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Signs Of Addiction

When does social alcohol or drug use become an addiction? Social drinking and drug use is common, so how do you know when you or someone you know is addicted? Can you recognise the signs of addiction? It’s often harder than you think.

First, trust your instincts. If you’re worried, there’s probably a reason. Addiction is a disease and like other diseases, there are signs and symptoms you can look for that will help you identify addiction.

Increased consumption of drugs or alcohol is an obvious sign of addiction, especially if it is daily or even several times each day. When casual use turns into dependence, the user can feel they need the drug to function. Larger amounts of the drug are needed to achieve the same feeling.

As use increases, your loved one may be fixated on their next drink or hit. This inability to focus on anything else can lead to relationship problems, trouble at work or school, and changes to personality.

The financial impact of dependence can be significant. Many addicts find it difficult to keep a job. Your loved one might go into debt, ask for money, or even turn to stealing or other criminal behaviour to pay for drugs. They may practice unsafe behaviour such as unprotected sex or sharing needles.

Addiction also has physical effects. You may have noticed your loved one has lost or gained a lot of weight or lost interest in their appearance. They may feel unwell more than they used to –  headaches, nausea, aches and pains are common symptoms of addiction. Mood changes such as paranoia, depression and anxiety are also warning signs of addiction.

Signs of addiction: Drug use

  • Increasing drug or alcohol use
  • Denial about extent of drinking or drug use
  • A reliance or dependence on drugs or alcohol to function
  • Inability to stop using drugs or alcohol despite consequences

Signs of addiction: Physical changes

  • Sudden weight changes
  • Marks on the skin
  • Changes in sleeping habits, including insomnia or sleeping more
  • Headaches
  • Dilated pupils
  • Red or watery eyes
  • Trembling/shaking
  • Slurred speech
  • Poor physical condition
  • Nausea
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Pale, flushed or puffy face
  • Poor co-ordination

Signs of addiction: Changes in behaviour

  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Blackouts
  • Memory loss
  • Telling lies
  • Arguing
  • Stealing
  • Borrowing money
  • More secretive
  • Neglecting personal hygiene and presentation
  • Avoiding friends and family
  • Missing organised events or activities
  • Drinking or using drugs to relax or improve getting to sleep
  • Drinking alone
  • Drinking in the morning, or secretly

Addiction and mental health disorders commonly occur together, particularly depression and anxiety. Mental health conditions can increase the risk of addiction so signs of substance abuse should be carefully looked for. People suffering from mental heath issues may attempt to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.

Signs of addiction: Social changes

  • Inability to focus at work or school
  • Missing work or school
  • Relationship problems or social isolation
  • Money trouble

Signs of addiction: Drug paraphernalia

You may find objects that are commonly used for drug use. These can include:

  • Pipes – These can be made from various materials including glass, wood and plastic
  • Needles – These are used for intravenous drug use, for example injecting heroin
  • Cigarette papers – Used for smoking drugs
  • Bongs – Typically used for taking Marijuana
  • Miniture spoons – Often used in the process of making drugs injectable

I think they are addicted! What do I do now?

If you feel your loved one’s use of drugs or alcohol use has become an addiction, there are ways you can help, but recovery from addiction can only happen if the addict is willing to make changes in their life. With support, they can start to get their life back on track.

Broaching the topic of addiction is tricky. An addict who does not want to stop taking drugs or alcohol will likely deny there’s a problem. They may get angry with you or remove themselves from the situation.

You may be considering a family intervention, but it is important that you speak to a drug and alcohol addiction professional first as, to be successful, an intervention needs to be carefully planned and orchestrated.

We also recommend you also watch the Understanding Addiction video to learn what addiction is and how people using drugs get caught in a cycle of addiction.

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