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Signs of Addiction: How to Know If You or a Loved One Need Help

It’s important to be able to notice the signs of addiction in yourself or a loved one in order to know when to seek help and intervention.

Written by our Ripple Ranch Recovery Center staff & reviewed by Dr. Jeffrey L. Butts and Crissy Clark, LCSW-S, EMDR – Executive Director 

What is Addiction?

When addiction goes unnoticed or ignored, the results can be devastating. Not only can it lead to mental and physical health problems, but it can also strain relationships, careers, and overall quality of life. Recognizing the signs of addiction early can make a significant difference.

Addiction is a complex condition. It’s a chronic disease that can make individuals use substances or act in ways that become harmful to themselves or others. Over time, these behaviors can become hard to control and lead to a wide range of problems.

It might start off as voluntary or recreational, but over time, changes in the brain can challenge a person’s self-control and interfere with their ability to resist the urge.

Signs Of Addiction

Table of Contents

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The Nature of Addiction

The brain controls every thought, action, and feeling. When an individual uses a substance or engages in addictive behaviors, their brain releases dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter related to pleasure, reward, and motivation.1
Over time, the brain grows accustomed to the excessive dopamine release, leading to the need for more of the substance or behavior to achieve the same level of pleasure. This is often where the signs of addiction become more apparent.

Differentiating Addiction Types

Behavioral addiction and substance use disorder (SUD) are the two main types of addiction. Substance addiction refers to a dependency on substances like alcohol, drugs, or nicotine. This is where an individual might notice physical symptoms, such as withdrawal or tolerance.
Behavioral addiction, on the other hand, involves a compulsion to engage in a non-substance-related behavior, like gambling, shopping, or eating. While no substances are consumed, the signs of addiction can be just as intense.

A Closer Look at Substance Use Disorder

Risk Factors and Predispositions for the Signs of Addiction

There are various factors that increase the likelihood of developing an addiction. While they don’t ensure that addiction will occur, they play a significant role in the onset and progression of the disorder.
This contributes to the signs of addiction an individual might observe in themselves or others.


Genetics significantly influence the development of addiction. This means that if addiction has appeared in an individual’s family history, they might have a higher risk of experiencing signs of addiction.

These genetic influences can affect how the body processes drugs and how the brain responds to the rewarding stimuli drugs and other addictive behaviors produce.

Environmental Factors

The environment an individual is in can also significantly impact the emergence of addiction. Factors like peer pressure, trauma, and early exposure to substances or addictive behaviors can make someone more susceptible to addiction.2
For example, if someone is in an environment where drug use is common, the pressure or exposure can influence behavior, making the signs of addiction more likely to manifest.

Mental Health and Co-Occurring Disorders

There’s a strong link between mental health conditions and addiction. These co-occurring disorders are very common in individuals struggling with addiction.

For instance, if someone is dealing with depression or anxiety, they might find themselves turning to substances or behaviors to cope. This can lead to the development or escalation of addictive patterns.

Recognizing the Common Signs of Addiction

Addiction typically doesn’t occur overnight. It develops in stages. It often starts from experimentation, progressing to regular use, then risky use, followed by dependence, and ultimately, addiction.
At the onset, the signs of addiction can be subtle and might often be mistaken for other disorders. However, as the addiction progresses, these signs become more pronounced and undeniable.
The initial signs that indicate a person might be developing an addiction may include:
  • Occasional use and a growing interest in a substance or activity.
  • Ignoring responsibilities at home, work, or school.
  • Missing appointments or commitments because of substance use.
  • Feeling the need to use the substance regularly, be it daily or multiple times a day.
Advanced symptoms are more severe and indicate a deeper level of addiction. These can include failed attempts to quit or cut back on the substance or experiencing withdrawal symptoms when the substance is inaccessible.

"In early stages of addiction, families should be alert to subtle behavioral changes, such as increased secrecy, social withdrawal, and neglect of responsibilities. Observable shifts in mood, persistent financial issues, and a decline in personal hygiene are also indicative. Sudden changes in social circles and prioritizing substance use over once-enjoyable activities can signal emerging addiction. Families should seek professional guidance if they notice these signs to facilitate early intervention and support for the individual struggling with addiction."

Physical Symptoms

Physical changes can often be one of the first visible signs of addiction. Some common physical signs of addiction include:
  • Rapid weight loss or gain without any apparent reason
  • Bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils
  • Unexplained bruises or injuries
  • Shaking, tremors, or impaired coordination

Psychological and Behavioral Indicators

As the signs of addiction progress, there’s a noticeable change in behavior. These can include:
  • Drastic mood swings, from feeling euphoric to deep sadness or depression
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
  • Increased feelings of anxiety or paranoia without a clear cause
  • Lowered motivation and drive in activities that were once enjoyed

Signs of Addiction for Specific Substance Use Disorders

Recognizing signs of addiction becomes more manageable when we know what to look for based on the type of addiction. While many symptoms overlap, some signs are more prevalent in one kind of addiction than another.

