Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

What to Watch For and Typical Addictions

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All addictions, whether to substances or to behaviors, involve both physical and psychological processes. Each person’s experience of addiction is slightly different, but usually involves a cluster of some of the below signs and symptoms of addiction. 

Symptoms vs. Signs

Symptoms can only be experienced by the person with the addiction, whereas signs can be observed by other people. You can never know what someone else is experiencing unless they tell you, so if you are concerned that someone else may have an addiction, look for signs as well as for symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

You might see some of these signs but not others in an addicted person, but you can still be addicted even if you do not have all of the symptoms. These are signs which occur across many, but not necessarily all, addictions. Some of the common signs and symptoms of addiction are:

  • Secretiveness
  • Lying
  • Stealing
  • Financially unpredictable, perhaps having large amounts of cash at times but no money at all at other times
  • Changes in social groups, new and unusual friends, odd phone conversations
  • Repeated unexplained outings, often with a sense of urgency
  • Drug paraphernalia such as unusual pipes, cigarette papers, small weighing scales, etc.
  • “Stashes” of drugs, often in small plastic, paper or foil packages
  • Tolerance, which is the need to engage in the addictive behavior more and more to get the desired effect
  • Withdrawal happens when the person does not take the substance or engage in the activity, and they experience unpleasant symptoms, which are often the opposite of the effects of the addictive behavior
  • Difficulty cutting down or controlling the addictive behavior
  • Social, occupational or recreational activities becoming more focused around the addiction, and important social and occupational roles being jeopardized
  • The person becoming preoccupied with the addiction, spending a lot of time on planning, engaging in, and recovering from the addictive behavior
  • Extreme mood changes – happy, sad, excited, anxious, etc
  • Sleeping a lot more or less than usual, or at different times of the day or night
  • Changes in energy – unexpectedly and extremely tired or energetic
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Unexpected and persistent coughs or sniffles
  • Seeming unwell at certain times and better at other times
  • Pupils of the eyes seeming smaller or larger than usual

Use Caution

Most of the signs of addiction can have other explanations too. For example, someone can be secretive because they are planning a birthday surprise for a friend. People can have changes of energy for numerous reasons, health-related and otherwise. They can make new friendships and end old ones for many reasons other than addictions.

Be cautious about jumping to conclusions. Unless you have found drugs or drug paraphernalia ​or have some other obvious evidence of an addiction, it is likely there is another explanation. However, do not be naïve if you have found drugs or drug paraphernalia, as you may end up with legal problems if you do not address the situation.

Most of the signs of addiction are similar to normal teenage behavior. Unfortunately, teenagers are one of the groups most vulnerable to addiction. Parents who are concerned about their teenage child should be very careful when discussing addiction with a teenager.

Types and Signs of Other Addictions

The links below will give you more details of the signs and symptoms of specific addictions.

Substance Addictions

The most common substance addictions include:

Behavioral Addictions

The most common behavioral addictions include:

  • Computer – for example, internetvideo games, social networking sites, cybersex or online gambling
  • Eating – for example, overeatingbingeing or purging
  • Exercise – for example, weight loss or sports
  • Gambling – for example, VLTs, casinos or slot machines
  • Gaming – for example, computer games
  • Sex – for example, porn, cybersex or multiple partners
  • Shopping – for example, spending or stealing
  • Work – for example, overwork, money or power

Sources:

American Psychiatric Association. “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (4th Edition – Text Revision), Washington DC, American Psychiatric Association. 1994.

Marks, Isaac. “Behavioural (Non-Chemical) Addictions.” British Journal of Addiction 1990 85:1389-1394. 24 Jul. 2008.

Orford, Jim. “Excessive Appetites: A Psychological View of Addictions” (2nd Edition). Wiley, Chicester. 2001.

Responsible Gambling Council. “Warning Signs: Signs Someone You Know May Have A Problem With Gambling.” July 24, 2008.

Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health. “Sexual Addiction.” March 28, 2014.

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