Spotting the Signs of Addiction: A Guide

Did you know that a big reason people get addicted to things is simply because of how the human brain works?

It can impact anyone, from big business moguls to elementary school teachers. Addiction is prevalent across all walks of life, but that doesn’t make it any less terrifying. 

Are you curious about what addiction really looks like? You might be wondering if you or someone you know is dealing with a concerning addiction or if it’s just normal behavior. 

Keep reading as we talk about some of the most common addictions out there and what signs of addiction you should look out for.

Alcohol Addiction

With alcohol addiction, people can generally self-diagnose themselves based on their relationship with alcohol. Also called alcoholism or alcohol dependence, an addiction to alcohol is bad for physical and mental health.

The main sign of an addiction to alcohol is the strong urge or need to use alcohol. Someone with an alcohol use problem may have trouble controlling their drinking, may struggle to stop even when it causes problems, or might have physical withdrawal symptoms when they do stop drinking. 

Other signs of alcohol addiction include:

  • Cravings for alcohol when not drinking
  • Wanting to stop drinking but not being able to do so
  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Lack of restraint and drinking too much 
  • Alcohol use in high-risk situations (when driving, swimming, working, etc.)

Since alcohol addiction is so widely prevalent, there are plenty of options for help. You can get alcohol addiction help for you or a loved one at a local facility or rehabilitation treatment center. 

Other Substance Addiction

There are plenty of other substances out there, both legal and illegal, that people can get addicted to besides alcohol. These include:

  • Heroin
  • Cocaine
  • Nicotine
  • Fentanyl
  • Methamphetamine
  • Inhalants
  • Synthetic cathinones (“bath salts”)

All of these substance abuse concerns can lead to serious medical complications over time, and they can also have a negative impact on overall mental health.

People that have addictions to one or more of these substances likely can tell they have a dependency based on their relationship with the substance. A treatment professional would also be able to diagnose a drug addiction based on an evaluation and assessment, as well as lab tests to assess drug use. 

The main signs that someone has a drug addiction are changes in personality, shakes or tremors, lack of concern regarding personal health or hygiene, and loss of interest in things that were once important. You might also notice that you spend a lot of time thinking about the drug, can’t stop yourself from using it, or use much more than you had planned. 

People that are addicted to one or more of these substances likely aren’t able to stop using all at once. Since these are such addictive substances, it takes a lot of time to get to the point of being able to recover from this type of addiction in a physical and mental sense. Treatment centers, like this ibogaine clinic, are able to offer cohesive treatment opportunities for people that want inpatient or outpatient options.

Work Addiction

Workaholism is a real mental health condition that stems from a compulsive need to achieve success and status within your work’s industry or field or to escape emotional stressors. It’s a common addiction in people that describe themselves as perfectionists.

People with work addiction will get a “high” from working, which makes them want to work harder and harder to continue achieving that “high.” This may not sound like a negative thing, but when it starts to get in the way of their mental health, physical health, and social relationships, work can become extremely unhealthy. 

In western society, working hard and putting in overtime is expected, so it can be difficult to recognize when someone has a work addiction. Often, it’s easy to justify the behaviors by explaining how it helps to achieve success, so it may not seem like an issue.

Some of the symptoms to look out for include:

  • Losing sleep to finish work projects
  • Being obsessed with work success
  • Putting in long hours at work when it isn’t needed
  • Working to avoid feelings of depression, guilt, or grief
  • Being defensive about how much you’re working
  • Working to avoid crises, like divorce or financial concerns
  • Being paranoid about work performance

The Bergen Work Addiction Scale is what is often used to identify work addiction.

You might not need the same level of care as someone with a drug or alcohol addiction, but people with work addiction still might need to attend an initial inpatient or outpatient rehab program to learn how to manage their behaviors.

In some cases, work addiction stems from a different mental health condition, like bipolar disorder, so it’s crucial to get care from a professional as soon as you see these signs. 

Gambling Addiction

Gambling addiction, also called gambling disorder or compulsive gambling, means having an uncontrollable urge to gamble even if it takes a toll on your personal, professional, or financial life.

By default, gambling means you’re willing to risk something with the hopes of getting something better or of higher value as a result. It stimulates the reward system in the brain, which can be addictive for many people. As a result, consistently losing may lead to depleted savings accounts, hiding behaviors from loved ones, accumulated debts, or even fraud or theft to support the addiction. 

