How to Recognize Addiction

How to Recognize Addiction

Learning how to recognize addiction is important. 

Addiction is a huge part of our culture.

Nearly 40% of Americans struggle with addiction to an illegal substance. 

This number doesn't include the millions of Americans who struggle with addiction to legal substances, such as alcohol, gambling, sex, smartphones, social media, pornography, and prescription medications.

Addiction is more common than you might think. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration states that 1 in 10 Americans have a drug abuse problem.

And of the estimated 24 million Americans who have used illegal drugs, 19.6 million have developed a substance abuse problem.

This means it's very likely that someone you know and care about is struggling with drugs or some other kind of addiction. 

Some people are poly-addicts that develop addictions to multiple substances.

But, don't worry. 

You're not alone: the Pew Research Center says that almost half of Americans have a family member or close friend who has been addicted to drugs.

If you're worried about someone you know, here are some signs that can help you to recognize addiction. 

Addiction Therapists in Colorado

Barbra Styles, LPC, LAC

Barbra Styles, LPC, LAC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Marie Whatley LPCC

Marie Whatley LPCC

(719) 345-2424
Sara Robbins, LCSW

Sara Robbins, LCSW

Aurora, Colorado
(720) 449-4121
Susan Taylor, LPCC

Susan Taylor, LPCC

(719) 345-2424
Abigail Corless, LPCC

Abigail Corless, LPCC

(719) 345-2424
Vanessa Curran, LPCC

Vanessa Curran, LPCC

(719) 345-2424
Bonna Machlan, Ph.D., LPC, CAS

Bonna Machlan, Ph.D., LPC, CAS

(719) 452-4374
Andreea Felea, LPC

Andreea Felea, LPC

(719) 602-1342
Melody Reynalds, LPC

Melody Reynalds, LPC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Mallory Heise, LPC, LAC

Mallory Heise, LPC, LAC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 602-1342

Recognizing Addiction: What is Addiction

The first step to recognizing addiction is understanding it. 

Addiction is the development of a dependency on a particular substance, activity, or feeling. 

You can become addicted to activities such as gambling or sex just as easily as you can substances like alcohol and opiates.

When a person takes drugs or alcohol, their brain produces large amounts of the pleasure chemical called dopamine. 

When this chemical is released into the brain, you experience pleasure and euphoria. 

Typically, this happens when something good happens to us: such as a hug from a loved one, accomplishing an important goal, or eating a great meal.

However, when a person begins using alcohol or drugs, this causes large amounts of dopamine to be released in the brain. 

Eventually, the brain recognizes the substance as the only source of dopamine and loses pleasure and enjoyment in other activities. 

For example, an alcoholic might receive more pleasure and happiness from a beer drank alone than from getting a promotion at work.

The addicted person becomes dependent on the substance in order to feel normal. 

This often leads to them feeling "out of control" and results in major changes in their behavior.

These changes in behavior are the best way to recognize addiction.

Recognizing Addiction: The Physical Signs

Recognizing addiction also requires understanding the signs of addiction.

The physical signs of addiction vary, but some are more common than others. 

For example, rapid weight loss or gain could be a sign of drug abuse. 

Many so-called "uppers" decrease a person's appetite and can lead to weight loss.

Similarly, "uppers" can lead to difficulty sleeping. 

Changes in sleeping patterns are a common physical sign of substance abuse.

People with a dependency will become mono-maniacally focused on getting their next "fix."

If you see signs or withdrawal, such as irritability, this could be a sign of dependence. 

Do you notice the person becoming anxious to use or when not using? 

Do you notice drastic mood shifts that could be related to withdrawal and supply?

Other physical signs of addiction include broken capillaries on the face, a deep or husky voice, trembling or shaking hands, flushed skin, nausea, and headaches. 

If someone you know is experiencing a drastic increase in any of these symptoms, they may be struggling with addiction.

Recognizing Addiction: Changes in Behavior

Addiction trickles down into every part of someone's life. 

Eventually, the drug becomes the only thing that matters. 

This remains true even as it causes problems in a person's relationships, career, finances, and overall well-being.

If you see drinking or smoking or gambling beginning to take center stage in the life of your loved one then it could be an addiction issue. 

If you see them using it regularly (such as drinking in the morning), then it could be a sign that they are addicted.

Does your loved one seem more aggressive, irritable, or increasingly prone to start arguments? 

You might see a difference in the way they treat you or an increase in combativeness.

Is there life centered around drugs or activity? 

Do they use it to relax, improve their mood, help them sleep, celebrate, or cope? 

Using it in this way is a behavioral sign of addiction.

Are they neglecting things that used to be important to them?

People who are struggling with addiction will often isolate themselves out of shame. 

If your loved one is suddenly neglecting friends, family, work, or hobbies, this could be a sign of a substance abuse issue.

This neglect can also extend to hygiene and grooming as addicts often begin to neglect taking care of themselves as well.

In fact, a drop in grooming and hygiene is often the easiest method to recognize addiction 

Recognizing Addiction: Life Changes

Drastic life changes are another way to recognize addiction. 

If someone that you are close to has undergone rapid changes in their life, appearance, attitude, or behavior: this could be a sign that they're struggling with addiction.

Are there unexplained behaviors? 

Do you catch them lying about what they're doing or how much they've had? 

Is money suddenly missing or are they struggling? 

Do you see them engaging in risky behaviors?

Typically, you might notice that they have become more secretive and less social. 

Or, they might suddenly have a new group of friends with no explanation of how they met.

They might suddenly be experiencing a lot of conflict in their family or at work. 

Their grades or job performance might have plummeted. These are all some of the lifestyle changes caused by addiction. 

What to Do if You Recognize Addiction

If you recognize some of the symptoms of addiction in your loved one, then it might be time to consider getting them help.

It's important to remember that you can't change addictive behavior yourself. 

It's also important to remember that you need help too - especially if the person is someone that you're very close to like a parent, spouse, child, or another family member.


If someone you're very close to is struggling with addiction it is best that both of you seek treatment. 

Treatment can help the loved ones of an addict get them help in the least harmful way.

It can also provide support to those who feel abandoned by the addict.

Getting treatment for yourself and your loved one is the best step you can take once you recognize addiction.

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May 25th, 2024

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