Affecting approximately 1 in 7 people over the age of 12 years old in the United States, addiction is a disease that can upturn lives, destroy relationships and lead to death. Alcohol and drugs, whether legal or not, contributes an additional $700 billion to national costs including health care, lost productivity and crime.

Addiction is defined as the inability to abstain from substance use. Use of substances affects an individual’s biological, psychological and social well-being. Discover the signs of addiction and learn about the most common addictive substances.

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

Unlike the flu or a broken leg, addiction is a medical condition that can be extremely easy to hide. This makes it necessary to understand what the signs and symptoms of addiction are if you feel you or a loved one may have a substance abuse problem. Signs of addiction are evident in behavior as well as physically and emotionally.

Physical Signs of Addiction

Some physical signs of addiction can manifest after short-term substance abuse and others take longer to develop; they cannot be explained by a medical disorder or illness. Some examples include:

  • Repetitive or incoherent speech
  • Runny nose, red eyes or dilated pupils
  • Hyperactivity or fatigue
  • Weight loss or sudden change in eating habits
  • Poor hygiene and body odor
  • Changes in skin color
  • Visible tracks or needle marks

Emotional Symptoms of Addiction

Changes in emotion are common when someone is struggling with substance use, but existing mental health issues should be ruled out as a cause. Sudden emotional changes may include:

  • Poor stress management
  • Anger outbursts or irritability
  • Uncontrolled crying or lack of emotion
  • Defensive demeanor
  • Blaming others for their situation
  • Loss of interest in social activities or hobbies
  • Childlike behavior not characteristic of personality, such as being overly silly or obnoxious
  • Poor concentration and problem solving
  • Minimizing importance of health, work, family, etc.
  • Denial that there is a problem
  • Rationalizing behavior with excuses or alibis
  • Frequent confusion

Changes in Behavior Related to Addiction

Behavioral changes may take longer to become noticeable. Often, a pattern emerges over time. Addiction can contribute to the following behaviors:

  • Isolation and secretive behaviors
  • Involvement in criminal activity (commonly theft)
  • Change in patterns of sleep or insomnia
  • Frequently talking about drugs or alcohol
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Failure to attend important meetings or functions
  • Problems in marriage or relationships
  • Ongoing financial problems

Noticing one or two signs of addiction may not mean someone has a substance abuse issue, but if more concerns arise there may be a need for intervention.

Common Addictive Substances

There are a range of addictive substances available today and many suffering with addiction use more than one. Most substances are illegal while others are available via prescription or retailers. Though not an exhaustive list, the following classes of abused substances are the most common in the United States.

Depressants

This class of substance affects the nervous system and includes alcohol, barbituates, opioids, opiates, benzodiazepines and drugs like Rohypnol (Roofies) and GHB, also known as date rape drugs. Benzodiazepines are leading an epidemic in the U.S. as they are prescription medications typically recommended for anxiety, such as Xanax, Valium and Klonopin. Opiates, which are derived from opium, are both street drugs and available by prescription. Common opiates include codeine, hydrocodone, morphine and heroin. Drugs in the depressant class are highly addictive, can suppress respiratory activity, affect cognition and act as a sleep aid.

Hallucinogens and Cannabis

Hallucinogens cause a change in thought, emotion and perception for a period of time while cannabis, also known as hashish or marijuana, is becoming widely accepted and even legal in many states. Use of cannabis and hallucinogens is believed to be non-life threatening; however, individuals can harm themselves indirectly by making poor decisions while using these substances. The most common hallucinogens include LSD (known as “acid”), mushrooms, peyote, ketamine (or “Special K”) and PCP.

Inhalants

More common among children and adolescents for its availability, inhalants include gasoline, propane, butane, acetone, toluene and xylene. These substances can be found in common household items, such as paint thinner and nail polish remover. Amyl nitrate and nitrous oxide are also common inhalants; however, these can be more difficult to obtain for children and young adults. The use of inhalants, commonly called huffing, can lead to sudden death, cardiac arrest or brain damage due to lack of oxygen and altered heart rate.

Stimulants

Stimulants are another class of substances that can be obtained anywhere, by prescription and illegally on the street. Substances in this class include MDMA (ecstasy, molly), cocaine, crack, weight loss pills, methamphetamine and medications prescribed for ADHD, such as Adderall. Drugs in this class are characterized by a high that includes increased energy, motivation and feelings of euphoria followed by a sharp crash that can include depression, extreme drowsiness and body aches. Stimulants can be highly addictive and cause dangerous, erratic behaviors that can lead to criminal involvement, injury or death.

Coping with Addiction

If you suspect someone you love may have a problem with addiction, it’s difficult to navigate the thoughts you might feel. Did you do something wrong? How do you stop it? How can I help?

The Three C’s: How Loved Ones Cope

Family and friends of people living with addiction often use the term “the three C’s” to describe the stages of thought and concern they experience: cause, cure and control. Cause refers to the questions you may ask when you first learn a loved one has a problem with addiction. How did this begin? What did I do wrong? What should I have done differently?

Cure is the point at which you understand the problem of addiction lies with the addict and only they can change their lives for the better. It is where you begin to be honest with yourself and your loved one about the issue. Lastly, control is where you stop trying to fix the situation yourself and hand control over to the individual who is struggling with substances.

Treatment Options for Addiction

Once you or a loved one come to terms with the fact that there is a problem, it’s time to begin addressing it by exploring available options. Addiction treatment has proven to be successful in reducing hospitalizations, crime rates, lost work productivity and untimely deaths that can occur as a result of chronic substance use. There are many types of treatment for addiction ranging from outpatient counseling to intensive inpatient programs.

  • Peer Support. Meeting with others who share similar addiction issues, such as in a 12-step program, can support an individual’s recovery goals.
  • Counseling. Individual and group counseling can address addictive behaviors as well as the underlying causes of substance use.
  • Outpatient Programs. Offering both support and structured activity, outpatient programs can be a good option for people who need or want to devote more time to their recovery on a regular basis.
  • Detox. Medically supervised detox programs help individuals safely come off of alcohol or drugs. Abruptly stopping some substances, like alcohol or heroin, can lead to severe medical issues or death.
  • Inpatient Programs. Usually begun after detox is complete, inpatient programs provide structured daily activities in a safe and sober environment. Most inpatient programs last at least 60 days and provide comprehensive treatment and recovery planning prior to discharge.

Get Help with Addiction

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, there is no greater time than the present to seek help. Contact us today to learn more about addiction treatment.