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Addiction is a highly complex issue, and it isn’t always clear if your relationship with a substance is considered an addiction. While there are many signs that you may be addicted to a substance, the picture isn’t always black and white. This room for uncertainty leads many people to delay treatment entry and, in turn, delay the support that they need to heal from the effects of substance use. Understanding the signs of addiction and the resources available to you is the first and most important step on your path to recovery.

What Is Addiction?

People who struggle with an unhealthy dependence on drugs, alcohol, or other illicit substances are considered to have an addiction. While there are many criteria for addiction, the most distinguishable are the inability to stop or reduce intake of a substance and engaging in potentially hazardous activities to use the substance. 

Addiction can be best understood as severe physical and/or psychological dependence on a substance. 

Psychological Dependence

Psychological dependence refers to mental or emotional dependence on a substance, causing mood swings, anxiety, and a variety of other symptoms when stopped. Often, psychological dependence is associated with mental or emotional withdrawal symptoms rather than physical ones. Substances most often associated with psychological dependence include:

  • Stimulants, such as cocaine and methamphetamine
  • Hallucinogens, such as psilocybin and LSD
  • Cannabis
  • Inhalants
  • Psychotropic medications
  • Behavioral addictions, such as gambling and pornography

Physical Dependence

Physical dependence refers to an addiction where the person’s body has grown reliant on the substance to the point that, when stopped, physical withdrawal symptoms are present. The most common substances associated with physical dependence include:

  • Alcohol
  • Opiates, meaning substances like heroin and morphine
  • Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax and Valium
  • Barbiturates

It’s important to note that while physical and psychological dependence are often described separately, it’s fruitless to try and treat them as completely separate entities. In truth, researchers have become increasingly aware of the extent to which the mind and body are connected. It’s rare to see any physical reaction that doesn’t also elicit a psychological reaction and vice versa. In almost every case of addiction, people exhibit varying signs of both physical and psychological addiction. While these categories are helpful in understanding the components of addiction, trying to understand addiction as either physical or psychological will result in an incomplete understanding of the subject as a whole. 

Additionally, physical dependence can be present without addiction. For example, people who are dependent on prescribed medications to improve their quality of life may be dependent on those medications, but wouldn’t be considered addicted to them. While dependence does not always equal addiction, addiction does require the presence of dependence. To clarify this discrepancy, people who have an unhealthy dependence on substances are said to have substance use disorder (SUD). 

What Is Substance Use Disorder?

SUD is the clinical diagnosis of substance misuse, dependence, and addiction. To be diagnosed with a SUD, the DSM-V states that a person must meet at least two of the following criteria:

  • Increased tolerance, leading to increased substance use
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Hazardous use
  • Social or interpersonal problems associated with substance use
  • Using more of a substance than intended or for a longer period of time
  • Inability to cut back on the substance 
  • Intense cravings
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Problems associated with physical or mental health

While only having two of these symptoms would qualify someone as having SUD, more criteria met indicates a greater dependency. Meeting two to three of the criteria indicates mild SUD, three to five indicates moderate SUD, and six or more indicates severe SUD. 

Warning Signs of Addiction

It may help to understand that addiction is the most severe type of SUD. While the above criteria are necessary for being diagnosed with SUD, there are other warning signs that may indicate addiction. If you or someone you know displays these symptoms in addition to any of the above criteria, consider consulting a professional:

  • Risk-taking behavior
  • Cravings for substances
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Large pupils
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep schedule
  • Trouble focusing
  • Sudden changes in social habits
  • Inexplicable changes in behavior or attitude
  • Mood swings or irritability
  • Increased anxiety or paranoia

Receiving Help

While recognizing that you have SUD can be a difficult first step toward recovery, many people don’t know where to turn for help once they’ve taken this crucial step. The most important thing you can do is to reach out for professional help and personal support. 

The path to recovery can be a long and treacherous one, and having the proper support is essential to your success. You don’t have to do it alone. At West Coast Recovery Centers, we offer traditional and holistic methods for treating SUDs that are specifically tailored to the individual’s needs and goals. Our staff is prepared to be by your side for every step of the recovery process so that you feel safe, seen, and supported during this tumultuous time. 

Addiction is a complicated and delicate issue that affects millions of Americans. Even though addiction is so common, its symptoms and causes vary greatly among different people, making it difficult for many people to realize when they have substance use disorder. However, there are common signs of both physical and psychological dependence that can help you determine if your or a loved one needs professional help. Our professionals at West Coast Recovery Centers understand how difficult this time can be. We’re eager to help address all of your questions and concerns and will be with you at every step of your recovery. To learn more about addiction or our services, call our professionals today at (760) 492-6509.

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