A substance abuse disorder isn’t always immediately apparent. When we first give drugs or alcohol a try, we aren’t planning to becoming addicted. These things gradually happen over a period of time. Usually, much to our surprise.
More often than not, we take a substance as a means of self-medication. By using drugs or alcohol, we temporarily escape other unsettling mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. The problem with this is substance abuse can lead to more complications down the line. ¹
That’s why it’s important to recognize the signs of a substance abuse disorder. The earlier you understand your position, the easier and more liberating treatment will be.
Throughout this article, we’re going to look at 5 of the most common signs for people struggling with a substance abuse disorder. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
1. Developing a Tolerance
Building a tolerance to drugs or alcohol is one of the first signs you may develop with a substance abuse disorder.
A tolerance is when your brain and body have become adjusted to the chemical of your choice. Due to this adjustment, you must take more of that chemical in order to feel the initial effects it once brought you. ²
If you have developed a tolerance to drugs or alcohol, you most likely can withstand excessive amounts of the substances. With that, you may feel it’s necessary to increase your doses on a regular basis.
Still, it should be noted, a tolerance doesn’t confirm you’re struggling with a substance abuse disorder. Our brains and bodies are all built differently and, with that, some people naturally have a tolerance to certain substances.
The key to understanding whether a tolerance is apart of addiction or not is by comparing the way a substance effects you now in juxtaposition to when you first took it.
2. Impaired Control
In order to recognize this sign, you must understand that drug and alcohol addiction are a disease rather than a choice.
Yes, it’s true we all decide the first time we’re gonna try a substance. But the addiction that follows is anything but a choice. Rather, it’s the brain and body’s reaction to having a foreign chemical brought into its system.
As mentioned above, it’s common for those who struggle with addiction to develop a tolerance. With that tolerance, there is also a tendency for people to lose control of their drug use. This includes taking more than initially intended or using a substance for a longer period of time. ³
Impaired control also plays a roll in how you behave. For example, you may spend a great deal of time trying, using, or recovering from the effects of a substance. With that, you may also accidentally use too much of a substance and trigger one of the following:
- Mood swings
- Relationship problems
If you’ve wanted to quit a substance, but can’t seem to overcome it, this is another product of impaired control. Due to intense cravings, it’s difficult for you to focus on anything other than the drug. In turn, you’ve lost control of your behavior.
3. Risky Usage
Do you ever find yourself using drugs or alcohol in a risky situation. For example, you may drink alcohol while driving a car. Or, you may continue to use cocaine even though you’ve been diagnosed with a heart condition. ⁴
This risky behavior is a definite sign that you’re struggling with a substance abuse disorder. Substances tend to take over a person’s will power. But when they do so to the point of putting that person’s entire life at risk, they become more dangerous than they already are.
This is the importance of finding treatment. Though it may not seem like it at first, the right treatment program could just save your life.
4. Social Deterioration
For many of us, the beginning of our drug use appears to be in control. We’re able to go to common social events and plan our drug use accordingly. However, over time, we may find that we’d rather disregard these events all together. ⁵
Social deterioration for the sake of using drugs or alcohol is one of the biggest signs of a substance abuse disorder. It’s a strong indicator when you begin missing important events, such as work, school, or family functions. In some instances, people go as far as to neglect their own children.
Beyond these social issues, you may also find yourself struggling with interpersonal relationships. These include your immediate family, close friends, and a significant other.
It’s important to remember that these people are vital when you finally decide to quit. Throughout treatment, it’s going to be encouraged you seek out a support system to discuss matters of your recovery. Your immediate family, close friends, or lover will most likely be at the top of your support list. ⁶
5. Withdrawal Symptoms
When you go without drugs or alcohol, do you notice unpleasant and sometimes painful symptoms? Do you feel as though you aren’t normal without a substance in your system?
This is when you can be sure addiction has gotten a grasp on you. Withdrawal symptoms are a clear sign of a substance abuse disorder as they show our bodies need to take drugs or alcohol. Your body has become so accustomed to the chemical changes, it doesn’t know how to function properly without it. ⁷
Withdrawal symptoms will vary depending on your substance of choice and individual body chemistry. In order to get a true idea of what you’re up against, we highly encourage you to do a bit of extra research on your own.
However, common withdrawal symptoms include:
- Difficulty focusing
- Difficulty sleeping
- Mood swings
A reputable treatment facility is prepared to help you through your withdrawal with a proper detox. Again, though this will vary depending on your circumstances, the most intense withdrawal symptoms usually only last about a week. ⁸
If you are struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, we aren’t going to hide around the fact that overcoming it isn’t going to be easy. In fact, this may be one of the most difficult things you ever have to do within your life.
However, the benefits of finding your road to recovery are tremendous. So much so, it’s unlikely you can realize how much of a positive effect quitting a substance can have on you, your body, and your spirit. Not to mention, those who care about you most.
We highly advise you look into treatment options within your area and talk to a medical professional about your situation.
Still have questions concerning the signs of drug or alcohol addiction?
We invite you to ask them in the comment’s section below. If you have any further advice – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ National Institute of Mental Health: Substance Use and Mental Health
² PubMed: The relationship of addiction, tolerance, and dependence to alcohol and drugs: a neurochemical approach.
³ PubMed: Drug abuse as a problem of impaired control: current approaches and findings.
⁴ National Institute on Drug Abuse: NIDA Notes Articles: Risky Behavior
⁵ NIH News in Health: Biology of Addiction
⁶ National Institute on Drug Abuse: Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction
⁷ NIDA For Teens: Word of the Day: Withdrawal
⁸ NCBI: Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings.