Signs of Addiction and How to Get Help

Addiction is a disease that can impact anyone. If untreated, addiction may cause physical and emotional distress, legal problems, financial difficulties, and strained relationships. Discover the signs of someone struggling and get help today!

therapist william snyder By William Snyder, LPC

Updated on May 01, 2024

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Addiction is a prevalent issue that affects millions globally, with potentially severe consequences for individuals and their loved ones. 

The 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) revealed that 50% of Americans aged 12 and above have used illicit drugs, and 25% are diagnosed with substance disorders. If untreated, addiction may cause physical and emotional distress, legal problems, financial difficulties, and strained relationships.

Addiction treatment and therapy help victims recover and gain sobriety. This article explores common signs of addiction and how you or a loved one struggling with addiction can get help.

What Is Addiction?

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is a treatable, chronic disease where the affected person continues to do or use something even though it’s harming them. 

The disease interferes with an individual’s normal brain function and behavior, leading to loss of control over their level of engagement in an activity or use of a substance. 

Anything can become addictive if it has the potential to stimulate the brain’s dopamine receptors. Drugs and alcohol, stimulants, gambling, video gaming, eating, shopping, social media, sex, sports, and exercise are all a few examples. 

How Addiction Affects the Brain

Addiction affects several brain circuits. The most affected circuits are those involved in learning and memory, reward and motivation, and control over behavior. Prolonged exposure to potentially addictive substances and behaviors affects normal brain processes, and often leads to a gradual loss of control over choices. 

Ultimately, a behavior or substance consumption becomes compulsive, often eluding an individual’s willpower and self-control.

Why Are Some Individuals More Vulnerable to Addiction Than Others?

Addiction vulnerability depends on the interplay of factors such as genetics, age, length of exposure to substances or behaviors, as well as several environmental influences.

To help us further break down how addiction works, let’s look at its characteristics:

Addiction Cycle vs. Addiction Spiral 

Before looking at different types of addiction, it’s helpful to differentiate between two terms often confused when talking about addiction: addiction cycle versus addiction spiral.

Addiction, like many other chronic diseases, does not just happen in a day. For example, a person who enjoys one drink or tries an illicit drug does not develop an addiction instantly. A series of circumstances line up for them to find themselves facing an addiction problem.

Addiction cycle refers to the series of changes in the brain’s chemistry, beginning with the recognition of pleasure from first-time use and ending with a drive toward compulsive behavior. There are six stages of the addiction cycle: initial use, abuse, tolerance, dependence, addiction, and relapse.

On the other hand, going through the addiction cycle repeatedly over time is what’s called an addiction spiral.

Types of Addiction

Most experts recognize two types of addiction: substance addiction — also referred to as substance use disorder (SUD)  — and behavioral addiction.

Substance Addiction and Symptoms 

According to the National Institute of Health, substance use disorder is a treatable mental health disorder that causes a person to lose control over their use of legal or illegal chemical substances such as stimulants, alcohol, drugs, or medications. 

Whether an individual starts taking drugs recreationally or as prescribed, tolerance and dependence may develop before the user realizes so. Common addictive substances include alcohol, cannabis, opioids (including prescription painkillers like morphine and oxycodone), nicotine, amphetamines, methamphetamine, and cocaine, among others.

Symptoms of addiction to substance use vary from one individual to another and depend on the substance in question. Some common symptoms include:

Identification of one or more of the symptoms above can indicate that it might be the right time to seek help.

Behavioral Addiction and Symptoms 

Behavioral addiction involves significant dependence on, and loss of control over certain behaviors or actions despite their negative effects on a person’s physical or mental health. 

Many people fall into this type of addiction in pursuit of excitement. Others find themselves addicted after leaning on addictive behavior(s) as emotional outlets.

Similar brain changes occur with both substance and behavioral addiction. However, there’s one major difference between the two. A behaviorally addicted person is addicted to acting out the behavior and its associated ends, while substance addiction entails addiction to a substance.

People often reach out to addiction therapists seeking help to deal with various behavioral addictions, such as gambling, social media, shopping, eating, sex, and TV, among others. Generally, behavioral addiction warning signs include:

Have you identified any of these signs of addiction? Do not hesitate to ask for help in the right places. 

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Causes of Addiction

Addiction is a complex disease, and various factors may influence its development. Dynamic interactions between biological, environmental, and cognitive aspects determine a person’s addiction risk factors.

Biological and Genetic Causes of Addiction

Genetic differences may make a person more or less vulnerable to addiction. In a 2019 NIDA study of genetic contributions to addiction, researchers identified hundreds of gene clusters that could influence addiction to substances such as alcohol and nicotine.

Another angle to look at the relationship between biology and addiction is considering how people interact with drugs differently. For example, the same pill that influences one significantly, may show  minor effects on another. 

In addition, biological models propose that each person’s unique physiology and genetic makeup influence two things related to their addiction risk:

The presence of other mental disorders can also influence a person’s risk of substance abuse or behavioral addiction.

Environmental Causes of Addiction 

A person’s physical surroundings influence access and exposure to addictive substances or behaviors. For instance, a teenager growing up in a neighborhood where alcohol and drugs are easily accessible and free to use may get into drug and alcohol abuse at an early age. 

