Spot the Danger

Signs of Addiction

Table of Contents


The word “addiction” brings to mind images from television of people doing questionable acts to pay for drugs. However, addiction doesn’t happen overnight. What starts as occasional use can turn into addiction without anyone noticing. But there are signs of developing alcohol or drug dependence that you can look out for. By recognizing signs of addiction, it’s possible to avoid this dangerous and sometimes fatal path.
We’ll take a look at the common signs of addiction, the differences in the symptoms of addiction between men, women, and teens, as well as signs of addiction that are specific to certain substances.

Common Signs of Addiction

Some signs of addiction are common to all types of substance dependence. Here are four common signs of addiction:1

Obsession with the Addictive Substance

A person who is addicted to alcohol or drugs may spend abnormal amounts of time thinking about and talking about the substance. They may spend a lot of time engaged in activities that will allow them to acquire and use the substance.

Lack of Control

Often, the person who is addicted to a substance cannot stop using. They may have tried to stop on their own at least once with no success. They may also continue to take the substance despite the financial, personal, or health problems that result from the active addiction.

Using to Deal with Problems

People who are addicted to substances may initially use them in social situations, but once addiction sets in, they turn to the substance to help them deal psychologically with any problems that may arise.

Risky Behavior

People with substance addictions may take risks as a means of financial resources, including stealing money or drugs, trading sex for the substance, or selling the substance. They may also engage in risky behavior while under the influence of the substance, such as drinking and driving.

Signs as Addiction Progresses

The signs of addiction can change as the addiction progresses. Here is a comparison of the first signs of addiction, symptoms of addiction as substance use progresses, and the signs of late-stage addiction.


  • Frequent episodes of bloodshot or glassy eyes
  • Frequent mild withdrawal symptoms – hangovers or “crashing”
  • Unexplained injuries
  • Sudden changes in weight, often weight loss


  • Drawn to a particular substance
  • Seeking out activities or situations where the substance may be present
  • Experimentation with the substance
  • Loss of control or binging with the substance with no remorse afterward

Signs Addiction is Progressing

As an addiction progresses, these signs of addiction become more recognizable:3, 4


  • Tolerance to the substance, requiring the person to take larger amounts to get the same effect
  • Stronger withdrawal symptoms when the substance is not used
  • Changes in sleeping patterns – sleeping more or less than usual, or sleeping at different times than usual
  • Changes in energy levels – significantly more or less than usual
  • Persistent cough and congestion
  • Pupils of the eyes may be dilated or constricted
  • Appearing to be sick at times, then better at other times
  • Overall change in appearance – may look disheveled, tired. Hygiene may decline


  • May be secretive or may lie about activities
  • Stealing
  • Urgent, unexplained outings
  • Unpredictable with finances – may have no money at times and large amounts of money at other times
  • Changes in friends and social groups
  • May have “stashes” of drugs or alcohol hidden in the home
  • May have drug paraphernalia hidden in the home
  • Dropping favorite pastimes or hobbies
  • Excessive consumption of substances that is noticeable to friends and family
  • Denial that the person has a problem

Late-Stage Signs of Addiction

Once addiction has taken a firm hold, these symptoms of addiction become more consistent and more alarming:5


  • Constant illness or appearance of poor health
  • Deteriorating condition of hair, teeth, skin and fingernail
  • Withdrawal symptoms any time the substance is not used, including sweating, vomiting and tremors
  • Slurred speech or changes in speech patterns
  • Memory problems


  • Sudden changes in mood
  • Depression
  • Irritability and aggressive behavior
  • Apathy toward anything except substance use
  • Suicidal thoughts

Differences in Drug Use Between Men and Women

Research studies have shown that men are more likely to become addicted than women. That being said since the 1990s research has focused more on the differences between addiction in men and women. Following are some of the signs of drug use in women that may differ from men:6

  • Women use substances to self-treat physical or mental conditions more often, including controlling pain, losing weight, or treating mental health conditions
  • Women may show signs of addiction after using smaller amounts than men
  • Women may have more cravings for substances than men
  • Emotionally stressful events are more likely to trigger substance use and addiction in women
  • Women are more likely than men to display anxiety, depression, and panic attacks when using alcohol or drugs
  • The physical effects of addiction on the heart and blood vessels are more significant in women than in men

The Effect of Drugs and Gender

[Dr. Sinha speaking] Well women are different from men and 00:05 because drugs, each drug of abuse affects us differently. 00:12 When we take in food 00:13 or a drug it has to get processed and by the body. 00:17 So there's a difference in biology that 00:20 targets the drug what we call 00:22 pharmacokinetics or the dynamics of 00:24 breaking down the drug but also for the 00:27 drug to go into our bloodstream and then 00:29 to have its effects. 00:31 So men and women 00:32 differ in terms of the effects of each 00:36 drug acutely but then over time how it 00:39 affects them over time of use and how 00:42 much we use will be different for men and women, too.

