Symptoms of Addiction

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All addictions, whether to substances or to behaviors, involve physical or psychological processes. Each person’s experience of addiction is slightly different, but there are generally some common symptoms to watch out for, including behavior changes like lying, extreme changes in mood, and changing social groups, as well as physical symptoms like changes in weight, sleep, and energy levels.

This article discusses some of the signs and symptoms of addiction. It also explores some of the different types of addiction.

Signs & Symptoms of Addiction

There are a number of different signs and symptoms of addiction. Symptoms are experienced by the person with the addiction, whereas signs are observed by other people.

You can never know what someone else is experiencing unless they tell you, so if you are concerned that someone else may have an addiction, look for signs as well as symptoms.

You might see some of these signs and symptoms but not others in someone who is experiencing addiction. They can still be addicted even if they do not have all of these.

Common signs of addiction include:

  • Changes in social groups, new and unusual friends, odd phone conversations
  • Drug paraphernalia such as unusual pipes, cigarette papers, small weighing scales, etc.
  • Financial problems
  • Lying
  • Repeated unexplained outings, often with a sense of urgency
  • Secretiveness
  • Stealing
  • Stashes of drugs, often in small plastic, paper, or foil packages

Common symptoms of addiction include:

  • Activities centering on the addiction in a way that negatively affects relationships, school, and work
  • A preoccupation with the addiction and spending a lot of time on planning, engaging in, and recovering from the addictive behavior
  • Changes in energy, such as being unexpectedly and extremely tired or energetic
  • Difficulty cutting down or controlling the addictive behavior
  • Extreme mood changes
  • Physical changes including increased illness and changes in weight
  • Sleeping a lot more or less than usual, or at different times of the day or night
  • Tolerance, which involves the need to engage in the addictive behavior more and more to get the desired effect
  • Withdrawal, when the person does not take the substance or engage in the activity, and they experience unpleasant symptoms

Most of the signs of addiction can have other explanations. People can have changes in their mood, behavior, and energy levels for other reasons, including health-related ones.

Be cautious about jumping to conclusions. It is difficult to discern if someone may have an addiction, even if some obvious signs are observed. If you discover drugs or drug paraphernalia, talk with a healthcare provider or an addiction counselor or specialist for guidance on appropriate ways to handle this difficult situation.

Symptoms of Specific Addictions

While there are signs and symptoms of a general nature, certain substances and behaviors can come with their own set of symptoms.

  • Behaviors (gambling, exercise, sex, shopping): Behavioral addictions are characterized by compulsive behaviors that persist despite negative consequences.
  • Depressants (alcohol, barbiturates, benzodiazepines): These medications slow the activity of the central nervous system and can lead to slowed heartbeat and respiration, confusion, coma, and death.
  • Opioids (painkillers, heroin, morphine): These substances decrease sensitivity to pain and produce strong cravings for opioids.
  • Stimulants (caffeine, nicotine, amphetamines, methamphetamine, cocaine): These substances lead to increased energy levels.

If you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Complications & Comorbidities

Addictions have a wide range of serious complications, many of which can be life-limiting and potentially dangerous. Some of these complications include:

  • Accidents
  • Family problems
  • Financial problems
  • Health problems
  • Legal issues
  • Relationship problems
  • School difficulties
  • Suicide
  • Work problems

Different substances can have their own set of health risks and potential complications. Illegal substances pose health dangers in addition to potential legal issues. Some substances also pose a risk for overdose, brain damage, and long-term health consequences.

The risk of addiction may be higher among certain groups of people. There are certain factors that can increase a person's risk of experiencing addiction.

Mental Health Conditions

Addiction often occurs alongside other mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Estimates suggest that approximately half of all people who have a mental disorder will also have a substance use disorder at some point during their life.

Adolescence

Some of the signs of addiction are similar to normal teenage behavior, but teenagers are one of the groups most vulnerable to addiction. If you are a parent who is worried that your child might be using substances, seek professional assistance to determine how to best manage this issue. A healthcare provider can refer you to resources.

Life Experiences

People who have or have had certain difficult life experiences are also more likely to be affected by addiction. These include poverty, homelessness, unemployment, and early exposure to drugs and alcohol. People who have experienced trauma or abuse also have a higher risk of developing an addiction.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is addiction a disease?

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction as a chronic disease. According to ASAM, it involves a complex interaction between genetics, the environment, brain circuits, and life experiences. While serious, addiction is also treatable.

The current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines addictions to alcohol and drugs as psychiatric disorders, which are patterns of symptoms that result from substance use. These patterns persist despite negative consequences.

The DSM recognizes substance use disorder caused by ten classes of drugs, including alcohol, cannabis, hallucinogens, sedatives, and stimulants. 

What causes addiction?

Addiction is caused by a number of different factors. Anyone can develop an addiction. However, there are certain influences that may elevate a person's risk. Factors that contribute to addiction include genetics, family history, drug use, and mental health disorders. Environmental factors such as poverty, trauma, abuse, stress, and early substance use can also increase the risk of developing an addiction.

How do you overcome an addiction?

There are many effective treatment options that can help people break free of addiction. Healthcare providers can prescribe medications that can help reduce cravings for certain substances and minimize the uncomfortable effects of withdrawal.

Psychotherapy, rehabilitation centers, 12-step programs, and support groups can also help aid in recovery from addiction. Online options are also available, including websites and apps designed to help people overcome addiction.

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9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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