Addiction can present itself in various forms, and recognizing warning signs can be crucial for early intervention and support. Although various signs and symptoms of addiction exist, realizing that your drug or alcohol intake has become excessive might be challenging.
We spoke with Danielle Byatt, an addiction counselor and treatment director at Step by Step Recovery, about identifying warning signs and potential indicators of addiction.
1. Changes in behavior
Addiction involves alterations in the brain’s reward system and other regions associated with motivation, decision-making, and self-control. The repeated use of addictive substances can lead to structural and functional modifications in the brain, affecting behavior and consequential decision-making skills.
This is usually a gradual process that slowly reduces your motivation to fulfill your daily commitments. You may also lose interest in your former routine and withdraw from social activities. Neglecting important obligations, such as work, school, or personal relationships, in favor of substance use can clearly indicate addiction.
2. Breakdown of relationships
A noticeable decline in the quality of relationships, conflicts with family or friends, or distancing yourself from loved ones can result from addiction. As addiction takes hold, you will likely want to spend more time with other people who are also addicted to drugs or alcohol and will actively try to find ways to avoid spending time with family and friends.
3. Compulsive cravings
Cravings are a strong warning sign. You may feel an intense urge or compulsion to use a substance despite negative consequences and do things you wouldn’t ordinarily do, such as stealing money from your family or engaging in behavior that you may regret later.
4. Physical dependence
Signs commonly include withdrawal symptoms that start within 24 hours after the last time you used drugs or alcohol. Although withdrawal symptoms will vary depending on the substance you are using and how much of it you use, common signs include headaches, nausea, fatigue, and tremors.
5. Financial difficulties
Persistent financial problems, including borrowing money from friends and family, credit card debt, or insufficient money to pay important bills, are all evidence of addiction. When you choose to buy drugs or alcohol instead of paying essential expenses such as rent or food, you are no longer in control of your finances and need help.
6. Increased tolerance
The repeated usage of addictive substances activates neurotransmitters like dopamine, causing pleasurable sensations in the brain’s reward circuitry. However, over time, the brain adapts to the presence of the addictive substance, necessitating higher doses to achieve the same level of pleasure. This is referred to as increased tolerance and can be a clear signal of the progression of addiction.
7. Emotional and psychological changes
If you’re battling an addiction to alcohol or drugs, this can lead to irritability, anxiety, and agitation and also cause paranoia and fear, leading to panic attacks. You may also find it harder to regulate your feelings, leading to excessive emotional reactions or a general feeling of numbness.
Moreover, substance abuse can impair cognition and memory, making simple things hard to remember. You might find it challenging to think clearly, concentrate, or recall information accurately. It can also increase impulsivity, leading to risky or impulsive behavior.
When to seek help for addiction
The presence of one or more of these signs does not definitively indicate addiction, but if present, it is critical to seek the guidance of a healthcare professional or addiction specialist for a comprehensive evaluation and appropriate care. Addiction is a progressive disease, and like any health condition, the sooner you begin treatment, the more likely you will recover completely.
If you or someone you care about is abusing alcohol or drugs, don’t wait for an overdose or psychotic break to seek help. Substance use disorder (SUD) is a serious medical condition that requires treatment.
What addiction treatment is offered by the NHS?
Options for addiction treatment on the NHS are available through local drug and alcohol services. You can either be referred by your GP or refer yourself while ensuring confidentiality. These services can assign you a drug and alcohol key worker to provide substitution prescriptions to help you to switch from illegal drugs to prescribed alternatives and help you access outpatient addiction treatment.
Accessing residential rehab on the NHS is a more complex process typically reserved for severe and critical cases of drug and alcohol addiction. Before considering funding for rehab, less intensive treatment methods are usually attempted to assess their effectiveness.
If these methods fail and your drug and alcohol key worker determines it appropriate, a funding application may be considered. If approved and as long as you attend all of your outpatient appointments, you will be placed on a waiting list for rehab. Waiting times can vary depending on demand and funding availability in your local area, often ranging from six months to a year.
Free alternatives to the NHS for addiction treatment
Apart from NHS services, there are alternative options available that are free of charge. Charities and self-help groups can provide support in overcoming addiction. To access local services, you can use the Talk to Frank website search function to find local and national addiction services in the UK, or call their helpline at 0800 77 6600, which is open 24/7, seven days a week.
You can also reach out to the following organisations for free help and support with addiction:
An alcohol helpline that provides guidance for individuals and anyone concerned about alcohol use
Helpline: 0300 123 1110 (open weekdays, 9 am to 8 pm, weekends, 11 am to 4 pm)
Free crisis and support hotline offering guidance, advice, and assistance, as well as details about nearby services for help with addiction to alcohol and drugs
Helpline: 0808 1 606 606 (open Monday to Thursday, 9 am to 1 pm & 7 pm to 10.30 pm and
Friday 9 am to 1 pm).
UK Narcotics Anonymous
For addicts who want to stop using and who want to support one another in staying drug-free, there are helplines and frequent self-help meetings.
Helpline: 0300 999 1212 (open 10 am to midnight)
A self-help group that tries to assist loved ones of individuals who have a drug addiction by offering support to one another.
Helpline: 0207 498 2680 (open 1 pm to 4 pm and 6 pm to 9 pm).
Parentline Plus provides advice and support to anyone caring for children and information about drug addiction.
Helpline: 0808 800 2222 (open 24/7, seven days a week).
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