Signs of an addict
What are the signs of an addict?
If you are reading this post, it is probably because;
- You fear that you may a have a substance abuse problem or a behavioral addiction.
- You suspect that someone close to you may have a problem. You are just not sure what signs to look out for?
You may have noticed a sudden change in behavior. You may think that this person is heading on a downward spiral, but you are just not sure?
Perhaps you want to help them, but your knowledge on addiction is so limited that it makes it even harder for you to help this addict.
I have summarized the ‘warning signs’ as below and this includes signs of substance abuse as well as behavioral addictions, such as sex, gambling or even addiction to gaming. This a personalized list and is a list I can most relate to. There are loads more signs, but these are the signs that stand out for me.
Here’s a few tell tale signs that someone close to you may be suffering from the disease of addiction.
- Withdrawal from close family and friends.
- Irregular sleeping patterns
- Lack of appetite
- Unstable moods.
- Change in behavior and mannerisms.
- Physical signs
Each category is broken down for you to best understand why the addict behaves in such a way and more importantly, whether or not the person may be an addict or not.
Withdrawn from family and friends
Someone that was an integral part of the family suddenly becomes very quiet and unengaged.
The communication with this person becomes increasing difficult. They almost seem to shut off both physically and emotionally. They may once have reached out for help, but they no longer see the value in asking for help.
Withdrawal takes two forms:
- Emotional withdrawal
- Physical withdrawal
All drugs, including alcohol, (yes it’s a drug) acts as a brain depressant. This leads the potential addict to feel a number of things like depression, fear, most overwhelming of all though, is the anxiety that comes with abuse of substances. The shame. The guilt. It’s all too much.
Anxiety is caused by constant worry.
Will people find out about his or her addiction?
What if law enforcements finally catch up with them?
Where will they go then? What will they do?
Wait. Is someone watching me right now?
Most importantly, the anxiety stems when one has become dependent on the drug and has to find a way to cope without the drug. The brain believes that the only way to feel normal again, is by having the drug again.
Emotional withdrawal is the cause. Physical withdrawal is the result.
They become very quiet and to the point, only engaging when they absolutely have to and when it is difficult for them to withdraw. They feel uncomfortable in the company of loved ones and fear that they may be asked uncomfortable and confrontational questions about their recent behavior.
They struggle to reach out for help.
Where does that fear stem from?
Fear of reaching out and asking for help is often associated with the shame and guilt associated with the use of addictive substances.
“What will people think of me?”
“How will they react if/when they find out?”
As a result, they feel incredibly alone and as time goes by and the addiction strengthens, you would find that emotionally numbing themselves becomes a defense mechanism. The best way to defend themselves is to physically withdraw from the company of others.
The person may feel like they already have incredibly high standards to live up to and start to feel like failures, knowing that they are not living up these standards.
Shame and guilt is the main reason people physically withdraw themselves from the company of others.
Sometimes the best way for them to withdraw is to sleep, which leads us to the second point:
Irregular sleeping patterns
The most obvious sign to look out for is when the potential addict has difficulty sleeping at night and is constantly in a state of being drained during the day.
On the flip side, the potential addict may just want to sleep all day and night. This is common with dual diagnosed addicts (addict suffering from addiction and a mental illness, such as depression).
Sleep helps us live longer lives. Sleep can help bring out our creative bones. It can help with our memory making everyday tasks like working, studying and fulfilling our everyday responsibilities that much easier.
Getting sufficient and quality sleep helps us function normally and with a clear head. Lack of sleep will do the opposite.
Addiction can affect sleep in the following way:
- People with stimulant based addictions struggle to reach the state of calm required because of the increased heart rate.
- Some people use their addiction as an aid to help them sleep.
Stimulant based sleep disorder
Okay, so firstly, stimulant based sleep disorder is not actually a thing. I just thought it sounds really cool, so let’s make it a thing.
On a little side note, something interesting that I found to be common amongst addicts, especially in early recovery is their ability to drink coffee and still sleep at night.
Hold up, why am I even mentioning this?
Because a lot of the addicts I know, use substances with a lethal and unnatural amount of stimulation. As their body becomes dependent on these stimulants, coffee just doesn’t cut it anymore. Why I made mention of this is to give you an idea of just how stimulated addicts can be.
Stimulants affect the central nervous system. They cause the addict to be alert and aware. Their heart beat rate goes through the roof. They cannot sleep and when they do, the sleep is of very poor quality.
- People that use their addiction as an aid to help them sleep.
Some of the addicts mentioned in the first point cannot handle the effects of not having proper sleep. They then cross addict to other drugs in an attempt to help them sleep better and start using these depressants together with their stimulants. This is just an example of how cross addiction can occur.
Other people are addicted to substances that help them sleep, such as sleeping pills. This normally starts when someone is faced with overwhelming stress, anxiety or depression. They start using these substances to reach a state of normality. They too become dependent on those drugs and when trying to quit these drugs, it’s a nightmare to sleep.
Lack of exercise. Another important aspect to take into account is the lack of exercise with a lot of people that are addicted. Those that do exercise either do it excessively or aren’t really gaining value from the exercise as the substances counteract any benefits they would have gained from exercise. Exercise has been proven to help people have a better night’s rest.
Change in behaviors:
The addict may have had a lot of interests that would occupy their free time and included positive recreational interests that made them happy. The addict may also start neglecting responsibilities that were once important to them.