"Signs of addiction vary depending on the substance or behavior involved. For substances like alcohol or drugs, physical symptoms such as tremors or dilated pupils may be evident. Behavioral addictions, like gambling or gaming, may manifest through preoccupation, increased tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms. Understanding these substance-specific or behavior-specific nuances is crucial for accurate identification and tailored intervention strategies. If concerned about potential addiction, seeking professional evaluation can provide specific insights and guidance."

Alcohol and Drug Indicators

Alcohol and drugs are among the most common substances that lead to addiction. Specific signs of addiction for alcohol or drug use include:
  • Concealing or downplaying consumption
  • Frequently drinking or using drugs alone
  • Losing interest in hobbies or activities that were once enjoyed
  • Slurred speech or impaired coordination
  • Memory blackouts or forgetfulness
  • Frequent hangovers or drug comedowns
  • Yellowing of the eyes or skin, primarily from alcohol
  • Persistent cough or nosebleeds, commonly seen in smokers or those who snort drugs
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
Millions of people in the United States struggle with substance use disorder. Being aware of these signs of addiction can mean the difference between early intervention and prolonged difficulty.

Alcohol Addiction: Causes, Signs, and Symptoms

Behavioral Addictions Indicators

While substance abuse often dominates the conversation around addiction, behavioral addictions can be just as debilitating. Some common indicators of gambling addiction include:
  • Spending more time or money on gambling than intended
  • Feeling restless or irritable when trying to stop gambling
  • Trying to chase losses by gambling more

Eating Disorders: Indicators to Note

Another type of behavioral addiction is eating disorders, which often present with:
  • Extreme concern with body weight or shape
  • Restricting food intake or binge eating, often in secret
  • Feeling out of control during binge episodes

Distinguishing Occasional Indulgence from Addiction

One of the most challenging aspects in the early stages of addressing addictive behaviors is distinguishing between the occasional indulgence and the signs of addiction.
It’s common for individuals to enjoy certain behaviors or substances from time to time. However, when does an indulgence turn into a concerning pattern or dependence?

The Role of Tolerance

Tolerance is a significant indicator that occasional indulgence might be edging toward addiction.
Individuals may start to notice that over time, the same amount of a substance or engagement in a behavior no longer provides the same level of pleasure or satisfaction it once did. It might begin innocently – an extra glass of wine at dinner or spending a few more dollars on gambling.
However, this increasing tolerance can lead to both physical and mental health concerns. It can contribute to strained relationships, financial issues, and significant stress. This initiates a cycle that can be challenging to interrupt.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Identifying withdrawal symptoms is another crucial step in recognizing signs of addiction. When someone suddenly stops or reduces the intake of a particular substance or engagement in a behavior, physical and psychological symptoms often emerge.
Withdrawal can be dangerous, especially for substances like alcohol or benzodiazepines, where abruptly stopping can lead to severe complications or even be life-threatening. Professional help and medical supervision can make the process safer and more manageable.3

A Closer Look at Tolerance and Withdrawal

The Cycle of Relapse and Recovery

Relapses are common and can be a natural part of the journey. They may occur for various reasons – stress, exposure to risk factors, or the residual effects of withdrawal.

However, a relapse doesn’t signify failure. It’s an opportunity to reassess and adjust the approach to recovery, emphasizing that continual support and adaptation are integral to the process.

"In the early stages of addiction, individuals may display subtle changes such as increased tolerance, secretive behavior, and social withdrawal. As the addiction progresses, observable signs intensify, including a loss of control over substance use, neglect of personal and professional responsibilities, and strained relationships. Advanced stages often involve severe physical and psychological consequences, such as deteriorating health, legal issues, and persistent cravings. Recognizing these stages is vital for timely intervention and the implementation of comprehensive treatment plans."

The Potential Consequences of Addiction

Addiction is not just about the pull towards a substance or behavior. It comes with a series of repercussions that also ripple through various aspects of life.
The consequences arise because the addictive behavior starts taking priority over other essential life activities. This impacts health, social dynamics, and even financial or legal status.

Health Impacts

Addiction can take a severe toll on physical health. Some negative health outcomes that may occur due to addiction include:
  • Organ damage, potentially leading to diseases like liver cirrhosis or lung disorders.
  • A weakened immune system, which makes an individual more susceptible to infections and illnesses.
  • Chronic health issues, which can decrease overall life expectancy.4

Social Repercussions

Addiction often changes how an individual interacts with the world around them. For example, relationships may become strained, and individuals may start to isolate themselves as well.5
Friends and family may continue to distance themselves, feeling hurt or betrayed by the continued addictive behavior.

Economic and Legal Consequences

As addiction takes hold, it can have drastic impacts on a person’s overall financial and legal standing. Many individuals start to spend excessive money on procuring the substance or indulging in a certain behavior, leading to financial strain.
Job performance may also decline, potentially resulting in job loss. Legal troubles may even arise, especially if the addiction involves illegal substances or actions.