Drug Use in Teens

Signs of Drug Use in Teens

Teenagers also display signs of addiction, in ways more specific to their ages and circumstances. Teens show the signs of addiction in these ways:7

  • Changes in behavior and mannerisms
  • Hanging out with friends that are not familiar to their parents
  • Withdrawal from the family and resisting participating in family functions
  • Violating rules and making up excuses when confronted
  • Uncharacteristic overreactions – a teen may become dramatic, verbally abusive, or violent with parents and siblings when confronted with behavior
  • Lack of motivation – grades at school may drop, quitting favorite activities and showing no or low interest in things that they used to enjoy
  • Stealing money or valuable objects to obtain drugs or alcohol
  • Changes in appearance – the teen’s appearance may deteriorate or may significantly change appearance with piercings, tattoos, unusual clothing, and make-up

As addiction progresses, teens show advancing signs of addiction that are similar to adults, including the physical and behavioral changes listed for adults above.

Signs of Addiction to Specific Substances

Some signs of addiction are specific to the substance involved. Addiction may look a little different depending on if the person is addicted to prescription drugs, alcohol, strong opioids such as heroin, or strong stimulants such as methamphetamine. The following are some signs of addiction that are a little more specific to each type of substance:

Signs of Addiction to Pills

Many people become addicted to pills, or prescription drugs, after taking them for medical reasons. Even though these medications are used for medical treatment, a person may become addicted and may show it in these ways:8

  • Taking more pills than prescribed or taking the pills more often than prescribed to achieve the desired effect
  • Requesting refills early or pretending to lose prescriptions to gain more refills
  • “Doctor hopping” – seeking prescriptions from more than one doctor
  • Forging or stealing prescriptions
  • Buying or selling prescriptions
  • Appearing excessively energetic or sedated

Signs of Alcoholism

Alcoholism may be difficult to recognize because alcohol use in moderation is socially acceptable. Here are some signs that alcohol use has gone beyond moderation and may be progressing toward alcohol dependence:9

  • Drinking large amounts of alcohol all at once, or “binge drinking”
  • Spending lots of time drinking, recovering from drinking, or obtaining alcohol
  • Giving priority to social situations and friends that will provide access to alcohol
  • Decreasing time spent with family or engaged in favorite activities and hobbies
  • Using alcohol in situations that are not safe, such as while driving or swimming
  • Continuing to drink even when experiencing problems at work or with relationships
  • Yellowish skin or yellowing of the whites of the eyes – this may occur in late-stage alcoholism due to liver disease

Signs of Heroin Addiction

Heroin is one of the most addictive substances. Here are some signs of addiction that may occur with heroin use:10

  • Flushed skin
  • Falling asleep suddenly
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Constipation and an increased need for laxatives
  • Changes in wardrobe – if a person is injecting heroin, they may wear long sleeved clothing all the time to hide needle marks in their arms
  • Withdrawal from friends and family members, social isolation
  • Frequent infections

Signs of Addiction to Meth

Since methamphetamine, or “meth”, is a stimulant, the signs of addiction may be a little different than the signs for other drugs. Some of the signs of addiction to meth are:11

  • Increased talkativeness and socialness while at the same time being socially unaware
  • Increased energy – feeling exhilarated and confident
  • Increased sexual arousal
  • Blunted emotions
  • Increased physical activity and fidgeting
  • Lack of inhibition and bizarre behavior
  • Picking at the skin or hair
  • Twitching or facial tics
  • Stains on the teeth

How Meth Affects You

Mmethamphetamine is a stimulant they can 00:02 make you feel extra energized it can 00:06 look like a white powder or it can be 00:08 made into a clear crystal shape it is 00:12 also called meth speed crystal and ice 00:17 most methamphetamine is made in big labs 00:20 but people sometimes try to make it in 00:22 their homes by mixing chemicals and 00:25 certain types of cold medicines this is 00:28 dangerous because cooking these 00:30 chemicals can cause toxic fumes and 00:32 explosions how do people use 00:36 methamphetamine people can smoke it or 00:40 snort the powder up their noses they can 00:43 also inject methamphetamine into their 00:45 bodies with a needle people smoke the 00:48 crystal version and a glass pipe 00:51 how does methamphetamine affect your 00:54 brain and body methamphetamine can 00:57 increase your energy make you breathe 00:59 rapidly and increase your heart rate and 01:02 body temperature it also causes a loss 01:06 of appetite which can lead to extreme 01:08 weight loss 01:10 methamphetamine causes teeth to rot 01:12 called meth mouth and causes skin to 01:15 become very itchy which leads to sores 01:18 from scratching can you become addicted 01:22 to methamphetamine yes 01:26 methamphetamine is very addictive over 01:29 time it can change the way your brain 01:31 works if you stop using it you can feel 01:35 very sick this makes it hard to stop 01:38 this is called addiction for more 01:41 information go to teens drug abuse gov

Recognizing addiction is key to getting help for a person with an alcohol or drug dependence. By being aware of the signs of addiction, friends and family members can help steer a person with dependence toward an effective treatment program. If you or someone you love is displaying the signs of addiction, get help today.


If you or a loved one needs help, please call us at
623-523-4748 and our team at Blueprints For Recovery in Arizona will help.

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