“Oh my god, SHUT UP! I don’t care”
Some people might start developing an “I don’t care attitude.” Arrogance. Let’s take a moment to understand where the “I don’t care attitude” comes from. This is a defense mechanism. People can generally not stand the narcissistic individual that has an attitude of grandeur and tend to keep their distance from such people. Why do a lot of addicts have this attitude though? A short and common answer is to keep people at a distance. Keeping people at bay, makes it much more manageable to continue with their addiction without any ‘interference.’
A sudden change in the company the potential addict keeps, is a big warning sign. They may have neglected their ‘good friends’ and replaced them with those that are known for their drug use.
One of the biggest telltale signs is that of stealing, lying and an overall inconsistency of stories. Again, these are all coping mechanism the addict becomes accustomed to and they are used purely for survival. When an addict lies, they do not always lie because they simply enjoy lying. They do so to protect their addiction.
Picture yourself being deprived of food….. Right now your brain tells you that you need food in order to survive right? Now imagine if someone were to take away your food completely. Would you either, be content with the idea of starving to death or would you do anything in your power to defend the little food you have left.
The same applies with addicts. They are chemically dependent on these substances. The message that their brain sends is that, they cannot survive without the substance or the addictive behavior. Naturally, they develop negative defense mechanisms to defend the one thing their brain needs the most.
That is why addicts lie, cheat, steal, even become aggressive.
The potential addict may be extremely happy one minute and in the next, there is a complete shift in mood. They then become a nightmare to be around. Some drugs may even cause you to hallucinate causing the addict to live in a state of constant fear.
Because the addict is so dependent on substances to reach a state of normality, when the addict withdraws from substances they feel overwhelming anxiety as previously mentioned. Most people do not know how to deal with this and as a result, their mind and body enters a state of shock, this is what causes the complete change in moods.
Many drugs, especially the stimulants like cocaine provide insane and unnatural feelings of euphoria.
That being said, what goes up must come down right?
When the suffering addict comes down, he would then feel the exact opposite of what he initially felt. Extreme happiness turns into deep and dark depression, even grief. That is, not to mention all the other side effects that comes with it.
The human brain is not designed to handle these extreme highs or lows.
Can substance abuse cause you to develop bipolar disorder?
No, it cannot. I have found that many addicts have this question. You do, however experience symptoms similar to those that suffer from Bi-polar mood disorder with substance abuse.
Something that is very important to take into account is that;
As the addiction progresses, the addict’s self esteem regresses.
As the addict sinks deeper into the grips of addiction, very little else starts to matter. The reason for that is twofold:They start feeling unworthy of love, of affection. They develop an overall lack of self-love; again this is associated with the shame and guilt that comes with addiction. I cannot stress how important this is in order to understand the addict in distress.
- Because of the dependency on the substance, the addict becomes physically and psychologically dependent. Their mind and body craves that fix so focusing on physical wellbeing becomes much harder to do.
Finally, what are the physical signs or symptoms of addiction? This may be the easiest of the tell tale signs, because it becomes harder and harder for the addict to maintain the illusion of “being fine” as the disease of addiction progresses.
Addicts start losing interest in their general image. There are many tell tale signs, but I have just highlighted a few of which I think is very important and could mean that urgent help is required.
Blood shot eyes
They constantly appear on the edge. Those once sparkly white eyes start becoming redder than the blood river itself. They may even add two containers of eye gene on the monthly shopping list to try and hide this. Their pupils could also be dilated. The reason the addict’s pupils are dilated is because the brain is in a state of shock because of the adrenaline pump to the brain.
After becoming dependent on the substance or the behavior, the addict needs their fix to reach a state of normality. Spending time on personal hygiene becomes very difficult and they start neglecting personal hygiene. They forget or are too preoccupied to brush their teeth, they may start wearing the same clothes. Stop bathing. As mentioned, the depressant effects become stronger and an overall lack of self-love becomes more and more evident.
Addiction affects people in different ways. The one that is always constant though, is a change in appetite.
Some addicts experience a complete lack of appetite and go for days without food. They become dizzy, may have short panic attacks, anxiety and an overall weakness. This is because the addict is not consuming sufficient nutrients to sustain their body.
On the flip side some addicts may have an increased craving for junk food. A lot of addicts resort to junk food especially when craving their substance of choice. The sugar provides them with rush of happy endorphins, much like drugs.
Some drugs can cause a reduced heartbeat and others may increase it to a deathly rate. The addict may suffer from a shortness of breath because of all the pressure placed on the heart. Chest pains. They could start sweating uncontrollably. Panic attacks could follow. I have experienced all of these conditions and it is truly a terrible place to be in. My health deteriorated to the point that I no longer felt the will to live on.
Unexplainable marks on body
This is especially common with addicts that may use needles. There would generally be unexplainable marks on the arms. Other marks on the body could be scars, black bags under the addict’s eyes due to the lack of sleep and change in skin color. The addict’s appearance suddenly becomes dull and pale. The lips may become very dark as well.
I have read many articles on the web describing and listing the warning signs of addiction. A lot of articles list what to look out for, but few give an in-depth understanding of why the addict behaves in such a manner. What are the driving factors for these behaviors?
Understanding why the addict behaves in a certain way is one of the biggest steps you can take towards helping the addict.
What is SO IMPORTANT is that you begin to shift your focus from; what must I look out for? To why does he or she behave in this manner?
The addict in distress does not need your sympathy, in fact, it may just cause more harm. If you really want to help the addict, empathize with them by understanding why they do what they do. I have tried to place a lot of emphasis on understanding the psychological and medical side of all of these warning signs.
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