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How to Recognize You Have An Addiction Problem?

Recognizing an addiction problem can be more challenging than you think. And recognizing the signs of addiction is the first step to seeking help either for yourself or for someone you know. There are many behavioral, physical, and psychological signs of addiction. A person with an addiction tends to crave a substance or certain behavioral habits while ignoring other aspects of their life in order to fulfill or support their desires. Knowing how to recognize your addiction problem can help you seek help before it’s too late. Read on to find how you can recognize the common signs of addiction.

What is an Addiction?

According to the American Society of Addiction (ASAM), addiction is defined as a chronic illness that impacts the memory, motivation, and reward functions of the brain.(1) A person with addiction begins to crave a substance or certain behavioral habits and they tend to often ignore other aspects of their life in order to support or fulfill their addiction.

Recognizing that you or someone you know has an addiction problem can be more challenging than one thinks. Recognizing these signs of addiction is also the first step to getting the help you require to deal with the problem.(23)

Here are some of the common signs of addiction:(45)

  • An inability, or lack of control, to avoid or stay away from a certain substance or behavior.
  • Reduced socialization, this may include ignoring relationships or abandoning obligations/plans
  • Ignoring the risk factors, such as sharing needles despite knowing the harms
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
  • Needing to get a higher dosage for experience the same high
  • Loss of control when wanting to stop or reduce their use of the substance and unable to do so
  • Sleeping at odd hours or feeling fatigued without any apparent reason
  • Spending money on buying the substance, even after knowing well that you can’t afford it
  • Ensuring that you have a steady supply of the substance
  • Problems at school or work
  • Lack of energy and motivation, red eyes, weight loss or gain, and neglected appearance
  • Doing things to get the substance that you otherwise won’t do, such as stealing

These common symptoms of addiction are usually all linked together. The degree of intensity for each symptom depends on just how long the addiction has been going on for.

A normal, healthy person is able to easily identify a negative behavior and take steps to stop it. However, a person with addiction fails to do so. Instead of admitting that a problem exists, they actively look for ways to justify and carry on with the behavior.(6)

The first step to seeking help is to recognize the physical, emotional, and mental signs of addictions, such as personality changes or abrupt weight gain, or weight loss.

What are the Different Types of Addiction?

Addiction is typically linked with substance abuse, though behavioral addictions are also there, such as being addicted to gambling, sexual intercourse, pornography, the internet, or video games. As defined above, addiction occurs when a person is unable to control or abstain from a substance or behavior. This usually happens at the cost of their physical and mental health.

Substance addiction is defined as being dependent on one or more of the following:

  • Alcohol
  • Drugs, both legal and illegal
  • Inhalants, including household items like spray paints, oven cleaners, etc.
  • Nicotine or tobacco
  • Medications

Studies have shown that behavioral addictions are equally as serious as being addicted to substances.(7) Both types of addiction cause dependency and they have more or less the same types of negative consequences.

Behavioral addiction, on the other hand, can include being addicted to:

Regardless of what type of addiction a person has, it is important to recognize the early warning signs and seek help.

How to Recognize You Have An Addiction Problem?

In the early phases of becoming addicted to something, a person is unlikely to show the usual telltale signs of full-scale addiction. However, there are some initial signs and clues that you can pick up in the early stages. These include:

  • Experimentation with substances or behaviors
  • Having a family history of addiction
  • Specifically looking for situations where the activity or substance will be present
  • Being drawn to a substance or activity
  • Episodes of loss of control or binging with little or no feelings of remorse afterward

It is interesting to note, of course, that when you look at common social behaviors like smoking or drinking, it is much more challenging to understand when it turns into an addiction problem. What might appear to be an addiction could actually be an experimental phase or even a form of stress relief. However, if left untreated, a real addiction can quickly turn into an impairing habit and increase the risk of disease.

Look for Personality and Health Changes

Once a person moves past the stage of experimenting, they are more likely to show major changes in their personality, behavior, and health. These changes might be infrequent in the beginning, but with time they will become more prominent. Some of the telltale signs you should look for in an addict’s personality include:

  • A growing lack of interest in activities or hobbies that were important earlier
  • Beginning to neglect their relationships
  • Reacting negatively or aggressively to their friends and family
  • Starting to miss important obligations like work, school, doctor’s appointments, family events, etc.
  • A growing tendency for taking risks, especially to continue addictive behaviors or drugs
  • A visible change in sleeping patterns that cause chronic fatigue
  • Increased secrecy including lying about the time spent indulging in the behavior or the amount of substance being used

You will also notice an increase in the addict’s anti-social behavior that alienates people around them. People with an addiction will tend to surround themselves with others who either encourage their addiction or indulge in the same addiction as them. When confronted, a person with an addiction will have all sorts of excuses ready to try and justify their behavior to their well-wishers.

