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How to Identify an Addiction in a Loved One

There’s nothing more heart-wrenching than suspecting a loved one is struggling with addiction. At first, it can be challenging to identify an addiction problem, especially if you’re not familiar with addiction signs. Besides, some people manage to become high-functioning addicts, and to the eyes of those around them, everything might seem fine. 

Fortunately, for concerned family members and friends, there are many ways to identify an addiction problem. Because if you’re able to recognize the symptoms of addiction, you’re more likely to be able to help a friend or family member struggling with this disease.

What is an Addiction?

To start, it’s essential to understand the meaning of addiction. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), addiction is a chronic disease that impacts the brain’s reward system. 

Overall signs of addiction include:

  • Lack of control or inability to stay away from a behavior or substance
  • Social withdrawal, including ignoring relationships
  • Ignoring risk factors like engaging in dangerous behavior despite consequences
  • Physical effects like withdrawal symptoms or dependence

What is a Substance Use Disorder?

Addiction by itself is not a medical condition listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). However, substance use disorder is. The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines addiction as compulsive drug-seeking behavior and the use of substances despite harmful consequences. Criteria for a substance use disorder diagnosis includes:

  • People take the substance in larger amounts than intended
  • Persistent desire or unsuccessful attempts to control the use of the substance
  • People spend a great deal of time to obtain, consume, and recover from using the substance
  • Intense cravings or desires to use the substance occur
  • Continued use of the substance impedes the fulfillment of responsibilities at work, school, or home
  • The use of the substance also contributes to relationship problems with friends, families, and loved ones
  • The use of the substance is recurrent in situations where it could be physically hazardous
  • People also develop a tolerance for the substance, which means they need more to get the same effects
  • People experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to cut the use of the substance 

Read more: Is Drug Addiction Disease Real? Or Is Addiction a Choice

Types of Addiction

Most people associate addiction with substance abuse, but behavioral addictions can be as dangerous. Addiction happens when someone is unable to abstain from a behavior or substance consistently. Engaging in these practices usually results in mental and physical health consequences. 

Overall, substance addiction is having a dependence on any or more of the following:

  • Nicotine or tobacco
  • Alcohol
  • Inhalants
  • Drugs (illicit or non-illicit)
  • Medication

Many studies suggest that behavioral addictions can be as severe as substance dependence. Still, both types can yield negative consequences. Some common behavioral addictions include:

  • Gambling
  • Working
  • Sex
  • Shopping
  • Video games
  • Social media
  • Internet 
  • Plastic surgery 
  • Food 
  • Adrenaline

Read more: Behavioral Addiction Treatment Options

How to Identify the Initial Signs of Addiction

In the early stages of addiction, people might not display what we associate with addiction. Don’t expect to see full-blown signs of addiction like track marks or drug paraphernalia during the first stages of addiction. However, you still want to be on the lookout for those initial signs since early intervention is critical for preventing a devastating addiction.

Some general early signs of addiction include:

  • Experimentation
  • Being particularly drawn to a substance or activity
  • Seeking situations where the activity or substance is present
  • Episodes of binging with little to no feelings of remorse after
  • Defensiveness when asked about substance use or activity

Changes in Behavior

At first, psychological and behavioral signs will be the most noticeable. However, most people don’t make the connection with addiction at first. These changes are infrequent, and not everyone displays them at once. Telltale changes in personality that could be due to addiction include:

  • A sudden lack of interest in previously important activities or hobbies
  • Neglecting relationships or reacting negatively to family and friends
  • Missing important obligations at school, work, or home
  • A sudden tendency to take risks
  • Ignoring the negative consequences of their actions
  • A distinct change in sleep patterns
  • Increased secrecy and lying about time spent on behavior or the amount of substance use
  • Increased alienation from friends and family
  • Sudden change in social relationships

Changes in Health

While at first, people might not display many telltale signs of addiction with physical symptoms, some might be more noticeable than others. You can identify an addiction when you pay close attention to someone’s physical health. Regardless of whether their addiction is a behavioral or substance one, their health will likely take a hit. Telltale physical signs of addiction include:

  • Bloodshot or glazed eyes
  • Constant illness
  • Unexplained injuries
  • Sudden change in weight (gained or lost)
  • Poor skin, hair, teeth, and nail health
  • Increased tolerance to certain substances
  • Persistent physical withdrawal signs like vomiting or trembling
  • Memory loss
  • Changes in speech like slurred words
  • Frequent runny nose
  • Chemical odor on breath or clothes
  • Changes in appetite and eating habits
  • Marks on skin
  • Extreme lethargy
  • Poor personal hygiene

Changes in Personality

In the early stages of addiction, personality or emotional signs are the easiest to recognize. The onset of these will make you feel that something is happening, mainly because these personality changes persist for a while. Overall emotional signs of addiction include:

  • Defensiveness
  • Inability to deal with stress
  • Offering excuses and justifications for their behavior
  • Minimization or admitting superficially to the problem without recognizing its seriousness
  • Blaming their behavior or someone else or an event

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Identifying an Addiction to Specific Drugs

In addition to the general signs of addiction, specific substances will cause particular symptoms. Understanding the signs of substance abuse of particular drugs can help you identify addiction in a friend, family member, or even a coworker. So, if you believe a loved one is abusing substances, look out for these signs.


