictions include:
- opioid use disorder
- alcohol use disorder
- heroin use disorder
- methamphetamine use disorder
- cocaine use disorder
- marijuana use disorder
8 Common Signs Of Addiction
Addiction doesn’t look the same in everyone. There are, however, common signs that loved ones can look out for if they are concerned that someone they know is addicted to drugs or alcohol.
1. Physical Signs Of Addiction
Addiction can have substantial physical effects on the body and the mind over time. Early on, this can be identified by common drug side effects.
Physical signs can be mild to severe in nature, and are generally dependent on the substance, the amount used, and other personal factors related to someone’s substance use.
Physical warning signs of addiction may include:
- bloodshot eyes
- dilated or tiny pupils
- excessive drowsiness or bursts of energy
- dramatic changes in weight (weight gain, weight loss)
- disrupted sleep pattern (sleeping more or less than usual)
- runny nose or excessive sniffling
- track marks (needle marks)
- shakiness (tremors)
- impaired coordination
- slurred speech
- unusual smells on the body, breath, or clothing
2. Changes In Mental Health
Common drugs of abuse, including alcohol, can have known effects on a person’s mood and mental health, particularly when a substance is misused over a long period of time.
Mental health effects of addiction might include:
- rapid mood swings/changes
- delusions (false beliefs)
- altered sense of reality
- excessive fear/worry
- loss of motivation
Common drugs of abuse can also impair a person’s judgment, affecting their ability to make rational decisions or acknowledge signs of a substance use problem.
3. Secretive Behavior
A person who has become dependent on or addicted to drugs may act more secretively in order to avoid detection by loved ones or others who could get in the way of their drug use.
Examples of secretive behavior may include:
- hiding drugs or alcohol
- lying about the extent of their substance use
- deflecting questions or concerns about their substance use
- having unexplained financial difficulties or legal troubles
- asking for money without providing a reason
Someone who has a substance abuse problem may act more withdrawn or isolate themselves more from family, friends, and other loved ones.
This can be due to wanting to avoid detection by loved ones. Or, they may isolate themselves more if social activities begin to interfere with their ability to continue drinking or using drugs.
Effects on mental health, such as increased depression, anxiety, or paranoia may also cause someone to become more detached, withdrawn, or standoffish.
5. Acting Out Of Character
Excessive drug and alcohol use can have observable effects on parts of the brain that are associated with mood and behavior. This may cause someone to behave unusually.
Someone who is normally very diligent, for example, may make more mistakes or appear more disheveled or out of sorts than usual.
Other behavioral changes associated with addiction include:
- neglecting school, work, or other responsibilities
- sudden changes in hobbies or friends
- using drugs under dangerous or reckless conditions (drinking and driving)
- using drugs more frequently or in greater amounts
- continuing to use drugs despite negative consequences
6. Mixing Drugs
Someone who has developed a high tolerance for drugs or uses drugs in order to get high may begin combining different types of drugs for their effects or to overcome tolerance.
Mixing drugs can be very dangerous. Mixing stimulants or depressants with opioids, for example, is a significant risk factor for overdose, which can have fatal consequences.
7. Missing Medication
Someone who is addicted to prescription medication may take medication from a family member or other loved one’s prescription if they are unable to gain access to that medication themselves.
Commonly misused medications include:
- benzodiazepines (e.g. Xanax)
- stimulants (e.g. Adderall)
- painkillers (opioids)
- non-opioid pain medication
8. Unable To Cut Down On Drug Use
A primary sign of addiction is being unable to cut down on your substance use or stopping your substance use completely due to psychological and physical dependence.
Physical dependence on a drug can cause a person to experience withdrawal symptoms that can be uncomfortable to deal with. Some withdrawal symptoms can even be dangerous.
Examples of withdrawal symptoms include:
- nausea and vomiting
- poor concentration
In order to ease withdrawal, a person may return to their substance use, thus continuing the cycle. Successfully getting off a drug, in this case, may require professional medical support.
What Are Common Signs Of Addiction In Teens?
Teenagers and young adults may display similar behavioral, physical, and psychological signs of addiction as adults. Below are some of the other potential signs of substance use to be aware of.
Additional signs of an alcohol or drug problem in teens might include:
- troubles in school (e.g. skipping class, poor grades)
- sudden changes in friends
- angry outbursts
- unusual defensiveness
- finding drug paraphernalia in a child’s room
- losing interest in activities they typically enjoy
- repeated instances of excessive underage drinking
- unexplained disappearances for long stretches of time
Getting Help For Addiction
Addiction can vary in intensity and severity, and this can affect which type of treatment may be recommended for yourself or a loved one with a substance use issue.
Addiction can be treated at multiple levels of care, including inpatient treatment, outpatient rehab programs, and intensive outpatient treatment programs. A support group may also be helpful.
Substance abuse treatment may involve behavioral health treatments such as counseling, as well as medical care and medication for certain substance use disorders, such as opioid addiction.
There are several effective treatment options for addiction. Many are eligible for health insurance coverage for substance abuse treatment.
There are also free and low-cost drug rehab centers throughout the United States for uninsured populations.
Find Substance Abuse Treatment Today
If you are concerned about your substance use, or that of a loved one, don’t wait to seek help.
For more information about addiction treatment options, or to find a drug addiction treatment center near you today, call our helpline to speak with a specialist.
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These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- Indian Health Service (IHS)
- U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)