How to spot an addiction

Addiction is complex. It happens over a long period of time and for different reasons. If you're worried that someone you know might be an addict, read this professional advice from Dr Cheryl Rezek on what to look out for.


What is addiction?

Addiction involves continued use or involvement with a substance (for example, illegal drugs, prescription drugs, alcohol and food) or activity (such as sex, gambling, internet use, pornography or shopping) even when there are negative consequences resulting from it.

The addiction cycle

People start using a substance or activity as a way to increase pleasure or enjoyment or to escape from some form of discomfort, such as emotional distress or physical pain. This can turn into them using a substance or activity just to be able to get through the day. As the person's mind or body becomes more tolerant to what they are doing, they steadily increase their use or participation in an activity to get the same 'rush'. Suddenly, they can't seem to stop using even when there is less pleasure involved and negative consequences start to kick in.

Tell tale signs of addiction

If you suspect that someone you know might be an addict, ask yourself the following questions.

Are they lying?

An addict often believes they can't function at the same level without the drug or behaviour they have become dependent on, so they can begin to make up lies and excuse and fabricate stories to hide what they are doing.

Does their behaviour seem out of control?

Addicts also feel unable to stop their use and behaviour, regardless of how reckless or destructive it becomes. They feel out of control with the activity but don’t know how to stop.

Do they seem to be in denial?

Addicts will always deny the extent of their use and its negative consequences to themselves and others. They may try to rationalise or minimise their behaviour, attempting to reassure others that it is all under control, that things are fine and there is no problem. They might even say their behaviour is stress-related or temporary and will settle once this sticky patch is over. They are quite likely to also tell you that you’re making an issue out of nothing.

Are they blaming you?

An addict might turn the issue around and try to say that you are the problem – you criticise them, you don’t understand them, you’re needy, exaggerating, difficult, demanding or anything that will shift the responsibility and blame onto someone else.

Other things you might notice

An addict will often have money problems as they spend increasing amounts to fuel their addiction. Their relationships might become strained as they distance themselves from people who they think will get to know about their use and confront them about it. They might also suffer from rrratic behaviour and an eventual decrease in performance at work become more noticeable. They might start taking more time off as a result.

More symptoms...

• Poor concentration

• Social withdrawal or isolation

• Depression

• Anxiety or panic attacks

• Memory loss or black outs

• Aggressive outbursts or violent behaviour

• Impotence

• Engaging in activities that put themselves (and others) at risk

• Withdrawal from their usual social activities

• A new interest in those who engage in similar addictive activities

They may also suffer from health issues such as irregular sleep, heart palpitations, nose bleeds, changes in appetite, too much or too little sleep, organ damage, shortness of breath, nausea, headaches, weight loss or gain, stomach problems, infections, blackouts, sexually transmitted diseases, poor nutrition, increased strain on organs.

What are the emotional signs?

Addicts can become aggressive, irrational or defensive. They might have suicidal thoughts, a lack of motivation, and suffer from despair, social withdrawal and mood swings. They can also have difficulty controlling their impulses, and have an increased sense of fear, anxiety or paranoia. Some might feel guilt, shame or stress, and lose confidence and self-esteem, increase their self-loathing and disgust.