Intervening and Offering Support For Those Struggling With Addiction

Recognizing the signs of addiction is the first step in getting someone the help they need. The next step is to be able to offer support to loved ones going through these struggles. Noticing the signs of addiction should lead to thoughtful and supportive assistance.

How to Start the Conversation

Imagine sitting with your loved one, feeling the weight of your concerns and the anticipation of the conversation ahead. Picking the right moment to talk is paramount. Ideally, it should be a time when everyone is relaxed. Maybe it’s during a quiet evening at home or on a leisurely weekend afternoon.
Start the conversation gently. A simple expression, such as “I’ve been a bit concerned about some things I’ve noticed,” can pave the way. When you bring up the signs of addiction, it’s vital to be open to their perspective. After all, you’re not accusing; you’re expressing concern.
But remember, the tone matters. Avoid any hint of blame. Rather than saying “You’ve been drinking a lot,” phrase it as “I’ve observed you’ve been drinking more frequently. How are you feeling about it?”

Dos and Don'ts of Addiction Talk

Engaging in a dialogue about the signs of addiction is intricate. Emotions can run high, but maintaining a calm demeanor can help keep the conversation on track.
Also, expressing your feelings using “I” can be less accusatory. For example, “I feel worried when I see you missing work” instead of “You are always missing work.” If they express frustration, sadness, or any other emotion, acknowledge it. Say, “I understand how you feel,” and reassure them of your support.6
However, there are certain things that individuals should not do during these conversations, such as:
  • Jump to Conclusions: Even if the signs of addiction seem clear, avoid making assumptions. Instead, focus on observations and express concern.
  • Interrupt or Dismiss: Let them speak. If they share something, even if it’s challenging to hear, listen without interrupting.
  • Use Ultimatums: Statements like “If you don’t stop, I’ll leave” can push them further into defense mode. Instead, express any concerns and the reasons behind them.
  • Get Discouraged: Remember, it may take multiple conversations before they acknowledge the signs of addiction and consider seeking help.
Addiction is a sensitive topic intertwined with emotions, past experiences, and vulnerabilities. The key is persistence and patience.

The Path to Addiction Recovery

Witnessing the signs of addiction can stir a mix of emotions. Individuals may find themselves overcome with concern, uncertainty, and perhaps a dire need to instigate change. However, one question often shines as a beacon of hope – is recovery possible?
While the journey is often layered with challenges, countless individuals have walked the path to recovery and emerged stronger, gaining control over their lives.
Each person’s journey is distinct, woven by their unique experiences, strengths, and the signs of addiction they exhibit.

The Stages of Recovery

The recovery process is often segmented into distinct stages to facilitate a structured approach:
  • Precontemplation: Denial is prominent. The signs of addiction are often overlooked, and there’s a significant reluctance to accept the existence of a problem.
  • Contemplation: A realization phase where an individual acknowledges the issue and starts considering the possibility of change.
  • Preparation: When someone is ready to change, they can plan and prepare mentally, emotionally, and often physically to embark on the journey ahead.
  • Action: Initiatives to overcome addiction are taken. It involves treatment programs, therapies, and active participation in support groups.
  • Maintenance: Focus shifts to sustaining the positive changes, with efforts directed towards preventing a relapse.
Each stage plays a critical role in shaping the recovery journey, offering opportunities for learning, growth, and self-discovery.

What Happens After Treatment?

After overcoming the immediate signs of addiction and completing formal treatment, focus shifts to reintegrating into society, maintaining sobriety, and building a fulfilling life. Support groups, continuing therapy, establishing relapse prevention plans, and the unwavering support of loved ones are integral.

In this phase, self-care, healthy relationships, and coping strategies become the pillars that fortify the recovered life. The triumph isn’t just in overcoming the signs of addiction but in building a life where addiction no longer finds a foothold.

Signs Of Addiction

How Ripple Ranch Can Help

After identifying the signs of addiction, it’s essential to seek a solution. Ripple Ranch is here to guide you through every step of your recovery journey.
Set amidst the serene Texas Hill Country, Ripple Ranch provides a tranquil atmosphere combined with top-tier amenities. The peaceful surroundings, coupled with state-of-the-art facilities, form a supportive foundation for recovery.

Our Process Unveiled

Upon arrival, you will undergo an initial assessment to determine your needs. This helps us craft a treatment plan tailored specifically to you.

Your journey might include drug and alcohol detox, a residential program, or even an intensive outpatient program, depending on your unique situation. Throughout your stay, there will be regular check-ins to monitor your progress.

Our Approach to Addressing Addiction

Understanding that addiction affects every dimension of a person, Ripple Ranch employs a holistic healing strategy.
We combine evidence-based therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing with alternative methods to offer a comprehensive treatment suite.
Every person’s recovery process is individual, and at Ripple Ranch, we honor that individuality.

Taking the Next Step

If the signs of addiction resonate with your experience or that of a loved one, it’s time to act. Reach out to Ripple Ranch today. With a dedicated team of professionals maintaining a 1:6 staff-to-client ratio, you’re assured of personalized care.
Let’s begin your journey to wellness together.