How to Tell if You Are Addicted to Drugs or Alcohol

More than 22 million Americans abuse drugs every year, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and millions more abuse alcohol. Although many of these people walk the knife-edge ridge between physical dependency and addiction, the differences that define the casual abuser and the addict desperately needing treatment are well-defined. If you are concerned that you are developing a dangerous dependency on alcohol or drugs, you can begin the process of healing by honestly evaluating your own abuse tendencies.

Understanding Substance Abuse

Although each person walks a unique path to addiction and ultimately, recovery, there are common threads among all users that you can use to evaluate your own abuse.

  • Every person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol began as a casual, recreational user. No one wakes up in the morning and decides, I think I’ll become an alcoholic today. Instead, addiction begins with the first-time binge. When no real consequences occur, the person tries it again. Still — nothing. The binges increase in severity and frequency, allowing a tolerance to develop, leading to addiction.
  • Every person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol suffers consequences directly related to using. If you have developed a tolerance to alcohol or drugs — meaning, you need to consume more and more to get the same high — then you have likely felt some consequences from using. Although the point at which chronic abuse becomes addiction varies from person to person, the social symptoms are similar; for example, a severe hangover might result in missing work or school. An all-night drug binge might end with a trip to the emergency room. You might discover that you behaved inappropriately with a loved one, a stranger or a co-worker, a memory that is blacked out. When these events end in professional, personal, health or legal problems, the time to get help is now.
  • Every person who is addicted to alcohol or drugs initially denies that substance abuse is a problem. Unfortunately, people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol are often the last to know there is a problem – or “live in a fishbowl”, with their behaviors observed by others. They may alternate periods of abstinence with periods of heavy use, or because they don’t abuse every day, they may think they’re not addicted. They may continue to deny there is a problem even when loved ones express concern or hold an intervention. If others have confronted you about your alcohol or drug use, treatment may be necessary.

The Root Causes of Addiction

Addiction science has made tremendous strides over the past 100 years in determining the root causes of addiction. When Alcoholics Anonymous began in the early 20th century, families often attempted to sweep addiction under the rug, or blame it on a moral or spiritual failing. Today, we know that people abuse drugs and alcohol for a variety of reasons, and certain themes repeat themselves again and again.

  • You have a family history of addiction. Do you have a parent, grandparent or sibling who is or was once addicted to alcohol or drugs? If so, the chances are higher that you will develop an addiction yourself.
  • You have an untreated or undiagnosed mental health disorder. What qualifies as a mental health disorder? Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, conduct disorder and others all qualify as contributing factors to addiction. If you believe you are addicted to alcohol or drugs and you suffer from one of these disorders, you have a dual diagnosis. At 12 Keys Rehab, our counselors and therapists have experience treating dual diagnosis clients, which addresses both the addictive behavior and the mental health disorder at the same time.
  • You began using drugs or alcohol early in life. If you began using drugs or alcohol in childhood, the chances that you will develop addiction are much higher.
  • You suffered from a traumatic event that led to addiction. For some people, taking prescription painkillers after suffering an accident or injury can leads to dependency and addiction. Others might use alcohol or drugs as a crutch to heal from childhood abuse or trauma.
  • You modify a drug or change drugs to increase the high. For example, if you began with prescription painkillers and progressed to heroin, or if you modified the method of administration to get high faster — such as changing to snorting or injecting — the time to get help is now.

The Physical and Psychological Symptoms of Addiction

Chronic abuse and addiction takes a serious health toll both physically and psychologically. Although each substance produces a specific set of physical and psychological symptoms, there are common threads.

  • You have noticed changes in hygiene habits. How often do you brush your teeth or shower? When was the last time you got a haircut? If these basic practices have become infrequent, you may be addicted.
  • Your weight has changed for the worse. Have you lost or gained an unhealthy amount of weight? People who are addicted to alcohol and drugs rarely eat nutritious foods or exercise regularly. If your diet and exercise habits have changed — or if using drugs or alcohol has become just as important as eating and sleeping — it’s time to quit using.
  • You have sores or other damage from using. Physical symptoms of use, such as track marks, “meth mouth” and burns, are never safe or normal. They are also strong indicators that internal damage is possible. This could include heart and lung problems, liver damage, serious gastrointestinal problems and more.
  • You experience severe anxiety or depression when you’re not using, and intense cravings to get high. If not having drugs or alcohol nearby makes you angry, tense or violent, you are experiencing unassisted withdrawal and need help.
  • You have lost the ability to think clearly or feel normal — unless you’re using. When the first thing you do in the morning is have a drink or take a hit, you are addicted to alcohol and/or drugs.

Call 12 Keys Rehab

If you read these checklists with a growing sense of unease or fear, 12 Keys can help you reengage with a normal, satisfying lifestyle. We know exactly what you’re going through, because we are recovered addicts ourselves. We demonstrate and teach every day what living a sober lifestyle can look like — and the good news is that you can live a rewarding and fun lifestyle without drugs and alcohol.

  • We will get you through withdrawal with medically managed detox. Many people who want to quit can’t or won’t because of withdrawal. We can help you feel more comfortable during the early days of sobriety with expert, round-the-clock care.
  • We will help you figure out why abuse became a problem. Our large, qualified staff will help you figure out why abuse became a problem in the first place, and then we will treat those causes, responsively and collaboratively.
  • We will remind you that living life sober is fun. Our incredible subtropical waterfront location makes enjoying life sober much, much easier. At 12 Keys, you can surf, fish, golf, swim, snorkel and more. Try horseback riding, or take the kayak out. Watch the sunset from our private dock, relax by our in-ground pool and reconnect with loved ones on our beautiful property. All this and more is possible at 12 Keys.

The bottom line is that you don’t have to let an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol define your lifestyle. Call 12 Keys Rehab anytime — 24 hours a day, 7 days a week — and let us help you find your path to freedom, starting today.

The Addiction Blog