""Addiction" is a word that is used pretty casually in common speech. We all say we"re "addicted" to something, whether that"s Starbucks, a television show or a certain candy. What we really mean is we enjoy those things a lot and we go out of our way to enjoy them on a regular basis. These "addictions" add value to our lives and don"t tend to introduce too many negatives. They may be "guilty pleasures" but they are not causing any real damage.
True addictions, on the other hand, cause immeasurable damage and subtract, rather than add, to our lives. The kind of addiction that becomes active in an individual who suffers from Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is in no way pleasurable, voluntary or enjoyable. Contrary to popular belief, people with SUD do not "choose" to develop their disease. Nearly all have attempted to walk away from their addiction, often many times, and have failed repeatedly.
Still, there is a lot of confusion about what constitutes an "addiction" and how to tell the difference between an occasional "problem" or casual use and a diagnosable disorder. Today, we"ll look at the top 5 signs that it"s a full-blown addiction. We"re not going to use technical language in the post and this information in way substitutes for actual medical advice. We won"t be using the clinical criteria for SUD here, rather, we"ll be discussing classic hallmarks of addiction that anyone even the untrained eye can easily recognize in themselves or others.
Addiction Sign #1: Bad Things Happen When You Drink or Use
When you drink or use have you ever.
Disappointed yourself or others
Embarrassed yourself or others
Harmed yourself or others
Been late to work
No showed at school
Forgot to pick up or drop off the kids at an after-school activity
Blacked out or lost consciousness
Got a DUI
Got in an accident
Stolen goods or money to buy drugs
Said things you regret
Done things you regret
Engaged in risky sexual activity
Damaged or destroyed important relationships
The technical term for all of these "bad things" is "negative consequences." Negative consequences come in many forms but they are a giant red flag that your "guilt pleasure" has devolved into a problem.
When people who don"t have SUD experience negative consequences as a result of excessive drinking, for example, they learn from the experience and avoid excessive drinking successfully in the future. A classic example of this scenario is the frat boy who drinks heavily in a specific social context for a short time in his youth and then quickly learns that the negative consequences of binge drinking aren"t worth it. He goes on to manage a lifetime of responsible and moderate alcohol consumption in line with his doctor"s recommendations easily and without issue.
People who suffer from SUD, however, experience negative consequences and, despite their best intentions, still go on to engage in the same problematic behaviors again and again. Simply put, this is because addiction is a disease, not a choice. No one "chooses" to alienate all of their friends and family, run afoul of the law, and disappoint themselves repeatedly, but this is exactly what happens many times in active addiction.
Addiction Sign #2: You Drink or Use to Deal With Your Feelings
Emotional triggers are a common motivating factor behind the cycle of addiction in an individual with SUD. That emotional trigger can be anxiety, happiness, sadness, grief, boredom or some other sensation. Often both happy and sad events can prompt an individual with SUD to reach for their preferred coping mechanism: their substance of choice.
Often, people with SUD use their substance of choice to medicate an existing mental health condition like anxiety or depression. Others are trauma survivors dealing with PTSD or CPTSD.
The common thread here is that for people with SUD, their substance of choice becomes one of the only tools they use for effectively managing emotions.
Addiction Sign #3: You Don"t Have Control Over Your Use
Who decides when and how you drink or use?
Can you decide how many drinks you"ll have and then stick to that number consistently?
Can you decide to only use on the weekends and then stick to that schedule?
When you say "just one more," does it always work out that way?
When you decide you"re done using, can you stop?
Can you quit any time you want?
For a person with an active addiction the answer to these questions will be no. If you suffer from SUD, you"ll likely make all kinds of deals with yourself about your use. Often, people with SUD will make elaborate plans and back-up plans about how to manage their use and establish control over their experience. These plans will fail repeatedly sometimes right away, sometimes after a long stretch of time.
Addiction Sign #4: You Can"t Stop Thinking About Drinking or Using
Are you obsessed with thinking about the next time you"ll drink or use?
These intrusive thoughts around drinking or getting high are a hallmark of addiction. They can be very difficult for people with SUD to manage because they are so persistent and so distracting. For some, every waking moment is spent thinking about when and how they"ll use again. Others watch the clock and count down the minutes until they can drink or use again.
If you"re struggling with intrusive thoughts about your substance of choice, it"s likely that you"re dealing with SUD.
Addiction Sign #5: Other People in Your Family Struggle with Addiction
We know that SUD is partially genetic in origin and that it tends to run in families. If someone else in your family struggles with SUD, then odds are that you"re at high risk for developing SUD as well."