What does addiction look like when it takes over your life?

David Vittoria, MSW
Addiction Medicine
There are many human conditions which can seriously affect our health, our happiness and the quality of our lives. All of us are familiar with the signs and symptoms of coronary artery disease, cancer, stroke and the potentially devastating disabilities caused by physical and emotional trauma. Addictive illness can produce physical, mental/emotional, social, family, legal and financial consequences just like any other serious, chronic, relapsing disorder.
Addiction does not come about overnight. At the outset, the person with an early-stage addiction might look normal in every regard; might be above average in intelligence; might have potential for happy and successful life; may be highly productive, charming and talented. 
As the addiction progresses, the physical health, mood, judgment and behavior will gradually deteriorate. A substance (such as alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, or a variety of pills) or a compulsive behavior (such as gambling, spending, aggression and stealing) may be identified as contributing to an unexpected downward spiral in the person’s former stability and level of function. 
When the addiction is fully active, life does not look balanced and happy. The effects of the repeated alteration of brain function cause loss of control, loss of values, loss of self-esteem, loss of position in the family, and loss of standing in the community.  
Life through the eyes of the addicted person looks dark, depressed, tense, anxious and afraid.  It is at this point that the individual can no longer help themselves. The organ system with which healthy decisions are made is itself impaired. 
There is hope for the person’s recovery if the signs and symptoms of addiction are recognized and professional help in concert with family support is sought.  
Dr. Mike Dow, PsyD
Addiction Medicine

One of the defining characteristics of addiction is that this bio-psycho-social-spiritual disease doesn't just affect your body and physical health; it has the ability to take over all areas of your life.

Physically, addiction will change your body and brain. The addict needs his or her drug of choice just to feel normal. Let's look at what this does to the other parts of your life. In 12-step programs, they say: You're as sick as your secrets. Since addicts need their drug of choice to feel normal, they will begin to lie to those around them in an attempt to cover up their addiction. They may miss work and invent excuses. They will lie to their loved ones, and this will begin to put a strain on romantic relationships, friendships, and your family.

The downward spiral has begun, and the psychological symptoms have begun to present themselves. Depression, anxiety, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, mania, and impulsive behavior are common depending on the drug of choice. These symptoms will get worse, and consequences will begin to get worse. People in an addict's life will begin to find out about the addiction. Jobs and houses may be lost. Relationships will be strained or ruined - sometimes beyond repair. And spiritually, the addict may be engaging in behaviors that are not in line with the addict's former value system.

Of course, addicts use their drug of choice to self-medicate unpleasant feeling states and life experiences. So what does the addict do to try to deal with these consequences?  He or she will use more. There may be unsuccessful attempts at quitting or cutting back, but ultimately, we know that this downward spiral will ruin the addict's life sooner or later unless the addict does the one thing that works: seek treatment.

Sheila Dunnells
Addiction Medicine
In the young adult world, addiction looks like a person totatlly absorbed with the idea of his drug, where his drugs are, where he will get his drugs, when he will use the drugs, and how will he pay for his drugs.

Basically, addiction takes over your child's whole world. Appropriate interests like school, studies, a job, keeping up with family responsibilities are replaced with total disinterest in those areas of his life that were once important.

The whole family eventually gets snagged into the addict's world as unmet responsibilities at home; unhappy notes to parents from teachers; sudden changes in his behavior toward a sibling; and a certain aggressiveness and secretiveness upsets the family dynamic.
George Joseph
Addiction Medicine
When addiction takes over your life, these are some of the troubles that can occur:

• Neglect – nothing matters except for when and where you are going to use drugs or alcohol. Planning takes more time, so other responsibilities get dropped and using becomes priority.

• Increased high-risk behaviors while using or in order to use – driving under the influence, stealing, prostituting, using shared needles, selling or transporting drugs, unprotected sex, mixing substances.

• Legal trouble – selling or using drugs in public places, DUI, DWI, disorderly conduct, theft, and other risky behaviors that may result in an arrest.

• Relationship issues – spouses or significant others may attempt to put boundaries on or give ultimatums to the addicted person; however, this will only threaten them more. Discord will soon heighten when the use has become intolerable to sustain the relationship. Fights may occur with family members, friends or co-workers that cause increased stress for all involved. Relationships become chaotic.
 
• Tolerance increases/increased use – the more you use, the more you need to achieve the same initial effects. You’re always chasing that first high.

• Avoiding withdrawal – with some drugs and alcohol, the dependent person must keep using in order to not experience withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawing is uncomfortable and can be life-threatening. Symptoms such as nausea, restlessness, insomnia, depression, sweating, shaking, anxiety and seizures can be part of a person’s withdrawal.

• Loss of control – the substance use has a hold on you – like a true love. It’s all you think about and dream about. You tell yourself you’re not going to use that much or at all, but you give in losing the battle once again.

• Everything revolves around drug seeking and using – more time is spent thinking, planning and using drugs and/or alcohol than any other activity.
 
• Activities cease – an addicted person may have in the past been involved in fun activities and hobbies, but due to the addiction, all interest has been lost. Old activities are replaced by the new drug seeking and using activities.

• Inability to stop – the addicted person knows that the use is out of control and it’s bad for them, but continues to use regardless of the consequences: blackouts, illnesses, depression, paranoia, seizures, skin lesions, anxiety.

Continue Learning about Substance Abuse and Addiction

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.