Drug and alcohol use in this country is on the rise, with over 23 million Americans struggling with addiction. To put that more clearly; 1 in every 10 people in the United States over the age of 12 is currently struggling with substance abuse. Given these numbers, if you don’t know how to identify addiction (in yourself or loved ones) you could be in trouble.

But what exactly is addiction, and how can we recognize the symptoms?

Chemical dependence, or substance use disorder, is the psychological and physiological need to continue using a substance, in spite of the fact that it is negatively impacting your relationships and life. To put it simply: continued use despite negative consequences.

While each individual is unique and may not display all of the symptoms, the following are ways you can recognize addiction before it takes over.

How To Identify Addiction

Physical dependence

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The presence of withdrawal symptoms is often one of the first indicators of physical dependence on a substance.

Over time, individuals build up a tolerance to the drug and must use more of it to feel the same affect. Changes in physiology (withdrawal) can make them feel bad, and when it comes to functioning “normally,” it can be almost impossible without the drugs in their system.

Neglecting responsibilities

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Ignoring responsibilities in order to use drugs (or gamble) or as a consequence of drug use (or gambling) is a major red flag.

Choosing drugs or alcohol over meeting personal obligations and responsibilities is one of the biggest signs of addiction. Picking up your child late from school because you’re buying drugs, or calling in sick to work to stay home and get high all day are classic signs the addiction is taking precedence over obligations and responsibilities.

Developing Unhealthy friendships

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You’re only as good as the company you keep. If you everyone you hang out with is addicted to drugs or alcohol, you’re headed in that direction too.

The phrase “like attracts like” is applicable when it comes to addiction. When individuals begin experimenting with new substances, they often find themselves spending time with others who have similar habits. Soon, that person is spending all their time with people who may encourage, enable and support these unhealthy habits.


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Isolation is a sign of many mental health conditions along with addiction.

On the flip side of developing unhealthy friendships is avoidance and isolation. Often when individuals are in the beginning stages of addiction, they will begin to isolate and avoid family and friends in an effort to hide their addictive behaviors. Isolation can be a sign of other mental health conditions like depression and anxiety as well.

Poor judgment

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Poor judgment and addiction often go hand in hand.

Addiction causes people to engage in risky behavior and make poor decisions. People who start to become addicted to a substance may begin lying, stealing, engaging in unsafe sex, and even selling drugs themselves. These behaviors are unsafe for the physical and mental well-being, and may even let them in jail.

Many addicts may not recognize they are exhibiting these tell-tale signs. In these instances, friends and family may need to encourage them in getting the help they desperately need.

Life is short. Addiction can be too if you learn how to identify addiction before it’s too late. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and need help, find a well trained therapist near you to help navigate out of the quicksand. 

James Killian, LPC is the Principal Therapist & Owner of Arcadian Counseling in New Haven, CT where they specialize in helping over-thinkers, high achievers, and perfectionists reduce stress, increase fulfillment and enhance performance so they can move From Surviving To Thriving.