Despite the media portrayal of addicts, not all of these individuals will be easy to spot. There are many substance abusers who are able to almost completely able to disguise the extent of their problems. They may be viewed as successful people by outsiders even though they are struggling to keep things together. It is only when other people are able to observe closely for the signs of addiction that they will see the telltale symptoms.
The word addiction tends to be overused in the modern world – so much that it has lost much of its original meaning. People will now use the term to refer to things they really like. Somebody who likes shopping might refer to themselves as a shopaholic but it is not realistically a problem in their life- this is not to say that such behaviors are always healthy. Addiction is usually defined as a physical or psychological dependence (usually both) on a psychoactive substance.
In recent years it has also become coming to include dependence on things that are not psychoactive such a video games and gambling. In this definition addiction is defined as the individual being enslaved to a habit. This means that the habit will be having an obvious negative impact on the life of the individual.
The stereotypical image of an addict is somebody who would be considered failure in life and usually lives in squalor. The reality is that addicts are not always so easy to spot. Some high functioning addicts are so good at hiding their problems that even their loved ones fail to appreciate the extent of the problem. It is even possible for the individual to be highly successful in their career and a respected member of the community yet still be struggling with substance abuse. It can actually take a bit of effort to spot the signs of addiction in many cases.
When people become addicted to alcohol or drugs they will usually exhibit certain symptoms. These individuals can be highly skilled at hiding their problems, but there will usually still be symptoms if people look for them. The most common signs of addiction include:
* Changes in appetite. This could lead to sudden weight lose or even weight gain.
* The individual appears to be ill most mornings. This may be because they are recovering from the night before.
* Regularly needing to take days of work or turning up late at work.
* Unexplained bloodshot eyes.
* The individual always seems to be eating mints. Many alcoholics use mints in an attempt to disguise the smell of alcohol on their breath.
* Dilated pupils can be a sign that the individual is inebriated.
* They have times when they are extremely talkative and other times when they are withdrawn.
* Financial problems. The individual is likely to be spending more money than they did in the past.
* Behaving in a dishonest way or telling lies. This type of behavior is usually an attempt to hide an addiction.
* Loss of interest in personal hygiene or grooming.
* Shakes in the morning.
* They sometimes exhibit from slurred speech.
* Inability to remember things. It is common for alcoholics and other addicts to have blackouts where they can’t remember a period of time and their actions during this time.
* Unusual smells on the body or clothing.
* Regular runny nose. This can be a sign that the individual has been ingesting drugs via the nasal cavity – it can also be a sign of inhalant abuse.
* Legal problems such as drink driving or getting into physical confrontations.
* Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed.
* They have lost interest in old friends and started spending increasing amount of time with a new set of friends.
* Mood swings. The individual may also overreact to even the slightest problem in their life.
* Symptoms of paranoia.
* Strange behavior – they may even appear to be having visual or auditory hallucinations.
* The individual no longer appears to have the same motivation that they once had.
* A lack of interest in going places unless there is going to be alcohol or drugs involved.
* They become anxious about being in a situation where there is not going to be alcohol or drugs available.
* It appears as if their personality has changed – usually for the worse.
* Periods of agitation.
If people are exhibiting any of these symptoms then it could be a sign that they have developed an addiction. It could also be a sign that they are dealing with some mental health issue or personal problem.
Addiction is said to involve both physical dependence on a substance. To say that an individual is psychologically dependent on alcohol or drugs means that they feel unable to cope without it. It means that the individual experiences cravings for the substance and these can be intense and hard to ignore. Physical dependence means that the individual has an increased tolerance. In other words, they need to take more of it to get the same effect. The other aspect of physical dependence is that the individual will experience withdrawal symptoms should they try to stop using the substance abruptly or if they significantly cut down their intake. Chronic alcoholics can experience withdrawals as part of their hangover symptoms in the morning.
Withdrawal symptoms are often the most obvious sign that the individual has developed a physical dependence on a substance. These symptoms can include:
* Tremors and body shakes.
* Chronic alcoholics and those who have abused benzodiazepine drugs may be at risk of developing a severe form of withdrawals known as delirium tremens. Those who are experience the DTs can have convulsions and in some cases may even die as a result.
* Nausea and vomiting
* Feelings of restlessness and agitation
* Loss of appetite
* Feelings of impending doom
* Depersonalization means that he individual may feel like they are watching themselves like an outsider looking in.
* Stomach upset
* Mood swings
* Feelings of agitation and restlessness
* Inability to concentrate or focus on things
* Memory problems
* Mental fog
* Restless leg syndrome can mean that the individual has to keep moving their legs in order to avoid discomfort.
* Changes to the sleeping pattern and insomnia. The individual may also find it hard to get out of bed in the morning.
* Symptoms of depression and possibly suicidal thoughts.
* High blood pressure.
* Changes to pulse rate
* Audio or visual hallucinations. For alcoholics these will often involve small animals or insects.
* Fever and sweating.
* Feelings of weakness.
* Muscle pains and general body aches
Most of these symptoms disappear once people have been sober a few weeks. There can be some other symptom (such as mental fog) that may last for months into recovery – this is referred to as post acute withdrawal syndrome.