When we talk about symptoms of addiction, we usually mean addiction
to drugs, alcohol, nicotine, or some similar substance. Although
there are other forms of addiction, such as to food, computer
games, or anything else that gives pleasure, it is the so called
destructive addictions we're concerned with. Because they can
be so harmful, we need to be able to recognize when someone is
addicted to, or dependent on, any of these substances.
At the heart of addiction is a craving for, seeking and then
using the substance in question. The object of the addiction,
in the first place, is something that gives pleasure, possibly
changing mood or feelings. Over time, the body begins to tolerate
a regular level of the substance and begins to need higher and
higher doses to maintain the same level of pleasurable feeling.
If the addicted person ceases taking the substance, or performing
the activity, then painful or unpleasant withdrawal symptoms can
So how do we recognize if someone is addicted?
In the United States, one test of addiction or substance abuse
is the occurrence of three or more of the following symptoms over
a period of 12 months:
1. The person needs to increase
the amount of substance to maintain the desired effect.
This indicates that tolerance is in evidence. Alternatively,
if the original amount continues to be taken, and the effect
begins to decrease, that also indicates tolerance.
2. If the person abstains from
the substance and notices unpleasant symptoms, then that
is evidence of withdrawal. This is confirmed if taking the
usual amount removes those symptoms.
3. Larger quantities of the substance
are used for a longer time than was originally intended.
4. Symptoms of addiction are
in evidence if the person continues wanting to reduce the
substance use but is unable to successfully do so.
5. The person is prepared to
go to a lot of trouble to get hold of the substance and
can spend a lot of time getting over its effects.
6. Preoccupation with the substance
takes precedence over work, social engagements and recreational
7. Other problems caused by the
substance do not lead to a reduction in its use, in spite
of any pain or inconvenience caused to the user.
Tolerance of the substance does not necessarily accompany drug
abuse, nor does withdrawal. If they are present however, what
they show is a physical dependence on the drug. A person is said
to be in denial if they
believe that they could stop taking the substance any time they
wanted to, without realizing that, in fact they could not. This
loss of control is critical in determining whether a person is
actually addicted or not.
Taken by themselves, the addiction symptoms outlined above do
not necessarily indicate that the person is addicted. It is only
in combination that the overall behavior pattern can be evaluated
to determine if the symptoms point to an addiction. Before addiction
can occur, the person must be exposed to the substance or activity
which leads to their becoming addicted. They will not necessarily
become addicted but without this exposure they certainly won't.