Addiction is a type of disorder that is marked by compulsive substance abuse, even when that substance abuse creates negative consequences. This includes taking drugs—both legal and illegal—and drinking alcohol, despite negative health, financial or social consequences. It can be difficult to recognize addiction as some of the signs and symptoms are difficult pinpoint.
There is no simple check, such as a blood test, to indicate whether a person is addicted or not. Instead, experts look at a person's pattern of behavior relative to drug or alcohol intake. That can reveal whether a person is likely to be addicted. One definitive indicator is when a person tries to quit and consistently relapses. Self-denial is a very common feature of people who suffer from addiction. It is common to hear things like “I can quit anytime,” or “I know this is not doing me any good, but I like it and it's my choice.”
Addiction is almost always accompanied by dependence on drugs or alcohol. While addiction is a mental state, dependence is a physical one. Dependence arises when structural and chemical changes occur in the brain in response to long-term exposure to drugs or alcohol. When these changes have taken place, the brain needs the drugs or alcohol to function. In other words, normal functioning is dependent on the substances.
If people who are dependent stop taking drugs or alcohol, it can cause a bodily reaction known as withdrawal. The reaction can be so distressing that people abandon the effort to stay off drugs or alcohol. People can become dependent without becoming addicted1, and vice versa, although it is quite unusual for people who suffer from addiction to not be dependent as well.
Behavior That Could Signify Addiction
Any one of the following behaviors could be signs of addiction1. The more of these behaviors people exhibit, the more likely they are to have an addiction. It is sometimes difficult to see the signs, but below are some ques to help you recognize addiction:
- Inability to control intake, where people often take more of a substance than they intended
- Performance at work or school is affected as a result of substance abuse
- Taking time off work or school to recover from taking drugs or alcohol
- Family members are concerned about a relative's drug or alcohol use
- Financial difficulties because of spending on drugs or alcohol
- Pawning or selling valuables to get money for drugs or alcohol
- Deciding on whether to attend social occasions based solely on the availability of drugs or alcohol
- Attracting the attention of the police when under the influence
- Sneaking away to use substances in secret
- Stashing substances for future use
Getting Help after you Recognize Addiction
There is help available for people with addiction problems. If you think you may have a problem, contact a high-quality treatment center. It may also help to discuss your situation with someone you trust, such as your doctor or your preacher. The sooner you look for help, the better.