What’s the Difference Between a Sign and a Symptom?
Before we go further, let’s first take a closer look at the terms “sign” and “symptom” and how they differ from one another:
- Signs are manifestations of an illness or disorder that can be observed by other people, such as by a doctor or by the people around the the individual; while
- Symptoms are experienced by the patient and are, therefore, subjective.
It is possible for the effect of addiction to be both a sign and a symptom. The key difference here is who observes the effect. Here’s an example:
- A rash that a person notices on himself or herself is a symptom.
- A rash that a doctor, nurse, or any other person notices is a sign.
- A rash that both others and the individual who has it can notice is both classed as a sign and symptom.
The signs and symptoms of addiction can vary according to several factors: the individual, the type of substance they are overusing, their personal circumstances, and their family background. However, one major indicator of addiction is a problematic pattern of use, which is then accompanied by a range of harmful conditions and behaviors.
How to Recognize an Addiction Problem
It can be difficult to tell if a behavior like drinking or taking drugs has turned into an addiction problem. An honest assessment of yourself can be a good way to tell if a habitual behavior is becoming a problem.
4 Questions to Help Assess a Personal Addiction Problem
Consider these four questions regarding your alcohol or drug use:
- Is the behavior having a negative impact on your life?
- Have you taken steps to stop the behavior but were unsuccessful?
- Do you find yourself in risky situations often?
- Do you experience withdrawal symptoms after a short or prolonged period of not drinking or using the substance?
Answering yes to at least one of the questions can indicate an addiction problem, and it’s important that you seek expert advice regarding your situation.
Likewise, if you are concerned about a friend or loved one, you may use the sections below as a checklist to spot an addiction problem in someone you know.
Behavioral Warning Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
Avoidance of social activities. Addiction can lead a person to isolate themselves from friends, family, and social gatherings. For example, a person who has alcohol use disorder (AUD) may turn down an invitation to attend a party with friends if alcohol isn’t provided in the gathering.
- Diminished interest in previously enjoyed activities. Someone who is suffering from addiction may show a loss of interest in playing sports or engaging in other hobbies they used to enjoy. A friend who suffers from drug addiction, for example, may no longer join you on your monthly camping trips knowing they’ll have a hard time using without raising suspicion.
- Distancing from loved ones. It’s common for individuals with an addiction problem to distance themselves from others, often drinking or using drugs in secret. This desire to detach from others may also be coupled with feelings of depression and anxiety.
- Legal issues. Addiction can often lead to impaired judgment and delayed physical responses, which may result in problems with the law. This may be due to several factors, such as the individual ignoring the law to obtain the substance, or becoming a danger to others and themselves due to their addiction — such as in the case of individuals who drive under the influence.
- Stashing of the substance. You may notice the person hiding stocks of the substance around their homes, often in hard-to-detect places. In the case of individuals suffering from alcoholism, they may hoard bottles of liquor and openly keep them beside their beds, in their cars, and even in their person.
Psychological Warning Signs and Symptoms
The person spends a major part of his time acquiring, thinking about, and using the substance he or she is addicted to. They may also become more verbal about their growing interest in the substance. The obsessive nature may then be coupled by other signs and symptoms, such as changes in personality or lack of interest in other activities.
- Inability to stop using. A person who has addiction may have likely tried but was unsuccessful in giving up the substance. This inability to stop drinking or using may also cause physiological issues such as withdrawal symptoms, which can be dangerous depending on the severity.
- Inability to solve problems independently. Often, individuals with addiction will use alcohol or drugs to avoid facing problems in the real world. One may also suffer from poor cognitive functioning due to their addiction, which prevents them from solving both simple and complex daily problems.
- Disregard for personal safety and well-being. An individual with addiction may get involved in activities that can put themselves in harm’s way in order to get more of the substance. The person may also engage in risky behavior such as getting into fights or driving recklessly.
- Denial or downplay. Often, individuals suffering from addiction are not aware or are not willing to admit that they have a problem. In some cases, they may downplay the issue, saying that they are simply using the substance recreationally and that they can quit any time they want (which does not happen).
- Unexplained paranoia. A sudden feeling of suspicion or mistrust can be a symptom of drug addiction, especially when these thoughts are not grounded in reality. In the case of individuals with pre-existing mental conditions, the addiction may worsen the symptoms of paranoia and can cause other severe reactions.
Physical Warning Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
After chronic use of drugs or alcohol, the body has a hard time adjusting to the abrupt discontinuation of the substance. Every drug is different, however, and some drugs may cause more emotional than physical withdrawal symptoms. Other symptoms may also manifest as a result of withdrawal, such as insomnia, appetite changes, and irritability.
- Difficulty Sleeping. Having difficulty falling or staying asleep can be a symptom of addiction, but because many factors can also trigger insomnia, it’s important to eliminate them before concluding that the sleeping problem is due to addiction.
- Appetite changes. Individuals who are addicted to marijuana often report increased appetite, while smoking addiction can sometimes cause weight loss in affected individuals. The exact impact of addiction on a person’s appetite typically varies on the person and substance itself.
- Muscle problems. Muscle tension, tremors, twitches, and muscle aches are physical issues often experienced by individuals struggling with addiction. Some addictive substances, such as alcohol, opioids, and inhalants, are more damaging to a person’s musculoskeletal system.
- Health deterioration. Illicit drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamines can cause bad teeth, nails, hair, and can also make the eyes appear bloodshot or glazed. Constant illness can also be a sign of an addiction problem.
- Decreased coordination (ataxia). An individual with addiction may have impaired motor functions that disrupt their daily life. Alcohol, for example, can cause permanent damage to the cerebellum, which may result in tremors, clumsiness, and frequent unsteady movements.
The Three Cs of Addiction
A simpler way to differentiate a bad habit from an addiction is to use the three Cs: compulsion, control, and consequences.
- Compulsion. A person with addiction spends most or all their time around the substance, which can include talking about it, sharing it, daydreaming about it, or scheduling their days around using or drinking it.
- Control. Failing to set a limit on the amount one consumes or engaging in risky behavior that puts one’s self or others at risk is a sign of addiction. This may also mean a lack of control over other aspects of life, such as work, familial responsibilities, and romantic relationships.
- Consequences. If, after continued negative consequences, an individual fails to give up the habit, it is considered an addiction. The person struggling with addiction may also attempt to deny or downplay the issues, even when they are apparent.
Take note that a medical professional may still classify the behavior as substance abuse and not an addiction if an individual has problems with compulsion and control. It’s when a person continues the behavior after repeated negative consequences that it becomes a clear addiction problem.
What to Do If You Suspect Addiction in Yourself or in Someone You Know
The most important thing to remember when you’re dealing with addiction is that you are not alone. There are several treatment options that can help those struggling with addiction, such as attending seminars or getting treatment from a rehab center.
Here at Better Addiction Care, we can work with you or your loved one to overcome the challenges of drug or alcohol addiction. Call (800) 429-7690 and start the journey of personal healing today.