Another way to recognize an addiction is to look at their physical and mental health Regardless of whether the addiction is to a certain behavior or a drug, there is always an effect on both physical and mental health, with the health almost always declining.(89, 10)

Here are some signs that indicate changes in their health:

  • Constantly falling sick
  • Having bloodshot or glazed eyes
  • Abrupt changes in their weight
  • Having unexplained injuries
  • Growing or increasing tolerance to drugs
  • Having bad skin, teeth, nails, and hair – this is especially common when they are abusing drugs like cocaine or methamphetamines
  • Memory loss or trouble recalling details
  • Physical withdrawal symptoms may include vomiting, trembling, or sweating
  • Changes in speech like rapid rambling or slurred words, especially if they are addicted to alcohol

Along with physical changes in health, there will be certain mental and emotional changes as well to indicate an addiction problem. These include:(111213)

  • Increased irritability
  • Sudden changes in mood
  • Aggressive behavior especially if called out about their addiction
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts

Remember, though, that it is important to first rule out any underlying medical condition that could be contributing to this decline in health. Bear in mind that an addict will always understate the seriousness of their addiction and overall condition. If there is no underlying medical problem or any other explanation, there is a high chance that there is an addiction problem to blame for these signs and symptoms.

What are the Long-term Consequences of Addiction?

In the later stages of addiction, the adverse effects are going to become more or less permanent and there will be long-term consequences to deal with. Someone who has a serious addiction may continue to ignore or trivialize these consequences in order to continue on with their addiction.

Some of the potential long-term consequences of addiction can include:

  • Getting a serious infectious disease due to sharing needles
  • Getting poor grades or dropping out of school
  • Having damaged relationships with family and friends
  • Getting arrested or spending time in jail
  • Having a tarnished reputation
  • Getting evicted from their home or failing to make mortgage payments
  • Losing their job
  • Losing parental rights

While these things can occur in the lives of people without an addiction problem as well, but they are more common in those who have an addiction. This is why it is necessary that before you approach someone who you believe may have an addiction, you should find out the reason behind the problems.


It is important to recognize the signs of addiction in order to seek help. If you or someone you know is dealing with an addiction problem, there are many free and confidential treatment centers available that offer the right help. You can also seek help from a support group, addiction treatment center, or your doctor. Addictions can affect the lives of everyone around you and it takes a lot of effort and courage to admit you have a problem and be willing to seek help. Remember that you must be willing to admit there is a problem and want to change in order for the path to rehabilitation and recovery to be successful.


  1. What is the definition of addiction? (no date) Default. Available at: https://www.asam.org/quality-care/definition-of-addiction (Accessed: January 14, 2023).
  2. Sinnott-Armstrong, W. and Pickard, H., 2013. What is addiction. The Oxford handbook of philosophy and psychiatry, 856.
  3. Kranzler, H.R. and Li, T.K., 2008. What is addiction?. Alcohol Research & Health, 31(2), p.93.
  4. West, R. and Brown, J., 2013. Theory of addiction.
  5. Ross, D., Kincaid, H., Collins, P. and Spurrett, D. eds., 2010. What is addiction?. Mit Press.
  6. Goodman, A., 1990. Addiction: definition and implications. British journal of addiction, 85(11), pp.1403-1408.
  7. Alavi, S.S., Ferdosi, M., Jannatifard, F., Eslami, M., Alaghemandan, H. and Setare, M., 2012. Behavioral addiction versus substance addiction: Correspondence of psychiatric and psychological views. International journal of preventive medicine, 3(4), p.290.
  8. Melek, S.P., Perlman, D. and Davenport, S., 2017. Addiction and mental health vs. physical health: Analyzing disparities in network use and provider reimbursement rates. Seattle, Milliman.
  9. A-tjak, J.G., Davis, M.L., Morina, N., Powers, M.B., Smits, J.A. and Emmelkamp, P.M., 2015. A meta-analysis of the efficacy of acceptance and commitment therapy for clinically relevant mental and physical health problems. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 84(1), pp.30-36.
  10. Davenport, S., Gray, T.J. and Melek, S., 2020. How do individuals with behavioral health conditions contribute to physical and total healthcare spending?. Milliman, Inc.
  11. Griffiths, M., 1996. Behavioural addiction: an issue for everybody?. Employee Councelling Today, 8(3), pp.19-25.
  12. Alavi, S.S., Ferdosi, M., Jannatifard, F., Eslami, M., Alaghemandan, H. and Setare, M., 2012. Behavioral addiction versus substance addiction: Correspondence of psychiatric and psychological views. International journal of preventive medicine, 3(4), p.290.
  13. Zamani, E., Chashmi, M. and Hedayati, N., 2009. Effect of addiction to computer games on physical and mental health of female and male students of guidance school in city of Isfahan. Addiction & health, 1(2), p.98.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:January 23, 2023

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