Recognizing the Symptoms of Addiction (2023)

All addictions, whether to substances or to behaviors, involve physical or psychological processes. Each person’s experience of addiction is slightly different, but there are generally some common symptoms to watch out for, including behavior changes like lying, extreme changes in mood, and changing social groups, as well as physical symptoms like changes in weight, sleep, and energy levels.

This article discusses some of the signs and symptoms of addiction. It also explores some of the different types of addiction.

Signs & Symptoms of Addiction

There are a number of different signs and symptoms of addiction. Symptoms are experienced by the person with the addiction, whereas signs are observed by other people.

You can never know what someone else is experiencing unless they tell you, so if you are concerned that someone else may have an addiction, look for signs as well as symptoms.

You might see some of these signs and symptoms but not others in someone who is experiencing addiction. They can still be addicted even if they do not have all of these.

Common signs of addiction include:

  • Changes in social groups, new and unusual friends, odd phone conversations
  • Drug paraphernalia such as unusual pipes, cigarette papers, small weighing scales, etc.
  • Financial problems
  • Lying
  • Repeated unexplained outings, often with a sense of urgency
  • Secretiveness
  • Stealing
  • Stashes of drugs, often in small plastic, paper, or foil packages

Common symptoms of addiction include:

  • Activities centering on the addiction in a way that negatively affects relationships, school, and work
  • A preoccupation with the addiction and spending a lot of time on planning, engaging in, and recovering from the addictive behavior
  • Changes in energy, such as being unexpectedly and extremely tired or energetic
  • Difficulty cutting down or controlling the addictive behavior
  • Extreme mood changes
  • Physical changes including increased illness and changes in weight
  • Sleeping a lot more or less than usual, or at different times of the day or night
  • Tolerance, which involves the need to engage in the addictive behavior more and more to get the desired effect
  • Withdrawal, when the person does not take the substance or engage in the activity, and they experience unpleasant symptoms

Most of the signs of addiction can have other explanations. People can have changes in their mood, behavior, and energy levels for other reasons, including health-related ones.

Be cautious about jumping to conclusions. It is difficult to discern if someone may have an addiction, even if some obvious signs are observed. If you discover drugs or drug paraphernalia, talk with a healthcare provider or an addiction counselor or specialist for guidance on appropriate ways to handle this difficult situation.

Symptoms of Specific Addictions

While there are signs and symptoms of a general nature, certain substances and behaviors can come with their own set of symptoms.

  • Behaviors (gambling, exercise, sex, shopping): Behavioral addictions are characterized by compulsive behaviors that persist despite negative consequences.
  • Depressants (alcohol, barbiturates, benzodiazepines): These medications slow the activity of the central nervous system and can lead to slowed heartbeat and respiration, confusion, coma, and death.
  • Opioids (painkillers, heroin, morphine): These substances decrease sensitivity to pain and produce strong cravings for opioids.
  • Stimulants (caffeine, nicotine, amphetamines, methamphetamine, cocaine): These substances lead to increased energy levels.

If you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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Complications & Comorbidities

Addictions have a wide range of serious complications, many of which can be life-limiting and potentially dangerous. Some of these complications include:

  • Accidents
  • Family problems
  • Financial problems
  • Health problems
  • Legal issues
  • Relationship problems
  • School difficulties
  • Suicide
  • Work problems

Different substances can have their own set of health risks and potential complications. Illegal substances pose health dangers in addition to potential legal issues. Some substances also pose a risk for overdose, brain damage, and long-term health consequences.

The risk of addiction may be higher among certain groups of people. There are certain factors that can increase a person's risk of experiencing addiction.

Mental Health Conditions

Addiction often occurs alongside other mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Estimates suggest that approximately half of all people who have a mental disorder will also have a substance use disorder at some point during their life.


Some of the signs of addiction are similar to normal teenage behavior, but teenagers are one of the groups most vulnerable to addiction. If you are a parent who is worried that your child might be using substances, seek professional assistance to determine how to best manage this issue. A healthcare provider can refer you to resources.

Life Experiences

People who have or have had certain difficult life experiences are also more likely to be affected by addiction. These include poverty, homelessness, unemployment, and early exposure to drugs and alcohol. People who have experienced trauma or abuse also have a higher risk of developing an addiction.

Drug Testing and Drug Screening for Teens

Frequently Asked Questions

Is addiction a disease?

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction as a chronic disease. According to ASAM, it involves a complex interaction between genetics, the environment, brain circuits, and life experiences. While serious, addiction is also treatable.

