Many people who end up addicted to alcohol or other substances started out just using their drug of choice recreationally.

Perhaps they would get high at parties or drink with colleagues after a stressful day at work. Eventually, though, what started out as a fun, experimental activity turned into a habit they struggled to break and were possibly even unable to recognize had gotten out of control.

For many people fighting addiction, also known as substance use disorder, their friends, family and colleagues may recognize they have crossed the line into problematic using before the sufferer can admit it to themselves.

The Signs of Addiction

Web MD and The Mayo Clinic list the following behaviors as symptoms of addiction:

  • Feeling the need to use regularly — daily or even several times a day
  • Having intense urges for the drug that block out any other thoughts
  • Taking a drug after there is no longer a medical reason to do so
  • Needing more and more of the drug to get the same effect
  • Taking larger amounts of the drug over a longer period of time than you intended
  • Maintaining a supply of the drug
  • Spending money you cannot afford on the drug
  • Cutting back on social, work, or recreational activities because of drug use
  • Continuing to use, even though it’s causing problems, physical and/or psychological harm
  • Doing out of character things, such as lying and stealing, to get the drug
  • Losing interest in things that were previously enjoyable
  • Hiding drug use or its effects from other people
  • Complaints from friends, family, and colleagues about changes to personality, mood, etc.
  • Sleeping or eating far more or far less than usual
  • Driving, operating heavy machinery, or doing other risky activities under the influence
  • Spending significant time getting, using, or recovering from the effects of the drug
  • Failing to stop using when attempting to do so
  • Drastic change in appearance—possibly including blood shot eyes, poor hygiene, tremors, bloody noses, and weight gain/loss
  • New “friends” who are only around for getting/using drugs
  • Doctor shopping
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping
  • Financial issues

The Mayo Clinic article also lists side effects from specific drugs, including marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, meth, cocaine, club drugs, hallucinogens, inhalants and opioids.

Substance Abuse Risk Factors

Some people can seemingly use or not use without ever developing an addiction, while others seem prone to chemical dependency. Some people explain this by using the term addictive personality, a concept that is popular in many circles but not necessarily completely accurate in the picture it paints of addiction. However, there are numerous conditions that increase addiction risk:

  • Family history of addiction – The genetic risk factors aren’t fully understood, but people with parents, grandparents, siblings, or other close relatives with an addiction are at a higher risk.
  • Gender – Men are more likely to become addicted than women.
  • Type of substance – Certain substances (crack, cocaine, heroin, etc.) tend to get users addicted rapidly. Alcohol abuse generally takes longer to progress into an addiction.
  • Age of first exposure – People who start young are more likely to become addicted.
  • Peer pressure – Spending time with heavy substance users can influence someone to copy this behavior until a genuine addiction develops.
  • Poor relationship with family – Lacking support from family members causes feelings of loneliness that increase substance abuse risk.
  • Living with mental illness – Someone with mental illness is more likely to become addicted and develop a dual diagnosis or co-occurring diagnoses, as described by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
  • High stress levels – Substance abuse as a coping mechanism for handling stress is very common.

Negative Outcomes Associated with Substance Abuse

When a person becomes addicted to a substance, it can impact every aspect of their life. Life-changing complications of addiction can include:

  • Getting a communicable disease, often through unsafe sex or shared needles
  • Short-term and long-term mental and physical health problems
  • Accidents as a result of driving or doing other dangerous activities under the influence
  • Suicide
  • Family problems, including marital conflicts
  • Work issues due to declining performance at work, absenteeism, or job loss
  • Problems at school from reduced academic performance and motivation
  • Legal issues from buying or possessing illegal drugs, stealing to support the addiction, driving under the influence, or disputes over child custody
  • Financial problems, such as debt from drug use


There’s a famous saying, that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This could not be truer in the case of substance abuse. It is far easier to give a person the tools to never start misusing drugs and alcohol, than it is to help a person who has already become addicted.

The Mayo Clinic suggests the following preventative actions:

  • Communicate. Talk to children and teens about the risks of drug abuse.
  • Listen. Be a good listener when children talk about peer pressure and be supportive of their efforts to resist it.
  • Set a good example. Don’t misuse alcohol or addictive drugs. Children of parents who misuse drugs are at greater risk of drug addiction.
  • Strengthen the bond. A strong, stable bond between a child and their family will reduce the child’s risk of becoming addicted.

In addition, SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) has a campaign called “Talk. They Hear You.” intended to help parents prevent underage drinking and substance abuse. The initiative includes a smart phone app, Public Service Announcements (PSAs) and other parent resources.

Getting Help

It is important to be educated about the realities of addiction, in order to appropriately support loved ones who are struggling with it. Key points to remember include:

  • Willpower alone is not enough for most people to overcome an addiction.
  • Addiction is not a moral failing. In fact, it is often linked to trauma and mental illness.
  • There is hope for recovery from addiction.
  • Treatment does work…when the person is ready.
  • Relapse is sometimes part of the recovery journey.
  • A strong support system is one of the best tools a person fighting addiction can have.

If you or someone you care about seems to be struggling with substance abuse, Safe Harbor Recovery Center is here to help.

For more information about programs at Safe Harbor Recovery Center, Virginia substance abuse treatment, contact us at (888) 932-2304. We are ready to help you make a new beginning.