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I'm a Doctor and Here's the #1 Sign You are an Addict

Doctors explain signs of an addict and who is at risk for addiction. 
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

We all use the term colloquially sometimes— "I'm a TV addict" or "I'm addicted to chocolate." But what does being an "addict" really mean? And what are the signs you are one? Addiction is described as a medical disease where people engage in compulsive harmful behaviors that continue even though it can cause destructive consequences. Nearly half of Americans have a family member or friend who has been addicted to drug, the Pew Research Center states, and according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, 21 million people in the U.S. struggle with addiction and in 2018 just 11 percent received treatment. If you think you or someone you know has an addiction, below are signs to look out for according to experts Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with, along with information on how to seek help. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

What is Addiction?

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Dr. Brian Wu, director of psychiatry at the behavioral healthcare team of Executive Mental Health says, "The American Psychiatric Association defines addictions as the most severe instances of substance use disorders and when there is uncontrolled use of a substance despite harmful consequences. The most important aspect of an addiction is when it interferes with a person's ability to function in day-to-day life. The best way to help someone with an addiction is to try to help bring awareness to the situation and then guide them to the right resources. Addiction is a powerful and complex illness and requires much support and guidance. Direct them to any resources they would be willing to try whether that's a group, a therapist, or a physician. The road to recovery begins with one step."

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2

Who is at Risk for Addiction?

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Dr. Dmitry B. Aniskin, MD, Director of the Methadone Treatment Program at Staten Island University Hospital explains, "People with a family history of substance use disorder (there is a genetic component). And people with many psychiatric disorders, e.g., post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, major depression, etc. Most patients do not start drug use 'just for fun.' They want to numb the emotional pain by using drugs. So, those with a lot of emotional pain, limited coping skills and limited support are the most vulnerable."

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3

Four Concepts of Addiction

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Dr. Wu states, "Everyone can suffer from addiction through risk factors that can include family history and psychosocial stressors. The addiction is classified into four concepts:

  • impaired control (continued use and failure to cut down)
  • social problems (problems at work or at home due to substance use)
  • risky use (drinking at work), and
  • drug effects (needing more and more alcohol to feel the effects)."

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4

Signs of Addiction

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Dr. Aniskin says, "You feel uncomfortable (i.e. in withdrawal) if you do not use drugs. You have to increase the dose of the drug/alcohol to achieve the same effect. You spend too much time and effort on drug-related activities, to the point that you cannot function as well as before at work, in school or in life in general. Your doctor told you that your physical and/or psychological well-being is suffering due to your drug/alcohol use and you still continue to use (e.g., liver damage, depression, etc.)."

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5

Ditching Friends

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Another sign of an addict according to Dr. Holly Schiff, a Psy..D., licensed clinical psychologist is: "You change your friend group or who you spend time with. This is done to accommodate one's drug use because they don't want to hang out with people who express concern or criticize your use habits. Instead, you gravitate towards people who also use and won't judge you for your use. Sometimes even by social comparison, it makes you feel better to hang around people who have a worse substance abuse problem than you do."

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6

Hide or Downplay Drug or Alcohol Use

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American Addiction Centers Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Lawrence Weinstein explains, "Denial is a very common symptom of addiction in general, and is usually the first sign of a problematic relationship with either alcohol or a substance. Hiding, lying or downplaying consumption are commonly done to avoid confrontation about alcohol and/or substance use.

 Typically, the person with addiction has a very different perception of their usage than others around them. In just about every situation, someone who is addicted to drugs and/or alcohol will underestimate the amount they are consuming or diminish the impact that alcohol and/or drugs are having on their lives." 

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7

Continued Use of Drugs or Alcohol in Spite of Negative Consequences

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Dr. Weinstein says, "It's important to keep in mind that addiction is a complex, chronic and relapsing brain disease that negatively affects areas of the brain that are involved in cognition, decision making, memory, and many other neurobiological functions. In most circumstances, a rational person will stop an action that brings about negative consequences, but addiction is not rational. Those affected will behave atypically and continue to use substances despite the detriment it has caused. People with addiction are not consciously making the choice to maintain their substance use, at some point, it becomes a necessity. For example, if someone with a severe alcohol use disorder were to suddenly stop drinking, it could be fatal. Many in recovery have said that addiction is analogous to starvation – the substance/alcohol is not a choice or a want, it's a need."

Dr. Aniskin adds, "it is hard to stop. Patients are afraid of withdrawal which can be very painful and even life threatening (if not treated). Second, it is a habit and a way to cope (although maladaptive). Therefore, most people with substance use disorder are unable to stop on their own and need medical help."

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8

How to Seek Help

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends calling the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The CDC states, "SAMHSA's National Helpline is a great resource to share with someone who may have a substance use disorder. Call 1-800-662-HELP (4537)." And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more
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