Though use of many drugs – particularly illegal ones – can be dangerous, not all people who use drugs are addicts. Addiction occurs when you become physically or psychologically dependent on a drug, making it much more difficult to quit. Think about drugs in terms of food: there are likely many foods, some of which are bad for you, that you like. If you had to stop eating those foods, you probably wouldn’t be miserable or obsessed with getting the food again.
The difference with drug abuse – as well as any other addiction – is that stopping is extraordinarily difficult, and you may actively resist it. The most significant clue that you have an addiction is that you continue using a drug even when it poses serious risks or has yielded negative consequences in your life. Recognizing other signs of addiction can help you get help early, in addition to helping addicts’ loved ones intervene on their behalf.
Emotional and Behavioral Clues
Virtually every addictive drug affects your emotions and behavior, and as the addiction grows, so too do the symptoms. Some common clues that you are an addict include:
- Feeling like you need to take the drug to feel “normal.”
- Experiencing extreme anxiety or depression when you’re not under the influence of drugs.
- Using drugs or alcohol to mute emotional pain.
- Relying on drugs or alcohol to self-medicate a mental illness.
- Becoming extremely defensive when people ask you about your addiction.
- Lying to others about your use of drugs or alcohol.
- Structuring your schedule and day around the use of drugs or alcohol.
- Losing interest in things you once enjoyed in favor of focusing on alcohol or drugs.
The ways addiction affects your behavior can lead to significant losses and changes in your quality life. Some common signals that addiction is undermining your quality of life include:
- Breaking the law to get alcohol or drugs.
- Experiencing drug or alcohol-related financial problems.
- Losing your job because of drugs or alcohol.
- Losing an important relationship because of your addiction.
- Hearing from loved ones that you need to get help.
- Harming loved ones – by stealing, lying, or simply ignoring them – to continue using drugs or alcohol.
Over time, drugs and alcohol can wreak havoc on your body. The specific side effects you encounter are partially dependent on the drugs you use, but some common physical indicators of addiction include:
- Cardiovascular problems.
- Muscle aches, pains, and weakness.
- Unexplained physical health problems, such as frequent vomiting or chronic headaches.
- Skin problems. These are especially common among stimulant users, who may scratch their skin in response to creepy-crawlie sensations.
- Changes in sleeping or eating habits.
- Unexplained weight loss or weight gain.
- Worsening of pre-existing physical conditions.
- Physical withdrawal symptoms, such as vomiting, itching, chills, or sweating, when you try to quit or when you go too long without using alcohol or drugs.