Many individuals begin to use substances out of curiosity, due to peer pressure, or as a misguided attempt to cope with everyday stress or a history of mental illness or trauma. Self-medication is often mentioned by those struggling with addiction as a significant motivation for continuing use.
Other people develop addictive behaviors related to prescription drugs that have a potential for abuse, such as opioids and benzodiazepines. Also, a small percentage of patients who have used drugs for legitimate medical reasons may become addicted to them, and go on to misuse them for their euphoric effects or to bury negative feelings and memories and deal with stress.
Fortunately, not every person who uses drugs or alcohol will develop an addiction. Unfortunately, there are no specific means to predict if any one individual’s substance use patterns will evolve into severe dependency and drug-seeking behaviors. There are many factors, however, that have been identified that may increase a user’s vulnerability to addiction.
Signs of Addiction – Risk Factors
Studies have uncovered a number of specific risk factors that may make a person more vulnerable to developing a substance abuse disorder. Notably, however, the presence of one or more of these factors will not conclusively lead to the development of addiction but may increase the likelihood that it will occur.
Among the most common factors that may indicate a heightened risk of addiction include the following:
- Having one or more close relatives diagnosed with a substance use disorder (SUD), especially if they are a first-degree relative (e.g., sibling or parent)
- Being diagnosed with psychiatric illness such as anxiety, depression, other mood disorders, PTSD, or a personality disorder
- Traumatic childhood experiences, including poverty, neglect, and sexual, emotional, or physical abuse
- Early age—the sooner an individual begins using addictive substances, the higher the potential that he or she will develop an addiction
- A history of childhood aggressiveness, conduct disorder, or exhibiting inadequate social skills
- History of poor parental supervision as a youth
- General availability of both legal and illegal substances
- The type of drug used and the route of administration (e.g., a user who injects heroin is significantly more likely to become addicted versus a person who smokes marijuana)
Physical and Behavioral Effects
Substance use disorders are associated with a person’s patterns of alcohol and/or drug use, the effects this use produces, and a general inability to control it despite incurring adverse effects.
Among the most common physical signs of addiction include the following:
- Changes in a person’s behavior, such as suddenly becoming unreliable or unpredictable, isolating oneself from friends or family, and failing to fulfill critical personal responsibilities
- Physical changes, such as significant weight loss or gain for seemingly no reason, skin sores, dental problems and decay, nosebleeds, or an overall disheveled appearance
- Neglect of appearance and personal hygiene
- Red, bloodshot, or glassy eyes
- Chronic congestion
- Basic lifestyle patterns that are adversely altered, such as eating, sleeping, and practicing personal care
- Abrupt but recurrent complaints of feeling ill or suffering from flu-like symptoms
- Requiring ever-increasing amounts of a substance to achieve the same effect that was once experienced at lower doses (e.g., tolerance)
- Experiencing uncharacteristic feelings of depression, anxiety, or intense cravings that develop after attempting to stop using a substance, followed by relapse (failing to quit despite multiple attempts)
Emotional and Social Effects
Substance use disorders can develop following a combination of physical and psycho-emotional issues associated with the abuse of substances.
Some of the psycho-emotional signs related to substance use disorders include the following:
- Mood swings including anxiety, depression, irritability, and aggression
- Intense cravings for the drug of choice
- Resorting to substance use as a coping device for stress or unpleasant thoughts and feelings
- Insisting on believing that one’s substance use is “normal” or not problematic despite experiencing a number of adverse consequences, such as legal or financial, strained relationships, poor academic performance, school or job absenteeism, or loss of employment
- Becoming defensive and irritated when a loved one confront the person about his or her drug or alcohol abuse
- Exhibiting cycling episodes of uncharacteristic hyperactivity and overexcitement, irritability and depression
- Experiencing periods of fatigue and displaying a loss of motivation
- Having unexplained periods of anxiousness, fear, or paranoia
Additional Red Flags
Several clear warning signs may indicate a loved one has a SUD. Only a licensed and highly-trained medical or mental health professional can formally diagnose a SUD. However, concerned family members or friends who witness these signs can encourage a loved one to undergo a drug screening/evaluation and enter professional treatment if needed.
In addition to the above mentioned physical and psycho-emotional signs, other red flags that friends and family can keep an eye out for include the following:
- Abrupt and radical changes in personality or mood in conjunction with known drug or alcohol use
- Uncharacteristic deception or secretiveness
- Hanging out with a new and possibly sketchy social circle who appear to engage in heavy substance abuse
- Frequent instances of worrisome problems with coworkers and peers that didn’t occur before
Formal diagnostic criteria as outlined by the DSM-V for a SUD include the following:
- Continuing to use a substance despite incurring significant detrimental effects in healthy, work, relationships, education, or other areas of life
- Regularly using more of the substance or for a longer period than he or she originally intended
- Spending a substantial amount of time obtaining drugs or alcohol and recovering from their use
- Experiencing frequent and intense cravings for the drug of choice
- Neglecting to address essential obligations as a direct result of substance use
- Continuing to use a substance in situations where it may be dangerous, such as driving under the influence, using the substance at work, and combining it with alcohol or other drugs
- Being unable to quit using a substance despite expressing a desire to do so on multiple occasions
- Developing a tolerance and experiencing withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation of use
Among the most common myths surrounding addiction is that an individual should hit “rock bottom” before seeking professional help and entering a rehab program. Truthfully, however, the only thing needed to begin addiction treatment is the motivation to take the first step.
Despite what others say, SUDs are most often very treatable conditions. Many individuals who receive the appropriate treatment go on to enjoy healthy, sober, and productive lives.
Addiction treatment approaches vary depending on the person’s unique characteristics and the type of substance(s) used. Effective professional treatment, however, will usually include the following:
- A thorough physiological and psychological evaluation to identify all problem areas, including co-occurring mental and physical health conditions
- Withdrawal management (detox) that can be performed on an inpatient or outpatient basis
- Focused addiction therapy to help identify the specific factors that have driven one to use substances
- Facilitation in the development of coping and relapse prevention skills
- Treatment for other comorbid psychological or physical issues in conjunction with the SUD
- If appropriate, medications can be administered to reduce withdrawal symptoms or manage the symptoms of mental illness, pain conditions, or other health problems
- Strong social support from others via family therapy, friends, and peers who are also in recovery
- Thoughtful and informed planning for a long-term aftercare regimen that is conducive to a lifestyle in recovery
Just Believe Recovery is a specialized treatment center dedicated to helping the individuals we serve by providing them with the tools, education, and support they need to achieve abstinence, avoid relapse, and experience long-lasting sobriety and wellness!
Contact us as soon as possible to discuss treatment options and find out how we can help you begin your journey to recovery!