While addiction can occur at any age, individuals who start early are more likely to develop drug use disorder. 

Influence toward addiction can originate from the home or family environment, friendships and social interactions, online interactions, TV shows and movies, video games, and the music one listens to. 

Some people have gotten into addiction by continuing to use a recreational drug they experimented with during a social situation. For other people, addiction begins with taking prescription drugs.

Research by the CDC shows that taking opioids continuously for more than three months can lead to an increased risk of opioid addiction.

Cognitive Causes of Addiction 

A 2019 NCBI study identifies five cognitive constructs associated with addiction, namely: 

  1. Explicit and implicit cognitions
  2. Metacognitive beliefs and self-efficacy
  3. Expectancies
  4. Motives
  5. Social norms

Each of these factors influence an individual’s thoughts and attitudes when they engage in excessive substance use or behavior abuse.

Consider the example of expectancies or expectancy theory. When a person expects the pros and cons of addictive behavior to outweigh those of healthy behavior, they will struggle to resist the former.

Signs and Symptoms of Someone Suffering from Addiction

Knowing whether or not someone suffers from addiction is not easy, particularly if they’re trying to hide it. Nevertheless, something as simple as focusing on recognizing the physical symptoms of addiction can be crucial in expediting the process of getting help for the affected person.

While specific symptoms vary with the addictive disorder, the main symptom that doctors use to diagnose addiction is a problematic pattern of use or behavior, which leads to clinically significant distress or impairment. 

Addiction often leads to a myriad of adverse physical and social effects. These effects overlap and may contribute to each other. 

Noteworthily, different drugs and substances have different signs and effects. For instance, blacking out is a sign of alcohol use disorder while loss of motivation and decreased short-term memory are symptoms associated with marijuana use disorder. 

The abuse of opioids can lead to side effects such as mental fog, drowsiness, nausea, and constipation.

Addiction can manifest in one or a combination of any of the following signs:

Social and Behavioral Signs

Physical Signs 

Knowing that someone is suffering from addiction is not enough. A great way to help is encouraging them to take the next step — seeking help from a doctor, addiction treatment center, helpline, or support groups.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357) (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service), or TTY: 1-800-487-4889 is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.

Addiction Treatment

Addiction is treatable — several options are available for individuals looking for help to manage addictions successfully.

As discussed, addiction is a multi-dimensional disease. Its effects go beyond the affected person’s health. Many other aspects of their life and those of family members can get disrupted. 

Thus, effective treatment of addiction requires different levels of care. provides a research-based guide on the principles of effective treatment for substance addiction. 

Alan Deibel, a behavioral therapist with Grow Therapy, says, “The first and most important thing is to make sure any changes are done safely. Abruptly quitting alcohol or benzodiazepines (such as Xanax) is known to pose serious health risks and can be fatal. Understanding that there are many levels of care to treat addiction and knowing what these options are can help individuals know where to start.”

In a nutshell, effective treatment programs incorporate different components, each aimed at addressing a particular aspect of the disease and its effects. The overarching objective is to help the individual stop using addictive substances, maintain a drug-free lifestyle, and function well within their family and society in general. 

Another key principle of effective drug addiction treatment is that any approach chosen must allow the patient sufficient time to receive care and recover. Noteworthily, no single treatment can meet everyone’s treatment needs. Tailoring a treatment program based on a patient’s substance use patterns as well as other related medical, mental, and social problems is crucial to their recovery.

With that said, there are two popular approaches for treatment of addiction: medication and behavioral intervention.

Treating Addiction Using Medication 

Medication may be adopted to drug addiction and withdrawal. For instance, patients suffering from abuse of opioids may be prescribed methadone, buprenorphine, lofexidine, and extended-use naltrexone. 

Further, nicotine replacement therapies, varenicline and bupropion, are common treatments for patients diagnosed with nicotine addiction. Similarly, naltrexone, disulfiram, and acamprosate treat alcohol use disorder. 

Treating Addiction Using Behavioral Intervention

Behavioral therapy involves the modification of behaviors and attitudes related to substance use. These therapies can work alongside medications, where they enhance the effectiveness of chosen medications. 

Behavioral interventions also help patients to stay in treatment programs and avoid relapse. Common behavioral therapies for treatment of addiction include cognitive-behavioral therapy, contingency management, motivational enhancement therapy, couples and family therapy, twelve-step facilitation (TSF), and multi-systemic therapy, among others.

The availability of a wide range of treatment options sheds a beam of hope for anyone dealing with addiction. Perhaps the best thing about the treatment of addiction today is that you can get help in person or virtually. In addition, there are many providers across every state ready to help and accept payment from a wide range of insurance services.

How to Get Help

Addiction is a complex disease that needs professional attention and help to overcome. Whether one is suffering from substance or behavioral addiction, understanding the symptoms and warning signs of addiction and seeking help early can increase the chances of full recovery. 

So, if you or a loved one are struggling with any type of addiction or other mental health problems, don’t hesitate to seek help from a professional.

Frequently Asked Questions

About the author
therapist william snyder William Snyder, LPC

William Snyder is a licensed professional counselor who works with adults experiencing symptoms such as anxiety, depressed mood, loss and grief, identity and self-concept difficulties, relationship problems, life-transition difficulties, and traumatic memories.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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