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10 warning signs of addiction | Ardu Recovery Center

Written by Brandon Okey. Mina Draskovic, B.Psy., reviewed this content for accuracy.

At first, substance use seems harmless and enjoyable. But over time, addiction rewires the brain and shows clear signs that addictive behavior has taken hold. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the warning signs of addiction can appear soon after first use. 

Key symptoms of addiction include changes in behavior, physical health deterioration, withdrawal symptoms, and increased tolerance to substances. 

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If you or your loved one is showing signs of drug or alcohol addiction, our rehab center is at your disposal. Contact Ardu Recovery Center and start the journey toward sobriety in a supportive and compassionate environment.

I recommend you go to ARDU if you or someone you know is struggling with addiction. You won’t find a better program!!! Thanks to my ARDU family, I now have 91 days in recovery today!

Jennifer Taylor


We have identified 10 physical, psychological, and behavioral signs that indicate you may be suffering from a substance addiction.

Ten warning signs of addiction

Substance addiction brands the body, mind, and spirit. Though intoxicants vary, all dependencies share common telltale signs that addiction has taken hold. Typically, you can recognize physical signs before behavioral ones become apparent.

Here are ten signs that you may be struggling with addiction:

  1. Your eyes are bloodshot and your pupils are dilated or constricted.
  2. Your weight fluctuates. 
  3. You exhibit poor physical health—your hygiene, dental, and oral health deteriorate.
  4. You experience problems with memory, focus, and mental health.
  5. You have intense cravings and obsessive thoughts about using.
  6. You engage in risky activities under the influence.
  7. You continue using despite negative consequences on your health, relationships, work or school, and finances.
  8. Your tolerance to substances increases—you need more to get the same effect.
  9. You’re unable to control yourself—you often fail to cut back or quit.
  10. You experience withdrawal symptoms when you’re not using.

One: bloodshot eyes and dilated or constricted pupils

Bloodshot eyes and changes in pupil size are common signs of drug or alcohol use. Substances such as alcohol, cocaine, and cannabis dilate the tiny blood vessels surrounding the eyes. This involuntary swelling causes the sclera to redden, resulting in the tell-tale bloodshot eyes. Smoking weed increases blood flow to the eye, which can also result in red eyes that often indicate substance use.

Alcohol and marijuana cause the iris muscles to relax, resulting in a dilated pupil. Research shows that they also slow your pupil reflexes, delaying their ability to constrict in increased light. Opioids such as heroin typically cause the pupils to constrict. 

Chronic substance use can lead to long-term eye damage, such as impaired eye muscle function, retinal vascular occlusive disease, and other ocular conditions.

Two: poor hygiene and physical health

As addiction progresses, self-care and hygiene inevitably decline. Substance users’ main focus is on securing their next fix. This often comes at the expense of personal hygiene, grooming, laundry, and overall quality of life.

Dental deterioration is a common overt indicator of addiction—drugs directly damage tooth enamel and impair protective saliva leading to erosions, infections, and tooth decay. A 2013 study found that addiction leads to poor oral hygiene, xerostomia, and increased dental and periodontal diseases.

According to German researchers, substance use can ruin skin health, causing pigment changes, abscesses, skin conditions, skin dehydration, and self-inflicted lesions. Alcohol is particularly damaging to skin health—it leaves your skin malnourished, dehydrated, and vulnerable.

Three: sudden weight fluctuations

Dramatic weight fluctuations are among the most telling physical symptoms of substance abuse. Stimulants and opioids accelerate metabolism, dull taste, and suppress appetite. A 2020 review showed that “stimulants interact with the hormonal signals that regulate appetite including ghrelin and leptin, and can produce long-term alterations in the ability to monitor and compensate energy deficits.”

On the other hand, alcohol’s empty calories promote fat accumulation, bloating faces and bellies. Heavy drinking loads on liquid pounds as inhibitions drop and cravings spike, driving intake of fatty foods that compound weight gain.

