One prominent feature of any mental health disorder is the individual’s inability to be objective regarding their behavior and how it affects them and others. This is especially true of individuals who have issues with substance abuse. Individuals with substance use disorders often have brief moments or concerns about their behavior but they tend to rationalize or minimize these concerns. This tendency to minimize perceived shortcomings is not unique to individuals with mental health disorders, but it is a general tendency that individuals do to protect their self-esteem. Nonetheless, when an individual is displaying disordered behavior and they are unable to see the consequences of their behavior, there are serious and potentially hazardous ramifications to their actions.
Because terms like addict, addiction, and substance abuse are terms that are very difficult to formally define, the American Psychiatric Association has introduced a new and more descriptive term to describe these issues: substance use disorders. This term describes the dysfunctional use of alcohol, drugs, and other substances in a manner that can be presented on a level that is more realistic with the behaviors expressed by these individuals and with a formal diagnosis. Therefore, there are specific signs that one may have a problem with substance use and may need to be assessed for a substance use disorder. While this is the formal language to describe addiction, many people still use the term addict.
The formal diagnosis of a substance use disorder (substance abuse or addiction) is a clinical diagnosis that can only be made by a trained and qualified mental health professional. However, anyone who is concerned about their substance use can objectively view their behavior and decide if they believe they may have a problem with their use of drugs or alcohol. The key is being objective about one’s behavior. This means considering all the potential ramifications that are associated with one’s behavior as opposed to trying to excuse or explain things away.
10 Signs One May Be an Addict
There is no single overall sign or symptom that definitively defines that one is an addict or has an issue with abusing drugs or alcohol. Instead, individuals with these issues typically display numerous signs and symptoms. Anyone who believes they may have a problem abusing alcohol or drugs should seek professional help, including a professionally performed assessment of one’s mental health status and physical wellbeing. The information in this article is designed to be used as a guideline to help concerned individuals decide if they or someone they know may need to seek a professional assessment and cannot be used to diagnose anyone with any type of mental health condition.
Many sources include signs such as changes in personality, isolation, depression, using drugs or alcohol to relieve stress, etc., as signs that one has a potential problem with a substance use disorder; however, these are general signs that occur with a number of issues and are not specific to problems with drugs or alcohol that may qualify for a substance use disorder diagnosis.
Ten signs that may indicate that one may be an addict are outlined in detail below.
2. When one uses their drug of choice or alcohol, they often use significantly more than they had intended when they started. This symptom represents one of the many issues with control that individuals who have substance use disorders display. Individuals with addictions often begin by thinking, “I’m going to have a couple of drinks,” or “I’m just going to take one pill.” Despite this initial intent, they often use more than they had originally intended. This indicates that the individual is having issues controlling their use of drugs or alcohol, and issues with control are hallmarks symptoms of addiction.
4. The person continues to use their drug of choice or alcohol even though their use results in problems in their relationships or in other social issues (e.g., being banned from certain social functions, being thrown out of bars, etc.). One of the hallmark signs of any mental health disorder is how the individual’s behavior affects their social functioning. Individuals who experience issues in their personal relationships or in other aspects of their social functioning that are directly attributable to their use of drugs or alcohol may be expressing a significant sign of an addiction.
6. The person continues to engage in substance use even though they know that it is affecting them emotionally, physically, or socially. Individuals who continue to use their substance of choice despite knowing that it is resulting in declines in their health, emotional functioning, or social sphere are potentially displaying signs of a behavioral disorder. A common manifestation of this symptom is the continued use of alcohol even though the individual suffers blackouts when they drink excessively. These blackouts are considered to be serious signs of an alcohol use disorder by clinicians.
8. Lying about use of drugs or alcohol, not being straightforward about such use, or reacting defensively when individuals attempt to discuss one’s use of drugs and/or alcohol can be signs of addiction. When a person begins to lie about using substances or is evasive regarding their substance use, this is generally a sign that they are trying to hide something. Individuals who become angry or defensive when others attempt to discuss their use of drugs or alcohol with them are also expressing a type of psychological defense mechanism designed to protect them from information they feel is threatening to them. Individuals who express these behaviors should discuss their use of drugs or alcohol with a qualified mental health physician.
10. The presence of withdrawal symptoms when not using one’s drug of choice can be a clear sign that someone is an addict. The development of withdrawal symptoms to any drug can only occur once an individual has also developed tolerance to the drug (the need to use more of the drug to get the same effects that were once achieved at lower amounts). Individuals who are not using drugs under the supervision of a physician and develop physical dependence on them (expressing both tolerance and withdrawal) have been using significant amounts and are abusing the drugs. Individuals with prescriptions to medications may often develop physical dependence on the drugs even if they use them according to their prescribed uses. An individual with a prescription who uses the drug outside its prescribed parameters, such as mixing it with other drugs or alcohol, using more of the drug habitually than prescribed, using it more often than prescribed, getting numerous prescriptions from numerous physicians, etc., also needs to be evaluated for a substance use disorder.
Any person who objectively decides that they satisfy two or more of the above conditions should consider being assessed by a formal mental health clinician to see if they actually do qualify for a diagnosis of a substance use disorder. In most instances, if a person is questioning whether they could be an addict, it’s a sign that a problem is present.
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