Spotting the Signs of Addiction in Yourself and Others
Addiction, or the problematic use of a substance, is a widespread problem affecting hundreds of thousands of people in the UK alone. Anyone, regardless of age, income level, career, gender or any other identifying factor can suffer from addiction.
People employed in the social or healthcare fields encounter numerous clients and patients who suffer from substance dependence. As a result, it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms, as well as what you can do to help.
Causes and Risk Factors
While addiction can happen to anybody, there are certain factors that can make a person more susceptible. These include:
It is possible to have a genetic vulnerability to addiction in general or to a certain substance in particular. For example, the children of alcoholics are often predisposed to developing alcoholism themselves.
Over half of all people with addictions also have mental health issues. When these problems are undiagnosed or improperly treated, a person may turn to drugs or alcohol, in order to self-medicate. For example, patients who have bipolar disorder are known to use alcohol during manic phases to try to ‘come down’, and may rely on so-called uppers during depressive episodes to try to elevate their moods. Even people without mental illnesses may use drugs or alcohol to cope with unpleasant feelings, such as loneliness or anger.
The community, home environment and society’s attitude towards drugs and alcohol can also mean that a person is at risk of developing an addiction. People who grow up in areas where drugs are commonly used may become addicted much faster than someone who is not exposed until a later age.
Another big risk factor is accessibility. If a person cannot easily get their hands on a particular substance, they are less likely to become addicted to it. However, once a person is in the throes of addiction, they are more willing to overcome obstacles to obtain their substance of choice.
Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
Recognising the signs and symptoms of addiction can help you or your loved one get the treatment that is necessary much earlier. Early treatment makes overcoming the addiction much easier. The signs of addiction include:
- Always feeling hungover, sick and tired
- Experiencing repeated injuries, while under the influence of substances
- Being anxious or depressed when sober
- Frequent blackouts
- Difficulty maintaining relationships
- Problematic spending
- Legal problems
- Development or worsening of mental health challenges
Unfortunately, not everyone who has an addiction is able to recognise these symptoms for what they are. People who are in denial about their problem may come up with excuses for these symptoms, such as suddenly being clumsy or getting ‘food poisoning’ all the time.
In other cases, a person may realise that they are addicted to a substance but may be unable to stop because of physical and/or emotional dependence.
The Dangers of Addiction
Being addicted to a substance comes with some very real physical and mental dangers. These are long-term effects that may not be reversible, depending on how long the person has been addicted to a particular substance.
Addiction has a huge effect on your body. For starters, it can lead to cardiac arrest or an abnormal heart rate. Repeated use of certain substances, including alcohol, can lead to organ damage, with your liver at the greatest risk of damage.
Addiction can also fundamentally change your brain chemistry, resulting in unclear thinking and difficulty with problem solving, long after you are clean.
Depending on how long a substance has been abused, withdrawal can be just as dangerous as continued use of the substance. This is one of the biggest reasons why treatment should be sought as soon as possible. The longer a person is addicted to a substance, the riskier it is to quit ‘cold turkey’. For example, those who have been addicted to alcohol for a long time may suffer from tremors, anxiety and heart complications if they suddenly stop, without medical assistance.
How You Can Help
If you or a loved one are suffering from addiction, the first thing you should do is seek assistance. Family, friends and other people in an addicted person’s life can contact counselling services or their doctor to find out more about how to access local resources.
Addiction affects everyone around the addict, so ensure that your own emotional needs are being met during this time. There are support groups, both online and in person, for family members and loved ones of those who suffer from addiction. Attending these groups can be incredibly beneficial.
It is important to remember that a person is not going to get help until they are ready — you cannot force treatment on someone who cannot admit that they have a problem. If this is the case, ensure that you set boundaries, and stick to them. This may be hard at first, but it is often the only way to show your addicted loved one that you are serious and that they do need help.
You may also want to create a list of resources that you can give to your loved one. They may not use these resources straightaway, but having this list available does increase the chance that they may give recovery a try.
If you are suffering from an addiction yourself, the best thing you can do is get treatment immediately. It might be easier for you to get emotional support, before seeking medical treatment. This way, you have a supportive and understanding person in your corner, as you handle the hard part of coming clean. Be as honest as you can with your counsellor, so they can direct you to the appropriate resources and medical treatment.
Understanding more about addiction helps to destigmatise the issue, making it easier for you or your loved one to get the help that is needed, in order to quit. It is important to remember that addiction is a disease, not a choice. The earlier intervention happens, the easier it is to quit the substances and replace them with healthier and more adaptive coping mechanisms.