Proper nutrition is vital for recovery, which is why our nutritional therapy teaches healthy eating habits that stabilize weight and provide energy.

Four: problems with memory, focus, and mental health

Getting hooked leads to a vicious cycle of emotional and mental highs and lows. Many people initially use substances to self-medicate for pre-existing anxiety or depression, but that can exacerbate mental health conditions over time. Due to the direct effects of substances on brain chemistry, substance addiction can lead to anxiety and depression.

Because of these detrimental effects on your brain and cognition, your executive function, motivation, and reward circuits are slowly damaged. A 2010 study revealed that “with continued drug use, cognitive deficits ensue that exacerbate the difficulty of establishing sustained abstinence.”

Lack of motivation is another telltale sign of addiction. Research suggests that addicts shift their focus to obtaining and using their substance of choice, neglecting responsibilities and losing interest in previously enjoyable activities. 

Five: cravings and obsessive thoughts

When substance use progresses from habit to compulsion, it quickly starts showing intensifying cravings and all-consuming thoughts about securing the next dose.

Volkow, et. al. suggest that “continued drug use can eventually impair neuronal circuits in the brain that are involved in free will, turning drug use into an automatic compulsive behavior.” The cravings are linked to the brain’s reward system. Addictive substances trigger a release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure and reward. This creates a sense of euphoria, which the person then seeks to replicate through further substance use.

Lüscher, et. al. reveal that obsessive thoughts about using can become so pervasive that they dominate a person’s mental landscape, leading to a preoccupation with obtaining and using the substance. 

Six: risky behaviors

Engaging in risky behavior while under the influence is an early warning sign of addiction. Substance use can impair judgment and lead to actions that you might not consider when sober. This can include reckless driving, engaging in unprotected sex, or participating in illegal activities. 

Risky behaviors not only pose immediate physical dangers, but can also lead to long-term consequences such as legal issues, incarceration, sexually transmitted diseases, or unwanted pregnancies. The CDC warns that “teen substance use is also associated with sexual risk behaviors that put young people at risk for HIV, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and pregnancy.”

Seven: continued use despite negative consequences

Continued use despite adverse consequences is a classic sign of addiction. Even when people addicted to drugs or alcohol face problems such as health issues, strained relationships, or legal or financial trouble, they can’t stop themselves. It’s like they’re trapped in a cycle of craving and using, even though they know it’s causing harm. 

This behavior highlights how powerful addiction can be, as it overrides common sense and self-preservation instincts. When someone keeps using despite the negative fallout, it’s a clear signal that they’re battling addiction and need help to break free from its grip.

Catch problems early to beat addiction before it causes extensive damage to your everyday life and starts affecting the people around you. If you notice the warning signs of substance abuse in yourself or someone you care about, contact Ardu.

Eight: increased tolerance

Increased tolerance to substances is a key sign of potential addiction. Your body adapts to a substance, requiring higher or more frequent doses to achieve the same effects. The more often you use, the quicker your body metabolizes the drug and reduces the number of cell receptors it attaches to in the brain. 

Miller and Gold suggest that “tolerance can develop within hours and days to a single dose of alcohol or other drugs.”

While tolerance doesn’t necessarily mean addiction, it can be a warning sign, as it often precedes dependence and addiction.

Nine: inability to control use

The inability to control substance use manifests as a compulsive need to consume the drug. This loss of control is due to changes in the brain’s reward system, which becomes rewired to prioritize drug use over other activities and responsibilities. The brain’s altered structure and function lead to intense cravings and a diminished ability to resist the urge to use, even when you genuinely want to stop.

Jahan and Burgess revealed that “substance abuse can cause loss of impulse control and agitation, in which the user will have mood dysregulation leading to violent behavior.” They also suggest that persistent alcohol consumption desensitizes GABA receptors, increasing tolerance and undermining control over drinking. GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a neurotransmitter that inhibits or slows down brain activity, regulating relaxation and controlling anxiety.