The current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines addictions to alcohol and drugs as psychiatric disorders, which are patterns of symptoms that result from substance use. These patterns persist despite negative consequences.

The DSM recognizes substance use disorder caused by ten classes of drugs, including alcohol, cannabis, hallucinogens,sedatives, and stimulants.

What causes addiction?

Addiction is caused by a number of different factors. Anyone can develop an addiction. However, there are certain influences that may elevate a person's risk. Factors that contribute to addiction include genetics, family history, drug use, and mental health disorders. Environmental factors such as poverty, trauma, abuse, stress, and early substance use can also increase the risk of developing an addiction.

How do you overcome an addiction?

There are many effective treatment options that can help people break free of addiction. Healthcare providers can prescribe medications that can help reduce cravings for certain substances and minimize the uncomfortable effects of withdrawal.

Psychotherapy, rehabilitation centers, 12-step programs, and support groups can also help aid in recovery from addiction. Online options are also available, including websites and apps designed to help people overcome addiction.

How to Overcome an Addiction

(Video) How to Recognize the Signs and Symptoms of Drug and Alcohol Addiction | Genesis HealthCare

9 Sources

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Sussman S, Sussman AN. Considering the definition of addiction. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2011;8(10):4025-38. doi:10.3390/ijerph8104025

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Addictions: An overview.

  3. National Institute of Mental Health.Substance use and co-occurring mental disorders.

  4. Hammond C, Mayes L, Potenza M. Neurobiology of adolescent substance use and addictive behaviors: treatment implications. Adolesc Med State Art Rev. 2014;25(1):15-32.

  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse.What are risk factors and protective factors?.

  6. Khoury L, Tang YL, Bradley B, Cubells JF, Ressler KJ.Substance use, childhood traumatic experience, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in an urban civilian population.Depress Anxiety. 2010;27(12):1077-1086. doi:10.1002/da.20751

    (Video) Recognizing the Symptoms of Addiction - Addiction Treatment and Recovery Program

  7. American Society of Addiction Medicine. Definition of addiction.

  8. American Psychiatric Association.Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed. Washington, DC; 2013.

  9. National Institute on Drug Addiction.Understanding drug use and addiction.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Addiction (1)

By Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD
Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD is a psychologist, professor, and Director of the Centre for Health Leadership and Research at Royal Roads University, Canada.

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What are the biggest warning signs for addicts? ›

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. ...
  2. Relationship Problems. ...
  3. Changes in Behavior. ...
  4. Physical Symptoms. ...
  5. Physical Appearance. ...
  6. Doctor Shopping. ...
  7. Red Flags.

What are the effects of addiction? ›

People with addiction often have one or more associated health issues, which could include lung or heart disease, stroke, cancer, or mental health conditions. Imaging scans, chest X-rays, and blood tests can show the damaging effects of long-term drug use throughout the body.

What are 5 effects of drug abuse? ›

Drug Effects on Behavior
  • Paranoia.
  • Aggressiveness.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Addiction.
  • Impaired Judgement.
  • Impulsiveness.
  • Loss of Self-Control.

What is the main cause of drug abuse? ›

Factors such as peer pressure, physical and sexual abuse, early exposure to drugs, stress, and parental guidance can greatly affect a person's likelihood of drug use and addiction. Development. Genetic and environmental factors interact with critical developmental stages in a person's life to affect addiction risk.

How does the brain get addicted? ›

Instead of a simple, pleasurable surge of dopamine, many drugs of abuse—such as opioids, cocaine, or nicotine—cause dopamine to flood the reward pathway, 10 times more than a natural reward. The brain remembers this surge and associates it with the addictive substance.

Which characteristic is associated with drug abuse? ›

Generally, those who use drugs or alcohol are characterized by having high Neuroticism, high Openness to Experience, low Agreeableness, and low Conscientiousness.

How do addicts behave in relationships? ›

Typical addict behavior in relationships involves neglecting all of their relationships and only spending time with the people who share their addiction. Their sleeping and eating habits will change dramatically and they will often blame it on something else.

How do you overcome an addiction to someone? ›

How to heal from love addiction withdrawal
  1. sharing your feelings with a supportive friend.
  2. honoring your feelings with personal rituals around grief.
  3. focusing on things you like about yourself and your life.

What are some risk factors for addiction? ›

Risk Factors for Addiction
  • Genetics.
  • Environment.
  • Medical history.
  • Age.
  • Type of drug.
  • Method of use.
  • Prevention.

