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How to Recognize The Signs of Drug Addiction in Someone You Love [Updated June 6, 2019]
June 6, 2019
What are the signs of drug addiction or alcohol addiction?
If you suspect a loved one might be addicted to drugs or alcohol, it can feel devastating. You are probably struggling with a lot of emotions, like fear, resentment and helplessness. You may also have a lot of questions about how to recognize the signs of drug addiction or alcohol addiction. This primer will help you help you decide whether your loved one might need help recovering from a substance use disorder.
What Exactly is Addiction?
You’ve probably heard the terms “abuse,” “addiction” and “dependence” used interchangeably. But, these are not the same, and knowing the difference is crucial for determining whether your loved one might be addicted.
Abuse is: using alcohol, illegal drugs or prescription drugs in a way that causes problems with health, the law, finances, relationships, or work or school. Those who abuse drugs often take risks while under the influence, such as having unprotected sex or getting behind the wheel.
Binge drinking is the most common pattern of drug abuse in the U.S. and is characterized by drinking enough in two hours to bring your blood alcohol level to .08 percent.1 This typically occurs after four drinks for women and five for men.
Addiction is: compulsive drug or alcohol use despite negative consequences. Someone with an addiction will continue to use drugs or alcohol even though it’s causing serious problems in their life, and likely won’t be able to stop for long even if they want or try to.
Withdrawal symptoms occur when drugs or alcohol are withheld from the body. Dependence develops when the brain begins to function more “normally” when drugs or alcohol are present. When they’re withheld, brain function begins to rebound, and this causes symptoms that can be severe and even dangerous.
An important sign of a developing dependence is tolerance. Building a tolerance means that you need higher and higher doses of a substance to achieve the desired effects.
Recognize Addiction: Criteria for Diagnosing Substance Use Disorders
If the signs of drug addiction or alcohol addiction surface in a loved one, they may have a substance use disorder.
A substance use disorder is the umbrella term for substance abuse, addiction and dependence. Professionals characterize this disorder as mild, moderate or severe, depending on how many of the criteria a user meets.
As a result, If two to three criteria apply in the past year, it’s considered mild, while four to five is moderate and six to seven is severe.
These are the 11 diagnostic criteria:
- Taking a substance in larger amounts or for a longer period of time than intended.
- Wanting to cut down or stop using but being unable to.
- Spending a lot of time seeking out, using, and recovering from using.
- Experiencing intense cravings.
- Experiencing problems at work, home, or school as a result of drug or alcohol use.
- Continuing to use a substance despite the recurring social or interpersonal problems it contributes to.
- Losing interest in hobbies and activities once enjoyed.
- Taking risks while under the influence.
- Continuing to use a substance despite the onset or worsening of physical or mental health problems.
- Developing a tolerance wherein the user requires increasingly larger doses for the desired effects.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms after not using the substance.
In most cases, willpower and good intentions alone are not enough to send an addiction into remission for the long-term.2 Professional help is usually needed in order to address the highly complex issues that underlie addiction, which most often include past trauma, chronic stress and mood disorders like depression and anxiety. The best thing you can do right now if you recognize addiction in your loved one is to learn everything you can about this disease and how people recover.
The Treatment System
Before you explore treatment with a loved one, I recommended picking up a copy of my book. Inside the book, MAXIMUM STRENGTH, you will read personal stories. These chapters are from my own battles with addiction. Also, it details my journey of struggling to stay sober and how it affected my family.
In the book, you will find some much needed comfort, relatable anecdotes, and advice from a former addict, treatment counselor, and best-selling author. If you’d like to order, you can get MAXIMUM STRENGTH here.
6-6-19 Updates reflect addition of book and improved readability.