This is a condition that can destroy lives, so it’s important to get treatment before it gets worse. Signs of gambling addiction include:

  • Constantly planning how to get money for gambling
  • Feeling irritable when trying to cut down on gambling
  • Lying to loved ones to hide gambling
  • Gambling more money to feel the same amount of thrill
  • Putting relationships or work/school opportunities at risk to gamble

While most people that gamble will stop when they lose their money or reach their loss limit, people that have a gambling addiction will continue to gamble to try and recover that money. This pattern becomes increasingly reckless over time. 

Sex Addiction

Sex addiction is not in the DSM-5, but it can still be diagnosed under “Other specified sexual dysfunction” and still causes extreme problems in a person’s life. Having a sex addiction means you have a compulsive need to perform sexual acts to get that same type of “high” that a person who drinks alcohol would get if they had alcoholism. 

The main signs of sex addiction are:

  • Chronic or obsessive sexual thoughts
  • Lying to cover up sexual behaviors
  • Putting oneself in danger for sexual behavior
  • Feeling guilt or remorse after sex
  • Inability to control or stop sexual behaviors

This addiction can easily strain relationships, such as marriages or long-term partnerships, with the stress of infidelity. In addition to this, it can cause problems at work or school if someone is putting their sexual compulsions above their other responsibilities. 

Liking sexual activity does not automatically mean someone has a sex addiction, as sex is a healthy and normal human activity. However, if you think you might have a sex addiction, you do have treatment options, including inpatient treatment programs, 12-step programs, and medications. 

Video Game Addiction

Like sex addiction, video game addiction is not listed outright in the DSM-5 as a diagnosable condition. However, it is included in the ICD-10, which was revised in 2018, as “gaming disorder.”

Some signs of a video game addiction include:

  • Thinking about video games most of the time
  • Not being able to reduce play amount
  • Having problems at work/school or home due to video gaming
  • Not wanting to do other hobbies that used to be enjoyable
  • Using video gaming to avoid problems or emotions

It can be hard to see these signs in yourself, especially if you don’t feel like your gaming is a problem. However, you could ask yourself “Do I feel like I want to play or I have to play?” or “Am I using gaming to avoid a different problem, like depression?” to see if there is more to your video gaming than it may seem.

Food Addiction

This is another addiction that isn’t technically in the DSM-5, but it still can have a huge negative impact on a person’s physical and mental health. It typically involves having a lack of control around food.

For most people with food addiction, there will be severe physical health problems over time. Eating too much food, especially if it is junk food or high in fat and sugar, can cause medical problems that lead to a loss of mobility and can cause an early death

The signs of food addiction include:

  • Cravings when already full
  • Eating more than planned
  • Eating until feeling sick
  • Feeling guilt after eating too much
  • Making excuses to eat excessively
  • Hiding eating behaviors from others
  • Not being able to stop bad habits

If you or someone you know has tried repeatedly to stop eating so much or cut back on your consumption of food but can’t, speaking with a professional may be the best course of action. They will be able to offer coping tools and strategies that can help curb the addiction and help heal your relationship with food. 

Some food addiction symptoms are also symptoms of eating disorders, such as binge eating disorder, which would need a medical diagnosis for treatment.

Exercise Addiction

Exercise addiction is when someone has an unhealthy obsession with being physically fit and getting exercise in. Generally, this is a result of body image or eating disorders. 

Many of the traits that people addicted to exercise exhibit are similar to those with other addictions, including obsessing over the behavior, engaging in the behavior regardless of harm, wanting to stop and not being able to, and being secretive about the behavior.

When you exercise, your body releases chemicals in the nervous system that increase your sense of reward or pleasure. Part of exercise addiction may be a reliance on this pleasure response. Exercise releases endorphins and dopamine that make you feel happy, but when you stop exercising, these happy chemicals go away; an addict has to exercise more and more to get these “happy chemicals” back. 

Some of the signs of exercise addiction include:

  • Withdrawal symptoms when going long periods without exercise
  • Reducing other activities to have more time to exercise
  • Being unable to stick with a reduced exercise routine
  • Spending a lot of time prepping for or recuperating from exercise

Many people with exercise addiction don’t see any issue with what they are doing, so it often goes unreported and untreated. However, if you find yourself dealing with these signs and aren’t sure what to do next, don’t be afraid to reach out to a mental health professional near you. They can talk to you about your options, or they can give you resources that may help.

Don’t Ignore the Signs of Addiction

There are many different types of addictions out there, but the signs of addiction are similar across the board. If you find yourself hiding behaviors, feeling guilty about what you’re doing, or putting other areas of your life at risk, you may be dealing with an addiction.

You don’t have to deal with this alone, however, as there are experts out there that are ready to help you tackle the problem. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you need it.

If you want to learn more about mental health and creating healthy balances in your life, check out some of the other blogs on our website next.