Treatment | About Addiction

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

Are you addicted to substances? Is your substance use harmful to you or others?


21 million Americans suffering from untreated addiction.

There is a difference between substance use, substance use that is harmful, and a substance use disorder. Addiction can develop over time or can appear after the first time someone uses. It is often difficult to tell if substance use is a problem, especially in the earlier stages of use. If you are questioning your use – take our self-quiz and see where your substance use lands on the spectrum.

If substance use has negative consequences for you, you may be experiencing an addiction. Many people have an unhealthy relationship to substances, but may not necessarily meet the diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder. Identifying the problem is the first, important step toward getting healthy again.

“ Many of the red flags in substance use appear in your relationship with the people closest to you

How do you know you have a substance use problem?

Not everyone has the same issues with substance use. Some people experience physical dependence on the substance and may go through withdrawal or “the shakes” if they don’t use. Other people have a mental or psychological dependence on the substance, relying on it to make them feel comfortable in social situations. Some people “self-medicate” with substances and use in order to cope with other mental health issues, like depression or anxiety.

Some of the major signs of dependence on substances include:

  • Blacking out or experiencing memory loss
  • Arguing or fighting with family members or friends
  • Experiencing irritability, depression, or mood swings
  • Using substances to feel “normal” or to change the mood and relax or cheer up
  • Difficulty sleeping or dealing with problems without using
  • Experiencing headache, panic attacks, insomnia, nausea, diarrhea, sweating, tremors and shaking, nightmares, hallucinations, or other unpleasant withdrawal symptoms
  • Changing appearance, including flushed skin, discolored eyes, and broken capillaries
  • Using alone, first thing in the morning, or in inappropriate or risky situations
  • Keeping substance use secret or lying about how much or frequently you use

How are my Family & Friends Impacted?

Many of the red flags in substance use appear in your relationship with the people closest to you. Having the same fight over and over again, feeling isolated from the people you love, or feeling like you can’t reach out for help are all important clues that substance use has become a problem.

Watch for these changes in your relationship with yourself, your loved ones, your family, your friends, and your coworkers:

  • Loss of Control: If you find yourself using more that you meant to, using for longer periods of time than you intended to, or using when you didn’t want to, that’s a sign that you’re losing control over your substance use. If you promised yourself or a loved one or friend that you “wouldn’t use this time” or that you “wouldn’t overdo it,” but weren’t able to keep your promise, that’s a red flag. Unhealthy substance use undermines your ability to trust yourself and for others to trust you.
  • Neglecting Other Activities: Before you started using, how did you spend your time? Hanging out with friends and family, exercising, studying, and other hobbies and interests may have been replaced by substances. If you have lost interest in activities where your substance of choice isn’t welcome, and prefer to attend events where you can use without feeling judged, that’s a sign that your substance use is affecting you.
  • Risk Taking: How far are you willing to get your next drink or drug? Have you ever done something unsafe, humiliating, or illegal in order to get more substances? Substances can cause people to take serious risks or put themselves in bad situations. If you have put substances ahead of your personal safety or the safety of others, substances might be calling the shots in your life.
  • Relationship Issues: The people closest to you often see the effects of substance use before anyone else. If your friends, loved ones, or family members criticize your behavior or your substance use, they may see a problem that you don’t. People struggling with substance use act out against those closest to them. It’s normal to feel angry at someone you care about for suggesting that you might have a problem with substances. Comments like “you’ve changed” or “I don’t like it when you drink” or “you’re high all the time” are a strong indicator that you’ve changed in a way that’s unhealthy.

“ Not everyone has the same issues with substance use.

Is my substance use a choice, a lifestyle, or a problem?

Continuing to use substances even though you’re experiencing negative consequences is a sign that your substance use is no longer casual. For many people with substance use disorder, the substance “calls the shots.” Using isn’t a conscious decision, although some people may say to themselves that they could stop if they really wanted to.

Substance use disorder is not a choice. Just as a person with depression can’t stop emotions of sadness with their own willpower, a person with a substance use disorder is unlikely to stop without getting help or making a significant change.

Some of the signs that you need to seek help or support for substance use are:

  • Secrecy: If you’re going out of your way to hide the amount of drugs or alcohol you used, or lying about what you do when you’re using, you are putting yourself at serious risk. Mysterious “accidents” that happen when you’re in a blackout are common as well. Waking up in strange places or with unexplained injuries is another sign that your substance use is harmful to you.
  • Changing Appearance: If your substance use is interfering with your physical health, it’s time to get help. You or the people close to you may notice major changes or deterioration in your personal hygiene or physical appearance. Refusing to shower, brush your teeth, get a haircut, or wear clean clothes are all signs that your substance use is interfering with basic self care.
  • Family History: A family history of addiction can dramatically increase your predisposition to substance use disorder. Do you have a parent, aunt, uncle, or grandparent who struggled with alcohol or other drugs? You may want to talk to a doctor or counselor about your substance use and your genetic history.
  • Tolerance: Over time, a person’s body adapts to a substance. If your substance use has progressed, one drink or drug won’t give you the same effect. You may find that you’re using more, for longer periods, in order to have the same sensation. If you plan how much of your substance of choice you need to buy; take a short break from substances so that the sensation will be stronger when you start using again; or worry that there “won’t be enough,” you have probably developed a tolerance.

Although there are many negative consequences of using, there are many benefits to seeking support. People often find that the physical, social, interpersonal, and psychological problems that came along with their substance use can be resolved once they begin to manage their problem effectively. If you think you might have an issue with substances take our test here, look for help here, or learn more about recovery here. 

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