What are the red flags of addiction? ›

Behavioral Red Flags
  • Drinking or using more than before.
  • Extremely talkative.
  • Unusual or erratic behavior.
  • Poor judgment.
  • Personality changes when drinking or using.
  • Loss of interests, activities, friends.
  • Anger or defensiveness if topic of alcohol or drugs is brought up.
  • Tries to stop drinking or using for periods of time.

What are warning signs of triggers? ›

Triggers and Warning Signs
  • Negative emotions that stimulate drug seeking behavior (stress, anger, fear, frustration, guilt, anxiety, depression, loneliness)
  • Friends, locations or events that remind the addict of using.
  • Exposure to drugs of abuse.
8 May 2015

What are some red flags in recovery? ›

The red flags of recovery need to be gauged because, without knowledge of them, you may find yourself close to a relapse.
  • You Stop Going to Meetings. Meetings are an essential part of recovery. ...
  • You Get Resentful Easier. ...
  • You Return to Old Behaviors. ...
  • You Start Isolating.
17 Oct 2020

What does addiction look like? ›

General signs of addiction are: lack of control, or inability to stay away from a substance or behavior. decreased socialization, like abandoning commitments or ignoring relationships. ignoring risk factors, like sharing needles despite potential consequences.

What does psychology say about addiction? ›

Psychology Today makes it quite simple: When individuals engage in an activity that is pleasurable but cannot stop doing it, even to the detriment of everyday living (such as work, hobbies, family time, finances, etc.), and health and wellbeing suffer as a result, this behavior would be considered an addiction.

How do drugs affect personality? ›

Addiction often leads to risky or unethical behavior. As noted above, studies have found that prolonged substance use impairs your prefrontal cortex, which is involved with planning, attention, emotional regulation, and self-control. It's also involved with foresight.

What are 10 causes of drug abuse? ›

Causes of Substance Use Disorders
  • Family history of addiction.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Chronic pain.
  • Financial difficulties.
  • Divorce or the loss of a loved one.
  • Long-term tobacco habit.
  • Tense home environment.
  • Lack of parental attachment in childhood.
11 Dec 2017

What are 3 examples of drug abuse? ›

Some of the most common types of drug abuse include the following:
  • Stimulant Abuse. Stimulants are substances that cause physical and psychological functions to speed up. ...
  • Cocaine Abuse. ...
  • Adderall Abuse. ...
  • Meth Abuse. ...
  • Opioid Abuse. ...
  • Heroin Abuse. ...
  • Prescription Painkillers. ...
  • Sedative Abuse.

What are the four levels of addiction? ›

There are four levels of addiction: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. We will discuss each level in-depth and provide tips for overcoming addiction. Most people who try drugs or engage in risky behaviors don't become addicted.

What is called drug addiction? ›

What is drug addiction? Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences. It is considered a brain disorder, because it involves functional changes to brain circuits involved in reward, stress, and self-control.

What are the consequences of abusing drugs? ›

Although sometimes it may be difficult to imagine, the abuse of these substances can change everything from your body to your bank account. This can include anything from altered brain chemistry, health complications, infections, legal issues, financial problems, accidental injuries and even death.

How does the brain recover from addiction? ›

Our brains have an incredible ability to adapt and repair – even after prolonged AOD use and addiction. The brain continues to build brain cells and neural pathways throughout our life, and its ability to adapt and change – called neuroplasticity – allows it to modify, grow and reorganise itself after addiction.

Are the brains of addicts different? ›

Many addicts inherit a brain that has trouble just saying no to drugs. A study in Science finds that cocaine addicts have abnormalities in areas of the brain involved in self-control. And these abnormalities appear to predate any drug abuse.

What releases the most dopamine? ›

Getting enough sleep, exercising, listening to music, meditating, and spending time in the sun can all boost dopamine levels. Overall, a balanced diet and lifestyle can go a long way in increasing your body's natural production of dopamine and helping your brain function at its best.

What do addicts have in common? ›

People with addiction lose control over their actions. They crave and seek out drugs, alcohol, or other substances no matter what the cost—even at the risk of damaging friendships, hurting family, or losing jobs.

What is a general characteristic of addictive behavior? ›

be unable to stop consuming a substance or end a specific behavior. display a lack of control concerning the substance, thing, or behavior they are addicted to. experience increased desires for the specific substance, thing, or behavior. deny that their addictive behavior may be causing negative consequences.

