The most obvious warning is a simple one: are you or your loved one dependent on a substance or activity to get by on a day to day basis? An addict is unable to stop using a substance even when they are aware of the dangers or consequences, and can’t go long without giving in to cravings. They will deny their addiction is having any negative impact on their lives no matter how much evidence there is to the contrary, insisting that they can ‘handle it’ or can ‘quit any time they want to.’ It’s important to recognize where a line can be drawn: someone who talks constantly about wanting a drink but can go for days without one may not be an alcoholic. Still, it’s far too easy for overuse of a substance to transition into full-blown addiction unless action is taken. Addiction is a disease and should be treated like one; it’s not something that can simply be turned on and off.
You should also watch for drastic changes in a person’s interests and behavior, whether sudden or gradual; or take a close and hard look at your own life and see what changes you have recently made to work around or for your use of a substance. When someone is suffering from substance abuse, they lose interest in things they used to care about the most, focusing less and less on their hobbies, work, school, family, and friends. An addict’s substance abuse consumes more and more of their time, resources, and energy as they disconnect from family, social, and occupational responsibilities and obligations; in the grip of addiction, obtaining and using the substance becomes their highest priority. Common and noticeable side effects of substance abuse include loss of appetite or interest in eating regularly, sleepless nights, changes in appearance, and depression; as eating and sleeping habits skew or are disrupted, the patterns of an addict’s daily life will shift dramatically.
Arguably the most difficult consequences of addiction to recover from, and one of the most painful, is the damage it causes to relationships with family and friends. A person struggling with addiction will try to drive away or hurt their loved ones, isolating themselves or lashing out. Whether they deny or accept their addiction, feelings of shame, guilt, or embarrassment can overwhelm them; an addict will assign irrational blame to their loved ones, filled with resentment or anger as they look for something to hold responsible for their struggles.
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