The Signs of Addiction

The Signs of Addiction

Addiction, a chronic disease that, can manifest through various signs and symptoms, affecting one’s mental health, behavior, and physical well-being.

Psychological symptoms often include mood swings, fatigue, paranoia, defensiveness, agitation, concentration issues, poor judgment, memory problems, low self-esteem, hopelessness, and exacerbation of mental health conditions like depression or anxiety.

Behavioral signs may involve secretive behavior, diminished performance and attendance at work or school, withdrawal from social activities, loss of interest in hobbies, and inability to reduce or stop substance misuse despite negative consequences. Physical symptoms can include neglect of personal hygiene, disrupted sleep patterns, and lack of concern over physical appearance.

Specific Substances Exhibit Unique Symptoms.

     For instance, alcohol addiction might be indicated by regular intoxication, drinking beyond moderation, and neglecting meals in favor of drinking.

     Marijuana abuse can be identified by frequent intoxication, cravings, and withdrawal symptoms like insomnia or depression.

     Opioid abuse, including prescription painkillers and heroin, may present as consistent intoxication, withdrawal symptoms resembling flu, and prioritization of drug use over other aspects of life.

     Benzodiazepine addiction is marked by symptoms resembling drunkenness, cognitive impairment, and withdrawal symptoms.

     Methamphetamine addiction shows as a rush of wellbeing, delusions, and a variety of physical symptoms like dehydration and elevated body temperature.

     Cocaine addiction includes increased talkativeness, excitability, and intense cravings.

     Steroid abuse, differing from other substances, is characterized by rapid muscle mass increase, changes in physical appearance, and possible aggressive behavior.

Regardless of the specific substance, continued abuse leads to significant life disruptions. Professional help and rehabilitation are essential for overcoming addiction and achieving long-term sobriety, with treatment programs tailored to individual needs.

Addiction as a Disease and Its Types

Addiction is medically classified as a chronic brain disorder, characterized not by a lack of willpower or poor decision-making, but by significant changes in brain chemistry. It is broadly categorized into two types: substance addictions, termed Substance Use Disorders (SUDs), and behavioral addictions, which involve compulsive behaviors without substance use.

The use of drugs or alcohol or even certain behaviours like gambling triggers the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine, generating feelings of pleasure or euphoria. Over time, the brain increasingly relies on these substances to recreate these sensations. This dependency is not just chemical but also structural; prolonged substance abuse alters areas of the brain responsible for judgment, decision-making, learning, memory, and behavior control. This change explains why individuals with addiction may persist in substance use despite adverse outcomes. Addiction typically develops gradually, starting from voluntary use and escalating to tolerance and dependence.

Relapse is a common characteristic of this chronic condition, often due to the lasting brain changes caused by addiction, necessitating strategies in treatment focused on relapse prevention. Additionally, addiction extends beyond substances to behavioral addictions like gambling, eating, or internet use, which similarly engage the brain’s reward system.

Addictions To Substances

Substance addictions encompass a variety of drugs that stimulate the brain’s reward center, often resulting in feelings of pleasure. These substances range from legally prescribed medications to illicit drugs and can lead to Substance Use Disorders (SUDs) of differing severities, with addiction representing the most severe stage. The spectrum of addictive substances includes alcohol, caffeine, cannabis, and a variety of hallucinogens such as PCP and LSD. It also covers hypnotics, sedatives, anxiolytics (anti-anxiety medications), inhalants, and opioids, which are available both by prescription and illegally. Additionally, stimulants like Adderall®, cocaine, methamphetamine, and tobacco/nicotine products fall under this category. The broad scope of these substances underscores the complexity and diversity of addiction and the necessity for tailored approaches in treatment and prevention.

Process Addictions

Behavioral addictions, distinct from substance use disorders, involve a compulsion to engage in activities that stimulate the brain’s reward system. Unlike substance addictions that involve chemical dependencies, behavioral addictions are centered around certain actions and their associated psychological effects.

The most prominently recognized behavioral addiction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), is gambling disorder. This recognition is based on extensive research that outlines its significant impact on mental, social, and financial well-being. Gambling disorder is characterized by a persistent and recurrent problematic gambling behavior leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.