Our alcohol detox center can help you break the cycle of alcohol dependence and provide comprehensive treatment for alcohol addiction. Detox is an essential first step to recovery. The team at Ardu is here to help you detox safely and comfortably and restore your brain’s chemical wiring. 

Ten: withdrawal symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms are clear signs of addiction that occur when an addict stops using. Some of the common withdrawal symptoms that indicate the presence of addiction include:

  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Seizures
  • Shaky, clumsy movements

Your limbs shudder from metabolic shifts and neurotransmitter crashes that disrupt smooth muscle control. Some substances directly affect temperature regulation as well, causing dramatic fluctuations in body heat. Drug withdrawal symptoms depend on the substance itself, addiction severity, and the individual’s nervous system, but they all signal the body’s desperate revolt when its supply gets cut off. 

It may be difficult for you to quit and stand by your decision when your brain is struggling with withdrawal symptoms. Most alcoholics will quickly relapse and resume drinking to make the alcohol withdrawal symptoms stop, which only perpetuates the cycle of addiction.

The possibility of agonizing withdrawals can drive continued excessive drinking despite negative consequences, but relapse is a natural part of addiction. Ardu’s relapse prevention program guides you to rediscover your inner strength without judgment.

What is substance use disorder?

Substance use disorder (SUD), often referred to as addiction, is when a person can’t control their use of a substance such as alcohol, tobacco, or drugs, even when it’s causing problems in their life. It includes conditions such as alcohol use disorder, opioid use disorder, and cocaine use disorder. 

According to SAMHSA, in 2022, nearly 50 million Americans over the age of 12 battled some form of substance use disorder.

The brain’s chemistry gets hijacked by a substance, making it hard to stop using. This can lead to all sorts of issues: trouble at work or school, health problems, financial problems, and damaged relationships. 

Addiction can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or background. SUD is a chronic disease that may require ongoing treatment, including behavioral therapy and in some cases medication, to help achieve and maintain recovery.

Is addiction a mental illness?

Addiction is a disease and may be classified as a brain disorder because it involves functional changes to brain circuits involved in reward, stress, and self-control. According to NIDA, it is characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain.

Research has identified a common brain network linked to addiction across multiple substances, including alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, opioids, and cannabis. This network includes brain regions such as the anterior cingulate, the insulae, the prefrontal cortices, and the thalamus, which have been linked to human craving, emotion, and risky decision-making.

NIDA also shows that people with substance use disorders are up to three times more likely to be dual-diagnosed with a mental illness. Of the 20.3 million adults with substance use disorders, 37.9% also had mental illnesses.

Dual diagnosis treatment is an important part of care for those who suffer from both substance use disorders and mental illness. Without proper treatment, an addict may struggle to find relief from their symptoms and may be unable to break free from the cycle of substance abuse.

How to overcome substance addiction

Recovery from addiction involves multiple stages and varies based on your addiction profile and the level of care you need. The primary aim of rehabilitation is to assist you in achieving sustained recovery to lead a healthy life free from substance use.

The process of drug addiction treatment and recovery will typically involve a combination of the following steps:

  1. An assessment evaluates both your rehabilitation requirements and the extent of your addiction, encompassing physical and psychological assessments, along with consultations conducted by medical experts and addiction specialists.
  2. Drug detox helps you stop drug use and eliminate toxins from your body. This can be a difficult process, and medical supervision is often necessary to manage physical withdrawal symptoms. 
  3. Once you have completed detoxification, you can participate in treatment such as behavioral therapy and medication-assisted treatment. This step can include cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, family therapy, and motivational interviewing. These methods are intended to help you understand the underlying reasons for your addiction and develop healthy coping mechanisms. 
  4. When you complete your treatment program, you can participate in aftercare programs, which help with relapse prevention. This can include ongoing behavioral health therapy, support groups, and regular check-ins with medical professionals.
  5. Inpatient rehab, also known as residential treatment, consists of staying at drug addiction treatment centers (such as Ardu) for a set period, typically ranging from 30 to 90 days or longer. Our inpatient treatment facilities offer 24/7 medically assisted support and are an ideal option for people who need a higher level of care and medically supervised drug detox.
  6. Outpatient rehab offers more flexibility, as it allows you to continue living at home or in a sober living arrangement while attending treatment. Our treatment facility offers intensive outpatient programs and partial hospitalization programs where you can get structured outpatient treatment during the day. 

