Substance abuse is an issue for people from all walks of life. Anyone, regardless of generation, background, or social status can become addicted to a substance. This is the essence of substance dependence – it affects nearly every part of a person biologically.

Substance abuse includes misuse of prescription drugs, abuse of substances for dealing with negative emotions or mental illnesses, and illegal use. But, are we able to tell if someone is actively struggling with substance abuse? In this article, we’re going to discuss what addiction looks like and how you can tell if someone is struggling with it.

Characteristics of People With High Abuse Potential

Some characteristics can be recognized in people who are more likely to be physically dependent on substances. Some factors to look for in people that run a higher risk of substance abuse are as follows:

Connection With Others With a Dependence

There is no doubt of genes impacting the likelihood of an individual forming dependency. As many studies indicate, someone who has a family member who has struggled with addiction is far more likely to develop one themselves than people without family members like this.

Indeed, a national study has even shown that certain portions of the human genome are directly connected to certain addictions. With such knowledge, the possibility of a person developing addiction may be more accurately identified in the future. However, there is no certainty that an individual develops dependency. Many environmental factors can also contribute to genetic predisposition for substance abuse.

Psychological Problems

Alongside genetic predisposition, the existence of current mental health disorders is another individual’s wellness characteristic that may lead to a greater risk of addiction. Those who deal with different conditions of mental health are more likely to abuse and rely on drugs.

Nicotine has, also, been shown to reduce some of the symptoms of schizophrenia only momentarily. The use of cigarettes to control these symptoms is referred to as self-medication, which later becomes substance abuse.

Adventurous and Risk-taking 

Several traits are more susceptible to addiction than others. Individuals who like taking risks and have little hesitation in new experiences and dangerous behaviors are more likely to experiment with substances.

Individuals with elevated dopamine in the brain may be less responsive to their effects, meaning that they need more stimulation to experience the euphoria that substances can bring. This can, in effect, be linked to someone’s alcohol and drug interactions that directly affect the dopamine system.


The brave, risk-taker type that develops dependence is more likely to be male, according to a Scientific American study. On the other side, conservative people who have social relationships complicated and can struggle at the same time from depression or anxiety or both can also experience addiction; these forms of personalities are more often female.

In spite of the theories listed above, individuals with such characteristics try to treat symptoms of anxiety and feel lonely, detached and discouraged by means of alcohol abuse or drug addiction. This can then lead to a person feeling well in general, but causes them to become dependent on substances, leading to tolerance and addiction.

Compulsive and Alert

Addiction often has to do with the loss of rhythm regulation, but not only with the trigger being unable to handle. Too hard people can abuse the substance as an expression of obsessive-compulsive behavior, to control their impulses.

Dependency often becomes a restraint on a behavior that has developed over time and not just one desire to try something new. Individuals with intense focus and normal behavior, and those unable to regulate urges, can develop an addiction. The fascination with psychoactive drugs is a major sign of the condition. A loss of desires that can be also a sign of vulnerability may be present independently from and in conjunction with it.

Unable to Self-regulate

Another common sign that someone may be suffering from substance abuse is if the individuals are unable to regulate behaviors, beliefs, and feelings. When they are unable to self-regulate, they can become impulsive and give into desires to use over and over again.

Other Signs That Someone May Abuse Substances

Learning the physical signs of substance abuse can help you better decipher whether or not someone is suffering from this kind of issue. They are as follows:

Physical Signs of Substance Abuse

  • Dilated or constricted pupils (larger or smaller than usual)
  • Slurred speech
  • Tremors or impaired coordination
  • Either a general sense of lethargy or excessive energy, depending on the drug
  • Sudden changes in weight, loss or gain
  • Abnormal sleeping and eating patterns
  • Scars, bruises, and skin abrasions
  • Nosebleeds
  • Awful smells on the body (breath)
  • Excessive Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Excessive scratching, particularly of hair/scalp, and picking at skin
  • Respiratory problems
  • Dehydration

You may also notice some other changes in a person’s psychological or behavioral well-being. Here are some of the psychological and behavioral indicators that someone may be suffering from addiction:

Psychological Signs of Substance Abuse

  • Sudden mood swings
  • Unusual hyperactivity, irritability, impulsiveness, or giddiness
  • Inability to concentrate; spacing and zoning out
  • Lack of motivation and ambition
  • Anxiousness or paranoia
  • Defensiveness and denial
  • Depression

Behavioral Signs of Substance Abuse

  • Dishonesty towards others
  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Low performance at school and work
  • Loss of interest in their old hobbies
  • Sudden change in the group of friends
  • Isolation from society
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Unexplained financial troubles

How to Help People at High Risk of Dependence

Different forms of behavioral therapy can help individuals who have difficulty managing their behaviors and gaining self-regulatory skills to reduce addictive behavior. Treatment programs can include these interventions with other proven strategies for those who have already experienced drug abuse disorders.

This approach can help people to safely stop using drugs or alcohol and to live sober lives and control the different characteristics mentioned above. The search for research-based care can provide the person with tools to understand and manage these different characteristics, making recovery much more possible.

Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Scottsdale Recovery Center holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2009. Call 602-346-9142.