Identifying Addiction

How can you tell the difference between regular drug use and a drug problem? We review the basics of identifying addiction here.

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Q: How to identify alcoholism?

A: Medical doctors or licensed psychologists diagnose alcoholism.

This process usually involves a physical and psychological examination – doctors will usually ask specific questions about their patient’s alcohol use to determine if they have a problem. But even then, alcoholics may not tell the entire truth. Fortunately, there are few common signs to help identify if a person is addicted to alcohol:

  • a “need” for alcohol to function or get through a day
  • alcohol withdrawal symptoms when a person does not drink for some time
  • avoiding activities and situations that don’t involve alcohol
  • failed attempts to quit drink despite the problems it causes
  • family, work, school, or legal problems caused by alcohol
  • hiding alcohol use
  • increased tolerance to alcohol
  • mood swings
  • making excuses to drink

More on the signs and signals of alcohol problems here:

Q: How to identify drug abuse

A: There are a number of physical and behavioral signs that can indicate that a person is struggling with drug abuse.

Some of the most common signs are listed below.

  • anxiety and irritability
  • changes in attitude or friends with no identifiable cause or reason
  • confusion
  • constant need for money
  • hyperactivity or lethargy
  • mood swings
  • needle marks
  • physical withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug
  • poor work or school performance
  • preoccupation with doing or obtaining drugs
  • problems with coordination
  • red eyes
  • runny nose
  • tremors and shakiness
  • unusual weight loss or weight gain

More on identifying drug problems here:

Q: How to identify a drug addict?

A: Identifying drug users and drug addicts can be obvious.

But sometimes it isn’t that easy to distinguish use from abuse, and you may have to look hard for signs. Fortunately, there are a number of signs you can watch for, both physical and behavioral. The list below contains some of the signs to help you tell if someone is a drug user or drug addict.

  • bloodshot eyes
  • dilated or constricted pupils for short time
  • needle marks and similar evidence on the body
  • frequent absenteeism or tardiness to school or work
  • frequent confusion
  • hostility when confronted about drug use
  • lackadaisical attitude toward personal hygiene
  • mood swings
  • preoccupation with using or finding drugs
  • shakiness or tremors
  • spends the majority of their time using or recovering from the effects of drugs
  • unable or unwilling to quit using drugs despite financial, family, health and legal problems

More on who needs to see help for drug problems here:

Q: How to identify prescription drug addict?

A: Prescription drug addiction may be difficult to spot at first, but it’s important to identify it early.

Treating this addiction in the early stages increases the chances of a successful recovery, and minimizes the damage that addicts can do to themselves and others. However, there are some common signs of a prescription drug addict, listed below:

  • defensive actions when confronted about drug usage
  • doctor shopping, frequent trips to emergency rooms, claims of lost or stolen prescriptions and similar drug-seeking behavior
  • exaggerating symptoms to get more of the drug
  • inability to cut back on or quit using the drug
  • inability to perform daily tasks or participate in activities due to drug usage
  • mood swings
  • preoccupation with obtaining the drug
  • taking prescription medications at higher doses or more frequently than necessary
  • withdrawal symptoms when the drug is not taken
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.


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  1. My daughter went to inpatient treatment for meth addiction a year ago. She still has bruises and marks on her face and body. Are these permanent or is this an indication that she is still using meth?

  2. Hi, I have a sister who has been taking 3 different types benzos along with oxycontin and oxycodone. She supposedly has stopped taking the benzos but has increased her oxycontin from 20mg to 40mg. I feel like she definitely has an addiction, but my question is did she increase her oxycontin to compensate for not taking the benzos. She is not speaking to me because I have confronted her about this. I am extremely worried about her and afraid that she will overdose. Thank you so much and I appreciate any feedback you can give me.

  3. Xanax has ruined my personality(all of the negative sides). I cut down from 3mg to 1mg with some temporary improvement (over 9 months. I have acute anxiety and depression so Drs. suggest I stay on it, but I suffer
    from taking it.

  4. I WAS addicted to “lortab” for 7 yrs before starting methadone. i consider methadone my rehab because in 16 yrs i have never taken a pain pill without dr. supervision for kidney stones on several occasions, My mom was very understanding and now that she is gone my sister is pressuring me to detox. I have no desire to detox. i know myself well enough that i would immediately relapse on pills or worse. is it really so horrible to stay in a methadone treatment program long term. I pay for it myself and attend counseling support groups 4x a month. I have had 5 strokes and until i can get my disability STARTED my sister provides me with a room at her motel to live in and i do odd jobs for her and babysit my great niece. Other than her constantly being on me about the “stigma” methadone has and it makes “her ” look bad methadone is a safe long term alternative is that correct?

    1. Hi Jen. To be completely honest, no medication comes without any side effects. However, methadone treatment can continue for years and sometimes for life, in cases when not taking the medication brings on grater risks than taking it.

      Maybe you can speak with your counselor about quitting. But, as you already know, if you have no desire to quit a substance it won’t happen. I suggest you explore your real possibilities, and have a medical professional help you assess the risks vs. the benefits of quitting. Then, if you feel comfortable with your decision, you can go ahead with it.

      Regarding the stigma, the fight is real. But time will come when people finally realize that maintenance medications are doing for you what blood pressure or diabetes medications are doing for those afflicted.

  5. My son has crohn’s disease and goes to a pain dr once a month where he is drug tested by blood and urine. My wife and I found needles ,cotton ,spoon and little blue wax papers. My question is can’t the pain management dr pick up that he also uses heroin. TY P.S he is prescribed 15mg oxycotin

  6. Hello Teresa. I’d suggest that you speak with your prescribing doctor; it’s possible that you are physically dependent on oxycodone, which is different than addiction. However, you’ll need to go through an assessment conducted by a professional in order to be diagnosed. Do you know from whom to seek help at the moment?

  7. I have been taking oxycodone for about year. I do have chronic back pain and that’s why I was started on it by my doctor. I have been addicted to it and have to have everyday. I want to get off of it but I am afraid of the withdrawals from the drug. How do I go about getting help with this addiction.

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