Other activities have the potential to become addictive, although they are not formally recognized in the DSM-5. This lack of recognition is often due to the current state of research rather than the severity of the addiction. These potentially addictive behaviors include compulsive eating, excessive exercising or dieting, compulsive shopping, shoplifting, engaging in risky behaviors, sexual activities, viewing pornography, video gaming (especially internet gaming disorder), and excessive internet use.

Each of these activities, when practiced excessively, can disrupt an individual’s daily life, leading to adverse effects on their mental, social, and physical health, as well as financial stability. The compulsive nature of these behaviors often results in significant distress and impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

How Common Are Addictions?

Addiction is a widely recognized yet often misunderstood issue. It frequently appears in various forms of media, ranging from fictional portrayals in movies and TV shows to real-life instances involving celebrities and public figures.

Public campaigns and news reports regularly address drug and alcohol abuse, highlighting the opioid crisis and the alarming statistics on overdoses and relapses. However, the constant exposure to these stories can sometimes desensitize people to the severity and prevalence of substance abuse in the United States, leading to a misconception that addiction is a distant problem. Contrary to this belief, addiction is much more widespread.

A report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) revealed that in 2019, over 19.3 million Americans aged 12 and above had a substance use disorder. This figure represents nearly one in every five people in the country, illustrating that addiction is a significant and pervasive issue affecting a substantial portion of the population.

Alcohol use disorder ranks as the most prevalent form of substance addiction, with nicotine and marijuana following closely behind. This trio of dependencies notably affects around 10% of individuals aged 12 or older, indicating a significant portion of the population grappling with these substance-related challenges. The widespread nature of these addictions highlights the critical need for effective prevention and treatment strategies in addressing this public health concern.

Teens and Addiction

Adolescents struggling with substance use disorders often develop a dependency on drugs or alcohol, which can be physical, psychological, or both. Physical dependence emerges when their bodies become so accustomed to the substance that abstaining leads to noticeable physical withdrawal symptoms. This dependency affects the brain’s reward system, diminishing the enjoyment of previously pleasurable activities like socializing or eating favorite foods. When attempting to quit, teens may experience mood fluctuations and feel compelled to use the substance to maintain what feels like their “normal” state, often escalating their usage.

Psychological dependence involves a belief that the substance is necessary for functioning. Adolescents might think they need drugs or alcohol to socialize or relax after school. This belief can evolve into a perception of the substance being indispensable for survival. If a teen is dependent, withdrawal symptoms, varying in severity, will manifest when the substance is not used. The severity of these symptoms depends on factors like the duration of use, the type of substance, age, physical health, psychological traits, and the method of withdrawal.

Signs of a potential substance use disorder in adolescents include isolation, discussions about substance use, depression, irritability, irresponsible behavior, sudden changes in habits, academic struggles, and suicidal thoughts. Discovering empty prescription bottles can also be a red flag.

If you suspect your teen is using substances, it’s crucial to approach the situation directly yet empathetically. Engage in open, nonjudgmental conversations, discuss the legal and health risks associated with substance use, and focus on the behavior, not the person. Regular check-ins, monitoring peer interactions, and seeking help from school counselors or mental health professionals can be effective strategies.

The adolescent brain, still in development, is more prone to risky behaviors like binge drinking and illicit drug use. Understanding the science behind teen addiction is crucial for effective prevention and intervention.

Going Into Rehab

Choosing to enter drug rehab is difficult for addicts and their families, often hindered by misconceptions about addiction and fear of social stigma. People frequently put off help, not realizing the seriousness of their addiction or worrying about others’ opinions. Addiction’s effects on brain function and life make rehab necessary. What starts as recreational drug or alcohol use becomes a dependency as these substances alter the brain’s control mechanisms.

Long-term substance use leads to addiction, employment loss, damaged relationships, irreversible health issues, mental illness, brain damage, and risks of fatal accidents or overdoses. Adolescents are especially at risk, with their developing brains making them more susceptible to addiction and mental health issues.

Those with substance use disorders often have co-occurring mental health problems, necessitating comprehensive treatment.

Addiction affects not just the individual but also their close relationships, driving many to rehab after realizing the harm caused to loved ones. Legal issues or significant life changes also prompt rehab visits. Addiction worsens over time, emphasizing the need for early intervention. There’s no definitive time for rehab, but early treatment is crucial, particularly for young people, to avoid long-term harm.

Written By Steph Burger


(Addictions Counsellor at SideWalk)