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Addiction is sometimes hard to recognize. If you need help determining whether you or a loved one has an addiction or a dependency, you’re not alone. Thankfully, there are ways to recognize drug and alcohol abuse, even in the most elusive addicts.

How to recognize addiction

The Stereotype of Drug Abuse

drug-addiction-stereotypeWhen most people think of drug addicts, they imagine people standing on street corners, needles in hand, begging for money or selling themselves to get a hit. They’re often dirty, disheveled, and haggard in appearance. They may have sores on their face and mouth, and their eyes are often red, watery, and vacant. While this may be true for the most severe of addicts, you might be surprised to know that you probably come in contact with drug abusers all the time without realizing it. The insurance agent who walks you through a new policy may be doing cocaine when he’s on break. The attorney who defends you may be smoking marijuana after hours.

Drug addiction doesn’t know race, gender, or socioeconomic status. It effects successful professionals as well as the poverty stricken. The fact is, you can’t always recognize a drug addict by looking at him. You may not even be able to recognize addiction in yourself. Addiction is something that may happen quickly, but it can also happen gradually over time. This makes recognizing addiction in someone you love, or yourself, that much harder to grasp.

The Stigma of Drug Abuse and Denial

There is also a stigma surrounding drug abuse. Many people still falsely believe that drug addicts are selfish, weak-willed, and lazy. Some do not understand the nature of addiction, so they believe that an addict can stop just by wanting to. Loved ones may believe that if the addict loved them, he would quit using his drug of choice. But addiction doesn’t work that way. Anyone can become addicted, and it has nothing to do with will or work ethic.

Because of the stigma surrounding addiction, however, any addicts find themselves in denial of how serious their dependencies actually are.
A drinker may convince himself that he only drinks socially, or to relax on weekends. When an extra beer or glass of wine creeps in during the week, he may tell himself that it was a stressful day or that it’s a one-time thing. He may legitimately not notice when things start getting out of hand until he’s suffering from a full-blown addiction and is having trouble coping at work or having issues with loved ones.

Likewise, a loved one may not want to face the fact that his or her friend or family member has a drug or alcohol problem. He may ignore evidence when it first begins to appear, and even make excuses for the person to avoid facing the issue. Only when more severe issues come into play is the addiction acknowledged. Other times, the addict is good at hiding the evidence, and loved ones may not notice the more subtle clues pointing toward a substance dependency.

Signs that Your Loved One is an Addict

Although in some cases it may be hard to tell whether your loved one is actually an addict, especially if he or she suffers from a condition with symptoms that mimic addiction, it is always good to be on guard. If your loved one is suffering from substance abuse, he may exhibit some or all of the following symptoms or behaviors:

Secretive behavior, withdrawal, or locking doors
Nausea and vomiting
Spending money rapidly or asking to borrow money frequently
Changes in behavior
Loss of interest in activities once loved
Poor grades or poor performance at work
Loss of social life or ignoring friends and family
Mood swings or depression

Anger or aggressiveness, even if unprovoked
Lack of coordination of unexplained injuries
Red, glassy, or watery eyes
Odors on body or clothing, especially the smell of smoke
Sores on the face, arms or mouth
Nose bleeds
Sleeping more than usual or lack of a need for sleep
These symptoms can also be signs of a mental disorder or physical illness. Either way, they should be checked by a licensed physician to rule out other possibilities, or a drug test can be performed to confirm that drugs are being used. If the person is using a prescription drug, he or she may also switch doctors frequently and request being seen by a doctor he has never seen before.

If you are wondering if you have an addiction yourself, ask yourself the following questions:

Do you have to use the drug every day?
Do you become anxious, depression, or angry if you can’t use the drug?
Have you tried to quit using without success?
Is the drug use negatively affecting your life, including work and social relationships?
Do you feel sick, depressed, or anxious if you can’t have the drug?
Do you require more of the drug now than you did in the beginning to achieve the same results?
Are your personal relationships suffering?
Do you spend most of your time acquiring, using, or recovering from the drug?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, there is a good chance you are suffering from a drug dependency or addiction. Without proper treatment, you may suffer from overdose or legal troubles as a result of your drug use.
Getting Proper Treatment

journey-to-recoveryOnce a drug problem is recognized, the next step is seeking help and guidance. While there are a lot of treatment options available promising amazing results, the most effective way to handle a drug problem is through an inpatient rehabilitation program. Checking into a rehabilitation clinic ensures you or your loved one will receive medical care and supervision during detoxification, counseling, support, peer relationships, and additional therapies to help combat drug abuse and addiction. This combined with outpatient counseling afterward will help you or your loved one stay clean and sober over the long haul. There is hope.

Contact: AddictionResource for help! (click on picure)

Page Sources
Addiction Resources Website
Frances, R. J., & Miller, S.I. (1998) Clinical Textbook of Addictive Disorders, Second Edition. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2013). Preventing and recognizing prescription drug abuse. Retrieved on January 15, 2015, from:

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