Many people begin to use drugs or alcohol as a response to peer influences, out of curiosity, or in a misguided attempt to deal with everyday stress or a history of trauma. Self-medication is often listed by those suffering from addiction as a major motivation for ongoing use.
Others develop addictive behaviors related to prescription medications that have a potential for abuse, such as opioids and benzodiazepines. Also, a small percentage of those who have used drugs for legitimate medical purposes may go on to misuse them for their pleasurable effects or to bury negative feelings and memories and cope with stress.
Fortunately, not everyone who uses drugs or alcohol will develop a substance use disorder. Unfortunately, there are no certain means to predict if any one person’s substance use patterns will evolve into a dependency. There are certain factors, however, that have been identified that may increase a person’s predisposition to addiction.
Signs of Addiction: Risk Factors
Researchers have uncovered several specific risk factors that can make a person more prone to developing a substance use disorder. Of note, the presence of one or more of these factors does not conclusively result in the development of an addiction, but their presence does increase the probability that it may occur.
Among the most common risk factors that may indicate a higher risk of addiction include the following:
- Having a close relative(s) diagnosed with a substance use disorder, particularly if they are a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling
- Being diagnosed with a psychiatric condition such as anxiety, major depression, or a personality disorder (risk of addiction may increase significantly if he or she suffers from any other form of mental illness)
- A history of childhood trauma, including poverty, neglect, and sexual or physical abuse
- Early age – the earlier a person begins using drugs or alcohol, the higher the potential of developing an addiction
- A history of childhood aggressiveness or having poor social skills
- History of inadequate parental supervision as a child
- General availability of drugs and alcohol
- The type of drug used and the method of administration (e.g., a person who injects heroin is much more likely to become addicted versus a person who smokes marijuana)
Substance use disorders are defined by a person’s patterns of drug and alcohol use, the effects this use produces, and an inability to control that use despite experiencing a number of adverse effects as a result.
Some of the most common physical signs of addiction include:
- Changes in one’s behavior, such as suddenly becoming unreliable, becoming less involved with or isolating oneself from friends or family, and failure to fulfill important personal obligations
- Physical changes, such as noticeable weight loss or gain, skin sores, dental problems, nosebleeds, or an overall unkempt appearance
- Neglect of appearance or personal hygiene
- Red, bloodshot, or glassy eyes and/or chronic congestion
- Basic lifestyle patterns that are negatively altered, such as sleeping and eating
- Sudden but recurrent complaints of feeling ill or experiencing flu-like symptoms
- Requiring more of a substance to experience the same effect that was once achieved at lower doses (tolerance)
- Experiencing feelings of depression, anxiety, or intense cravings that manifest after attempting to quit using a substance, followed by relapse
Emotional and Social Effects
Substance use disorders reflect a combination of both physical and psychological issues that are associated with the abuse of drugs or alcohol.
Some of the psychological and emotional signs related to substance use disorders include:
- Mood swings including depression, irritability, and aggression
- Intense cravings for the drug of choice
- Resorting to substance use as a coping mechanism for stress or unpleasant thoughts and feelings
- Continuing to think that one’s substance use is “normal” or not problematic despite incurring a number of negative consequences, such as financial or legal issues, strained relationships, poor academic performance, or loss of employment
- Becoming defensive and agitated when another confronts a person about his or her substance abuse
- Exhibiting alternating episodes of uncharacteristic hyperactivity and overexcitement or irritability and depression
- Experiencing periods of lethargy and having a lack of motivation
- Having unexplainable periods of anxiousness, fear, or paranoia
Other Red Flags
There are several obvious warning signs that may indicate a loved one has a substance use disorder. While only a licensed and trained mental health professional can formally diagnose a substance use disorder, concerned family members or friends can refer to these signs and encourage their loved one to undergo a screening/evaluation and enter formal treatment if needed.
In addition to the aforementioned physical and emotional signs, other red flags that loved ones can look for include the following:
- Apparent sudden and radical changes in mood or personality in combination with known drugs or alcohol consumption
- Uncharacteristic deception or secretiveness
- Association with new and possibly sketchy friends who appear to engage in heavy substance abuse
- Frequent instances of significant problems with coworkers and peers that didn’t typically occur before
Formal diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder include the following:
- Continuing to use a substance despite experiencing significant detrimental effects in work, relationships, health, education, or other areas of life
- Frequently using more of the drug or for a longer period than was originally intended
- Spending significant amounts of time obtaining drugs or alcohol and recovering from substance use
- Experiencing frequent cravings for the drug of choice
- Failing to address important obligations as a result of substance use
- Continuing to use a substance in circumstances where it may be hazardous, such as driving while intoxicated, using the substance at work, and combining it with alcohol or other drugs
- Being unable to cut back or discontinue using a substance despite expressing a desire to do so
- Developing a tolerance and encountering withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of use
Among the most persistent myths surrounding addiction is that a person must, in essence, hit “rock bottom” before seeking help and entering a recovery program. Truthfully, however, the only thing required to begin a recovery program is the motivation and willingness to take the first step.
Despite what others might say, substance use disorders are most often very treatable conditions. Many people who receive the appropriate treatment go on to experience clean, sober, and productive lives.
Addiction treatment approaches vary depending on the individual’s unique profile and the type of substance(s) used. Effective professional treatment, however, should typically consist of the following:
- A thorough physical and psychological evaluation to identify all problem areas, including mental health conditions
- Initial withdrawal management (detox) that can be conducted on an inpatient or outpatient basis
- Targeted addiction therapy to help identify the specific factors that drive substance abuse
- Facilitation in the development of coping skills and relapse prevention skills
- Diagnosis of and treatment for other comorbid psychological or physical conditions simultaneously with substance use disorder treatment
- Administration of medications, if appropriate, to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms, or manage the symptoms of mental illness
- Strong social support from family members via family therapy, friends, and peers who are also recovery
- Thoughtful and informed planning for a long-term aftercare program that is conducive to a lifestyle consistent with recovery
Harmony Recovery is dedicated to helping all clients we serve by providing them with the education, tools, and support they need to achieve abstinence and enjoy long-lasting sobriety and wellness! Contact us today to discuss treatment options and discover how we can help you begin your journey to recovery!