Signs of addiction and how to help

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction as a chronic but treatable disease that impacts how the brain processes rewards. Individuals can be addicted to behaviors or substances, typically at the expense of other important parts of life, such as work or family. 

If you believe a family member or loved one might be displaying signs of addiction, here are a few things to look out for and how to help. 

Signs of addiction to look out for

You might be familiar with drug or alcohol addiction, also referred to as substance abuse disorder. However, people can be addicted to substances and behaviors.

If you are unfamiliar with the common symptoms of addiction, here are a few things to look out for:

  • A lack of control around a specific behavior or substance
  • Changes in behavior, such as keeping secrets
  • Ignoring risk factors or adverse side effects around a particular behavior
  • Increased tolerance of a substance, needing a higher dose for the same effect
  • Issues with physical health, such as weight changes or lack of energy
  • Neglected appearance
  • Physical withdrawal symptoms when not using the substance
  • Social isolation from meaningful relationships
  • Spending money you cannot afford to get the substance or continue the behavior
  • Stealing to purchase the substance or continue the behavior
  • Struggling to meet family, work or school obligations

A person not addicted to a substance or behavior typically identifies negative consequences and changes their behavior. Someone addicted will continue to abuse the substance or continue the behavior despite the personal and physical cost. 

Understanding addiction: why it happens

There are many different underlying causes of addiction and risk factors that can contribute to someone becoming addicted. 

Genetics and your environment, such as the friends you hang out with, can be risk factors for developing an addiction. People with family members who struggle with substance abuse could be more predisposed to also becoming addicted to drugs, alcohol or other harmful behaviors. 

When you use an addictive substance, this causes physical changes to cells in the brain that alter how you feel pleasure and process external signals. Certain substances, such as drugs, can alter the brain’s chemicals or how the brain works. 

Substances directly impact areas that drive pleasure, motivation, rewards, habits and routines. The reward from the addiction takes over these parts of the brain and makes it hard to feel pleasure from anything other than the drug.

A history of mental health disorders, isolation, early substance use and taking a highly addictive drug can also lead to addiction. 

How to help an addict

If you believe your loved one is struggling with addiction, it can be difficult to watch. For some people, trying to help their loved one can lead to codependency, where an individual makes excuses for or inadvertently supports the addictive behavior. 

To help your loved one, start by learning about addiction and understanding that it is a treatable illness the individual can learn to manage. Encourage them to seek help and find treatment resources for them. Whether it's quitting smoking, drinking, or other substances, a positive support system is crucial for an addict's recovery.  

Set an example by avoiding addictive substances yourself. Learn to set boundaries and not make excuses for their behavior. Remain optimistic that they will eventually seek help and support them when they ask for help. Consider seeking help for yourself, as you may also need additional support.

Where to get help with substance abuse

Substance abuse or addiction is a treatable medical condition, but the sooner you identify the signs of substance abuse and get help, the more likely long-term recovery will be. The best place to start is to talk with a healthcare provider. You may also look for a doctor, counselor, or therapist specializing in addiction medicine for further guidance. 

If you or your family member is not ready to speak to a healthcare provider, consider calling a substance or addiction hotline. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a free and confidential 24-7 national hotline for individuals and families struggling with mental health or substance abuse problems. The phone number is 1-800-662-4357, or text HELP4U (435748), and they can assist in finding resources in your area.

When to seek medical help at urgent care

Our healthcare providers at our urgent care centers can help with non-emergency medical concerns that addiction-related behaviors might cause. 

If anyone you know or yourself is experiencing seizures, trouble breathing or chest pain from substance abuse, you should seek emergency medical care at your local emergency department. 

At urgent care, we can treat minor cuts, injuries or mild dehydration from substance abuse at any of our conveniently located centers, 365 days a year. We can also provide referrals to local resources for addiction treatment. Just walk in or save your spot in line for immediate care and attention.