What are the three aspects of addiction? ›

Addiction exerts a long and powerful influence on the brain that manifests in three distinct ways: craving for the object of addiction, loss of control over its use, and continuing involvement with it despite adverse consequences.

Do addicts know they are hurting you? ›

Having an addiction is hard enough, but making those you love suffer from your addiction is even worse. Addicts can see your struggles and they know when they are the cause. They don't want to hurt you. To cope, some addicts find solace in distancing themselves to avoid hurting anyone else.

Is there a connection between narcissism and addiction? ›

People with narcissistic personality disorders share similar traits with addicts, and both types of narcissistic personality disorder may lead to addiction. Many people with narcissism may also have an addiction to alcohol, sex, drugs, or social media.

How do you pronounce addicts? ›

How to pronounce addict - YouTube

Why are toxic relationships addictive? ›

Many people describe being in a toxic relationship as being addicted to drugs — that's how problematic and controlling it can be. Many people are addicted to toxic relationships because of various factors like codependency, insecurity, or trauma bonds.

How do I get rid of an emotional addiction? ›

Have patience: Most people develop emotional addictions after decades, so it's unrealistic to expect instant change. Dedicate yourself to the process, but take breaks when needed. Re-programming how your brain responds to circumstances takes time. Keep your chin up and celebrate the small victories along the way.

Who is most likely to be an addict? ›

Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 are most likely to use addictive drugs.
Statistics On Alcohol Addiction And Abuse
  • Every year, worldwide, alcohol is the cause of 5.3% of deaths (or 1 in every 20).
  • About 300 million people throughout the world have an alcohol use disorder.

Who is most at risk of addiction? ›

People who have experienced physical, emotional or sexual abuse or trauma are more likely to develop a substance use disorder. Others who have friends who use, or those subjected to peer pressure, may also be at a greater risk.

What is the first stage in the cycle of addiction? ›

Stage 1: Initial Use

Regardless of how the initial use occurs, it is the first step toward addiction. Whether or not that initial use is more likely to lead to addiction is often a matter of individual circumstances.

How do I stop being addicted? ›

10 Ways ANYONE Can Stop Addiction Now
  1. Admit There Is A Problem. The hardest part to recovery is admitting you have an addiction. ...
  2. Reflect On Your Addiction. ...
  3. Seek Professional Support. ...
  4. Appreciate The Benefits of Sobriety. ...
  5. Identify Your Triggers. ...
  6. Change Your Environment. ...
  7. Exercise. ...
  8. Accept The Past.

What is the condition of being addicted called? ›

Addiction is “fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity.” For example, a person who drinks alcohol heavily on a night out may experience both the euphoric and harmful effects of the substance.

What are some risk factors for addiction? ›

Risk Factors for Addiction
  • Genetics.
  • Environment.
  • Medical history.
  • Age.
  • Type of drug.
  • Method of use.
  • Prevention.

What are tools for recovery? ›

11 Recovery Tools to Help You Beat Addiction
  • Coping Skills. ...
  • Healthful Hobbies. ...
  • Exercise. ...
  • A Balanced Diet. ...
  • Downtime. ...
  • A Sober Support Network. ...
  • Meditation and Mindfulness. ...
  • Acceptance.

What causes a person to become addicted? ›

Factors such as peer pressure, physical and sexual abuse, early exposure to drugs, stress, and parental guidance can greatly affect a person's likelihood of drug use and addiction. Development. Genetic and environmental factors interact with critical developmental stages in a person's life to affect addiction risk.

What are 5 ways to prevent addiction? ›

Here are the top five ways to prevent substance abuse:
  1. Understand how substance abuse develops. ...
  2. Avoid Temptation and Peer Pressure. ...
  3. Seek help for mental illness. ...
  4. Examine the risk factors. ...
  5. Keep a well-balanced life.
7 Jul 2021

How do you deal with urges? ›

When you get an urge, quickly substitute a thought or activity that's more beneficial or fun. Take a walk or any other form of exercise. Pick up something new to read or turn on something to listen to. The possibilities to substitute (and lessen the craving more quickly) are endless.

What are the 4 levels of addiction? ›

There are four levels of addiction: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. We will discuss each level in-depth and provide tips for overcoming addiction. Most people who try drugs or engage in risky behaviors don't become addicted.

What is a general characteristic of addictive behavior? ›

be unable to stop consuming a substance or end a specific behavior. display a lack of control concerning the substance, thing, or behavior they are addicted to. experience increased desires for the specific substance, thing, or behavior. deny that their addictive behavior may be causing negative consequences.


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