When identifying the signs of addiction, it is important to know that while drug and alcohol use and abuse manifest themselves as different behavioral changes and inconsistencies, they also share a number of commonalities. This is not meant to be an all-inclusive list of signs of drug and/or alcohol addiction, but is instead a list of common signs that someone is suffering from addiction.
Often, addicts and alcoholics are the last to know that they have a problem, because they cannot see the outward signs of addiction. They attempt to hide their use from loved ones, escaping to a “safe” space such as a bar after work, or a spot in the garage where they can be alone to drink or use. The addict believes that he or she is keeping the drug or alcohol use secret from everyone else, when in fact, the physical and behavioral signs of addiction are often immediately apparent.
As noted, one of the behavioral changes associated with addiction is isolation. Addicts often cite drug or alcohol use as a way to deal with stress, or just “relax after a hard day”, and will either emotionally withdraw but still partake in their substance abuse in the presence of family and friends, or solitarily by escaping to a quiet spot in the home to drink or use alone. Other signs of addiction are when addicts attempt to hide their use completely, and make lengthy trips outside of the home; for example, a five-minute trip to get a pack of cigarettes or milk from the grocery store will turn into a five hour disappearance, during which time the addicted person will have gone to a friend’s house or a bar to engage in drug or alcohol use.
Akin to isolation, when a person is addicted, he or she often loses interests in hobbies and activities in which he or she used to participate. Someone who was previously interested in sports and socializing with friends in a social club or association might slowly or suddenly drop out entirely. Signs of addiction can include noticing that an addicted person stops exercising, limits seeing friends or family members, or reduces his or her participation in previously enjoyable activities – because he or she is spending so much time on drug or alcohol use.
When an addicted person undergoes such a drastic change in lifestyle, mood swings are often associated signs of addiction. If drug or alcohol use has gotten to the point where someone is using all of the time, the symptoms of withdrawal can include depression, irritability, fatigue, sweating, and anxiety. When that person is using, signs of addiction can be drastic improvements in mood, or suddenly shifting from being cranky to becoming happy and upbeat. These wild mood swings are the result of the drastic changes that drug and alcohol use can have upon the body and mind, and are a highly noticeable sign of addiction.
One sign of addiction that is more closely aligned with drug addiction (but can be found sometimes with alcohol addiction) is that money becomes an issue. People involved with opiates or other drugs are often scrambling to find money to support their habit. Drug use, especially on a regular basis, can become a very expensive habit to maintain and addicts will often drain a bank account, steal from family members or friends, deplete a Roth IRA or drain a 401(k) in order to support their use. Signs of addiction also include noticing that a friend or family member won’t have money for staples like groceries, clothing, rent, or bills, but will often find a way to continue drug or alcohol use. A partner or roommate to someone with addiction might notice that the mutual monthly contribution to finances or utilities begins to come in late, or not at all. It may even take a few months to realize a pattern in that the addicted individual is not contributing their part of the money.
Finally, signs of addiction tend to be grouped under general deceitfulness and insincerity. Isolation, withdrawal, hiding drug and alcohol use, and stealing are all behaviors that are dishonest, and lying becomes a daily habit for individuals struggling with addiction. Rarely are people truthful about their addiction. Family members often know that something is going on, but even when they confront or approach the addicted individual about their problem, the person will deny having a problem – most often because he or she is in denial about even having a problem with drug or alcohol use and abuse.
As previously stated, this is not a complete list of signs of addiction, but rather a series of common habits and behavioral changes present in both drug and alcohol users. The degrees of addiction may vary, but the common signs of isolation, lying, and behavioral / mood changes are present in almost every single person with a substance abuse problem. If you think that you or your loved one may be struggling with drug or alcohol use and addiction, consider having a discussion about how outpatient or residential addiction treatment can help you achieve sobriety and reclaim your life.
Author: Steve Gifford, LICDC, LPC — currently serves as Clinical Program Director at Northland, an outpatient drug and alcohol treatment center in Ohio.