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You see the stories on the news. You know drug addiction is becoming an epidemic.

Your neighbor was arrested for driving while under the influence. A friend’s son was caught with his mother’s prescription medication at school. You wonder if your loved one’s unusual behavior could be caused by an addiction. You try to tell yourself that the out-of-character behavior couldn’t be from a drug or alcohol problem. Yet you have a nagging feeling that something is not right.

Knowing the signs of drug or alcohol addiction will help you determine whether or not your loved one is an addict. Once that determination is made, your loved one can begin getting the help needed to become addiction free and start their journey on the road to recovery.

Defining Addiction

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction “is a primary, chronic disease of the brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.” This chronic brain disorder causes the addict to have a compulsive need for their drug of choice. They are unable to stop using the habit-forming substance even though they know it is harmful to continue using. Like many others who suffer from chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, addicts generally go through periods of remission and relapse.

Identifying an Addiction

Often addiction starts in social settings with experimental or recreational use of a drug. For those that become addicted, the frequency of use, cravings, and withdrawal symptoms increase. Addiction is complicated and complex. Sometimes identifying it can be difficult. Each person is different and some addicts may display many signs of addiction while others may only exhibit a few. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse general warning signs of addiction fall into three categories:

  • Behavioral
  • Physical
  • Emotional

Behavioral Warning Signs

Many people suffering from an addiction try hard to hide their problem from their loved ones. Some may even be in denial that they actually have an addiction. You might notice secretive or suspicious behaviors such as hiding the computer screen, not explaining phone calls, or opening a secret bank account. There could be an unexplainable increase in spending or the need to borrow money. They may seem withdrawn, unreliable, or evasive. Stealing or lying could begin or increase.

Additional warning signs include:

  • Risk taking behaviors such as driving, working or going to school while using
  • Not caring about appearance, personal hygiene, relationships, work, or school
  • Separation from family and friends while spending time with new friends
  • Loss of interest in things that were enjoyable such as favorite pastimes, social activities, and hobbies
  • Loss of motivation
  • Loss of or diminished sex drive

Your loved one might have several physicians or constantly change doctors to get multiple prescriptions. They may take more than the prescribed amount of medication or fill prescriptions at many different pharmacies to get the drugs their body needs.

Physical Warning Signs

Some of the most outwardly noticeable signs of drug abuse are physical. If your loved one has an addiction, their eyes may appear red or glassy, their pupils could appear enlarged or smaller than usual, or they might exhibit a blank stare. Shaking, trembling hands, or palms that are cold and sweaty are also indications of a substance abuse addiction.

Other physical signs include:

  • Frequent nosebleeds, hacking cough, excessive runny nose or sniffling
  • Appearing spaced out
  • Sudden gain or loss of weight
  • Excessive increase or decrease of energy
  • Unusual or strange breath or body odors
  • Needle marks on the bottom of the feet, lower arms or legs

You might see marks or bruises that are unexplainable, facial sores, or sores on their legs or arms. You might notice a change in their sleep pattern or extreme lethargy. There could also be problems with speech or coordination. Your loved one may slur their words, be incoherent, or have repetitive speech patterns. They may stagger or walk very slowly. Missteps or falls could become more frequent.

Emotional Warning Signs

You might see changes in your loved one’s attitude or personality that are confusing and unexplainable. They may become quickly irritated or have sudden anger outbursts. Mood swings, memory loss, or blackouts could be evident.

Additional emotional signs include:

  • Aggressiveness
  • Depression
  • Fearfulness, anxiousness or paranoia
  • Excessive talkativeness or giddiness
  • Laughing at nothing
  • Periods of unusual hyperactivity

A person suffering with an addiction may not be able to focus. They can be unpredictable or experience periods of confusion.

The Next Step

If you determine there is an addiction problem, talk to your loved one in a non-judgmental, caring way. By opening the lines of communication you are taking the first step toward helping your family member recover from their addiction. Always keep in mind that addiction is a disease and some addicts will lie to be able to satisfy their addiction. Your loved one may deny that an addiction exists and become very defensive. Be prepared if this happens. Know the treatment facilities that specialize in treating the specific addiction. By having this information ready, you show that you are supportive and want to help your loved one become sober and live a healthy, happy life.

The Canyon Vista Recovery Center provides men and women the treatment they need to overcome their drug or alcohol addiction. A caring and professional team will work on all aspects of recovery through the use of traditional therapies, nutritional guidance, educational groups, exercise and advanced holistic practices. Your loved one will receive a full range of care in a structured, therapeutic environment as their sense of well-being is renewed.

Learn more about programs offered at Canyon Vista Recovery Center
Contact us at
(888) 979-1840