7 Warning Signs of Addiction

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Addiction is a disease. Like other diseases, it has signs and symptoms. These can be warning signs that you're abusing drugs or alcohol. Or, they might be warning signs that a loved one is abusing drugs or alcohol. If you see these red flags in yourself or someone else, it's time to get help. Addiction can be treated. Left untreated, addictions can affect your physical and emotional health. The consequences can be serious, even deadly. Watch for these seven key warning signs of addiction so you can take action early to get the help you or someone else may need.

1. Loss of Control

You may have a problem with addiction if your drug or alcohol use is out of control. Are you using more than you should? Do you keep needing more, craving more, when not using? Are your relationships suffering at home, work or school? Continuing to use drugs or alcohol despite bad consequences is a big warning. You may need immediate treatment to safely get off drugs or alcohol, and long-term management to stay off them.

2. Relationship Problems

Addiction often causes problems with other people at home, work or school. You may experience these problems yourself. Or, you may see a friend or loved one having them. One warning sign is having frequent fights at home. Another is getting complaints from work or school. A person with addiction may lose interest in friends and family. You may feel that a friend or family member is isolating and becoming distant from you.

3. Changes in Behavior

You may notice you need drugs or alcohol to sleep or to relax. You may feel anxious and irritable. If the person with an addiction is a friend or loved one, you may notice frequent mood swings. The person may be happy and energetic one day and depressed and moody another day. They may become secretive and angry if you question their behavior. They may lose interest in hobbies and activities they once enjoyed.

4. Physical Symptoms

Addiction goes hand in hand with symptoms of anxiety or depression. Symptoms may get worse when you stop using drugs or alcohol for a while. Your body will start to crave the substance. This is withdrawal. Withdrawal from alcohol can cause anxiety, irritability, insomnia, tremors and seizure. Withdrawal from drugs can cause flu-like symptoms that include chills, aches, nausea and vomiting.

5. Physical Appearance

Changes in the way someone looks can be a warning sign of addiction. These changes may include weight loss, poor hygiene, pinpoint pupils, bloodshot eyes, trembling hands, bruises, sweating or flu-like symptoms. Watch for coughs or frequent nose bleeds. Obvious red flags are the smell of alcohol or cigarette smoke. Many people with drug or alcohol addiction start to smoke or increase their smoking.

6. Doctor Shopping

People addicted to a medication may change doctors often. They try to get a new doctor to give them a drug when the prescription from their old doctor has run out. Drug addiction is a growing problem among the elderly. Some signs can be easy to miss. These include memory problems, sleepiness, depression and falls. There may be frequent requests to the doctor for more medication, or frequent changes in doctors. They may have a large number of prescriptions and a stockpile of drugs. Drugs most often abused by the elderly include pain medications, stimulants and anti-anxiety drugs.

7. Red Flags

If someone in your house is having a problem with drugs or alcohol, watch for red flags. Frequent use of eye drops or air fresheners can be warning signs. Finding alcohol hidden around the house or in the garage is another. Be suspicious if money goes missing or a bank account starts to get low. Locked doors and the need for lots of privacy also can be a warning. Also take note of any missing prescription drugs from your medicine cabinet, especially pain medicines.

If you spot any of these warning signs in yourself or someone you know, don’t wait to take action. As difficult as it can be to discuss addiction and substance abuse, the disease will only get worse without treatment. Start by talking to your primary care doctor, who can provide guidance on steps you can take to seek treatment, either for yourself or a loved one.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 18
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.