If you’d like to get started on your road to recovery, contact us today.

Brandon Okey

Brandon Okey is the co-founder of Ardu Recovery Center and is dedicated to empowering people on their journey to sobriety.

Signs of addiction FAQ

What is addictive behavior?

Addictive behavior encompasses a range of actions and patterns that indicate a physical and psychological dependence on a given addiction. It often involves a persistent and compulsive need to engage in addictive tendencies, even when they result in negative consequences. 

Common addictive behaviors include substance abuse (e.g., drugs, alcohol, tobacco) and behavioral addictions (e.g., gambling, gaming, internet use). Individuals exhibiting addictive behavior typically experience cravings, increased tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, and an inability to control their usage. These behaviors can have a significant impact on many aspects of life, including relationships, work, and physical health.

Are addicts narcissists?

Addiction and narcissism are distinct psychological traits. While some individuals with addiction may display narcissistic traits, such as self-centered behavior or a lack of empathy, addiction itself is not synonymous with narcissism. Addiction is primarily characterized by a compulsive dependence on substances or behaviors, while narcissism involves a grandiose sense of self-importance, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. These traits can coexist in some individuals, but they are not inherently linked.

What are the characteristics of a drug personality?

Characteristics associated with a drug personality can vary widely depending on the individual and the specific substance or behavior in question. Common characteristics of a drug personality may include:

  1. Impulsivity
  2. Risk-taking behavior
  3. Tolerance
  4. Withdrawal symptoms when not using
  5. Cravings
  6. Difficulty in controlling drug use
  7. Secretive behavior
  8. Changes in social interactions
  9. Preoccupation with obtaining and using the substance

These traits can manifest differently and are influenced by a range of factors, including genetics, environment, and personal history.

Is there an addictive personality?

The concept of an “addictive personality” is a topic of debate among experts. While some individuals may have certain personality traits that make them more susceptible to addiction, addiction is not solely determined by personality. It’s a complex condition influenced by a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. 

The specific traits associated with an “addictive personality” can vary widely between individuals. Therefore, there is no universally defined “addictive personality.” It is essential to consider the multifaceted nature of addiction. Read more about the “alcoholic personality.”

What are the causes of addiction?

Addiction arises from a complex interplay of multiple factors. These causative factors include:

  1. Genetic predisposition (family history of addiction)
  2. Environmental factors (exposure to addictive substances or behaviors, peer pressure)
  3. Trauma or adverse life events
  4. Mental health disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety)
  5. The availability and accessibility of addictive substances or activities

Brain chemistry plays a significant role as well, as substances such as drugs and alcohol can directly affect the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. 

What is the dopamine theory of addiction?

The dopamine theory of addiction is a widely accepted explanation for the development of addictive behaviors. It posits that addiction is linked to the brain’s reward system, particularly the neurotransmitter dopamine. When an individual engages in pleasurable activities or consumes addictive substances (e.g., drugs), the brain releases dopamine, creating feelings of pleasure and reinforcement. 

Over time, repeated exposure to these pleasurable stimuli can lead to increased dopamine release, which reinforces the desire to repeat the behavior. This reinforcement loop can lead to the development of addiction, as individuals seek to replicate the pleasurable feelings associated with the substance or activity. 

The dopamine theory highlights the neurological underpinnings of addiction and helps explain the compulsion to engage in addictive behaviors despite negative consequences.


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