While marijuana is becoming legalized in most states, 8 out 10 people who regularly use marijuana will develop an addiction. Someone with a cannabis addiction might also seem uncoordinated and forgetful all the time. They probably eat more than usual and have slower reaction times. Those who smoke marijuana often have bloodshot eyes, droopy eyelids, and have a mellow demeanor. 


When someone uses stimulants, they’re likely to exhibit behavior changes, quickly going from mellow to aggressive. They also have rapid or rambling speech, increased energy, and a fast breathing rate. Sometimes, stimulant abusers may become paranoid or hostile out of the blue.

Those who snort stimulants like cocaine will struggle with nasal congestion or appear to have allergies all the time. Most people abusing stimulants will also hide drug paraphernalia in their bedroom, office, or car. Look for items like pipes, dirty spoons, lighters, foil paper, and other drug use signs. 


Benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants that help treat conditions like anxiety and sleeping disorders. However, they’re highly addictive. Medications like Valium and Xanax can cause dependence, and people usually appear dizzy or depressed while under the influence. They also experience balance issues, confusion, and frequent users present involuntary eye movements. 


While it’s rare to struggle with hallucinogen addiction, it’s still possible. Someone using LSD, for example, will likely act impulsively and complain about hallucinations. Someone using PCP may be unable to feel pain and will probably try to prove it by engaging in risky behavior. Depending on the type of “trip” someone has while taking hallucinogens, they might appear drowsy and at peace or panicked and scared. 


Opioids are more than prescription painkillers like OxyContin. They also include illicit drugs like heroin. Signs of opioid use include slowed reaction times, memory issues, inability to concentrate, and sudden mood swings. Someone using opioids might also complain about constipation and other intestinal problems since opioids can slow the digestive system.

When someone goes without opioids, they’re likely to experience flu-like symptoms and severe anxiety. Someone with an opioid addiction will always need to visit a doctor, and they’re also expected to go “doctor shopping” to continue obtaining prescriptions. 

Party Drugs

Popular club drugs like ecstasy and ketamine might not be as addictive as other substances, but they could be even more dangerous. Signs of club drug use include poor coordination, dizziness, clenched teeth, and slurred speech. Someone who’s abusing these substances will likely say parties without them are boring or not worth it. 


While alcohol is mostly accepted in society, alcohol is one of the leading abused substances in the United States. At first, high-functioning alcoholics are likely to hide or conceal most signs of abuse. However, someone with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) will likely drink at odd hours or any occasion. They might experience withdrawal symptoms like nausea and anxiety in between binge drinking episodes. 

Additional signs of alcohol addiction include a lack of control over how much they drink and how long. They prefer to drink alone and continue to drink despite physical, personal, and psychological consequences.

Surprisingly, many individuals can conceal their addiction from their loved ones in the early stages. However, in the middle or later stages of addictions, the adverse effects will likely have long-term consequences. Someone with a severe addiction problem may also have difficulties assessing the potential outcomes of their habit. Some long-term consequences of addiction include:

  • High risk of infectious disease
  • Dropping out of school
  • Strained relationships with friends and family
  • Loss of reputation
  • Legal troubles
  • Eviction from home
  • Financial problems
  • Loss of jobs
  • Loss of parental rights 

These are some consequences of addiction that most people don’t recognize until it’s too late. Not to mention, the health and physical consequences of addiction can be devastating. Addiction can cause cancer, coma, overdose, and even death if people don’t seek treatment. 

Next Steps Towards Recovery

Early intervention if you identify addiction in a loved one is key. It’s vital to have quick access to treatment. If you or someone you know has an addiction, call 866-308-2090 for free and confidential treatment information. You can also seek support from your doctor, local treatment center, or support group.

Addiction affects every aspect of someone’s life. Effective treatments are comprehensive and personalized that vary from person to person. Most people also need detoxification, behavioral counseling, and long-term aftercare. Others might benefit from medication-assisted treatments. 

If you’re looking for ways to support a friend or family through their recovery process, try to:

  • Learn more about the substance or behavior dependency they’re struggling with and its treatment
  • Stay involved throughout treatment; consider offering to go to therapy or meetings with them
  • Provide a sober and trigger-free setting at home or around them
  • Speak up and express concern if they relapse

Also, no matter what, don’t try to change someone’s addiction on your own. First, someone with addiction must want to change for recovery efforts to be successful. Seek professional assistance to learn how you can provide support and how to cope with a loved one who’s struggling with addiction.

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