How Do I Know If I’m an Addict?

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How Do I Know If I’m an Addict?

Do you struggle with substance abuse but aren’t quite sure if you’re an addict? If you’re asking this question, you’re likely in troubled waters. Read further to understand the nature of addiction and how substance abuse affects your life and the lives of those around you.
— by Kyle Lakey


It’s not always easy to recognize drug addiction. The distinction between drug abuse, dependence, and addiction can be vague. If you’re wondering, “Am I an addict,” it’s important to commend yourself for taking the first significant step toward healing. The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as a chronic medical condition. Recognizing it as such can help us establish a more solid and practical understanding of what individuals dealing with addiction are going through. Addiction is not just a temporary issue but a disease that requires both medical and therapeutic care.

Dealing with addiction is not a straightforward matter. It entails a person’s brain wiring and genetic tendencies, which are further influenced by external circumstances like their surroundings and daily experiences. The intricate interplay between these elements sets addiction apart from mere dependence and substance misuse.


Substance Abuse vs Dependence vs Addiction

Sometimes, you might hear words like “substance abuse,” “dependence,” and “addiction” used interchangeably. However, they are not the same thing. To get the most appropriate treatment for your condition, it’s important to know the difference between them and identify which one fits your situation the best.


Substance Abuse

The term “substance abuse” refers to a behavior rather than a physical, mental, or medical condition. It’s the act of misusing substances like alcohol, painkillers, or illicit drugs. It is common for individuals to engage in substance abuse at least once in their lifetime without becoming dependent or addicted.

Using a substance in excess of recommended amounts is considered abuse. For instance, moderate drinking is usually limited to one or two daily drinks. Going beyond five drinks in a day is considered heavy drinking. Additionally, using illegal drugs or prescription drug abuse is also considered substance abuse. Even if it doesn’t lead to addiction, certain behaviors related to drugs or alcohol can still be classified as substance abuse.


Alcoholism and Drug Dependence

When someone becomes physically or chemically dependent on prescription drugs, alcohol, or illicit substances, it means they have a dependence on these substances. While dependence is often a sign of addiction, it doesn’t encompass the entire scope of what addiction entails.

Drug use and alcohol abuse cause a dependence that alters the brain’s chemistry by affecting neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which control our reactions and behaviors. When these pleasure centers are activated, our brains crave more of the substance to experience the same effect. This results in tolerance, where more and more of the substance is needed to achieve the desired outcome.

If you get addicted to a substance, you will probably feel withdrawal symptoms when the substance wears off. Different factors, such as the substance and the level of dependence, can cause different withdrawal symptoms.

However, common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Loss of appetite and/or nausea
  • Insomnia or trouble sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Drowsiness
  • Chills or sweats
  • Shaking or muscle fatigue
  • Discomfort and irritability

Please be aware that this list is not comprehensive, and not everyone will experience all of these withdrawal symptoms. However, if you have become dependent on a substance, you should anticipate symptoms to start approximately 4-6 hours after you stop using it. Typically, withdrawal symptoms will be at their most intense around 10 hours after stopping use, but relief may begin to be felt within the first 24-72 hours.


What Sets Addiction Apart

Addiction, or substance use disorder, is different from dependence. Dependence refers to a physical or chemical reaction to substance use. Addiction involves an emotional or mental response that makes it difficult for an individual to stop using a substance. Studies have shown that attending a rehab program, setting up a transitional care plan, and continuing to attend support groups can increase the chances of achieving sobriety and staying sober.

For some people who have developed dependence, these steps are all they need, and they may not struggle to stop using. Addiction, on the other hand, is a chronic disease that may need lifelong treatment to avoid relapse.


Recognizable Signs of Addiction

What are the most common signs of addiction? Let’s take a look at some of the questions you can ask yourself to assess your own health. If at least two of these signs have been present in the span of one year, it is highly possible that what you are living with is addiction.


Actively Trying Harder to Get Substances

Do you dedicate a significant amount of time to thinking about ways to obtain more of a substance? Do you prioritize purchasing a substance over necessities like food or bills? Do you spend a considerable amount of time recovering from substance abuse throughout the day?


Prioritizing Using Over Previously Enjoyed Activities

Have you stopped finding joy or fulfillment in social or recreational activities that you used to enjoy because of substance use? Do you now prioritize activities that involve or allow for substance use over those that do not? Is it difficult for you to enjoy social or recreational activities if you are not under the influence of a substance?


Using Substances in Inappropriate or Hazardous Situations

Have you placed yourself in harm’s way while under the influence of a substance, such as operating heavy machinery or driving a vehicle? Have you persisted in this behavior despite the known risks to yourself and others?


Using Despite Causing Personal Harm

Are you aware that your substance use may be causing negative emotional or physical effects? Addiction can often lead to a worsening of mental or medical conditions. Despite this, do you still prioritize substance use over improving your overall well-being?


Using Despite Negative Impacts on Personal and Professional Relationships

Have your relationships with friends, family, peers, or employers been negatively impacted by your substance use? Despite this, do you still prioritize using substances over your important relationships and employment opportunities?


Failing to Manage Responsibilities Due to Substance Use

Have you failed to fulfill your responsibilities due to substance use, causing you to become less reliable to your friends, family members, peers, and employers? Are people who once considered you trustworthy now doubting your ability to stay true to your word because of your substance use?


Experiencing Cravings

Do you struggle to stop thinking about a substance after its effects have worn off? Do you eagerly anticipate the next opportunity to use the substance?


Inability to Stop Using Regardle