By Jenna Brown
Many people wonder if there are early warning signs of addiction, some of them hoping to intervene before an addiction takes hold. Others wonder if you can arrest an addiction in the early stages so that someone can stop destructive behavior before it becomes seriously intractable.
The warning signs of a possible addiction are similar to the behaviors of someone beginning to involve themselves with common addictions, such as drugs, alcohol, food or video games. These include mood swings, depression, isolation, detachment, failure to connect with people, failure to follow through on promises or projects, lethargy and loss of interest in friends or activities that used to be a part of their lives.
None of these items together or apart point to a definite addiction in the making. However, you can add in several risk factors and see how the odds begin to stack up against you.
Those risk factors include opportunity, lack of knowledge or understanding and a lack of confidence or values that include healthy living.
When you throw depression together with opportunity, low self-esteem and a general lack of understanding of the harmful effects of drugs – both short-term and long-term harm – then you have a recipe for addictions that begins to look more ominous.
There are specialized drug programs for young adults, which indicates various population groups include early warning signs that look different depending on a person's age. As such, there are different programs that answer to these very different needs.
As mentioned above, some of the early warning signs of addiction are identical to the warnings signs that indicate a risk for addiction. This is partly because, those who turn to drugs or alcohol to alleviate feelings of depression find they are not doing their depression any good, after all. So the original depression continues and even may worsen due to the side effects of the drug use or by the person's understanding – as it dawns on them – that the use of drugs and alcohol is only making matters worse. After all, they are not solving their depression and they are spending time and money in destructive ways.
People who involve themselves in the habitual use of drugs and alcohol tend to change other behaviors as well. They let their appearance go. They stop initiating new activities and give up on old ones. Their relationships suffer. They tend to change friends, relying more and more on people who are also addicts or are willing to help them remain hooked.
One of the early warning signs of an addiction is clearly part of the definition of addiction: The inability to stop using drugs or alcohol or both. Added to that is the dangerous pattern of switching back and forth from one substance to another. A person who switches from alcohol to using painkillers or barbiturates might say to themselves, “See, I stopped drinking. I guess I wasn't an alcoholic, as I had feared.” But that type of rationalization does not fool most people.
Another warning sign that is often not discussed is the simple point that the future addict, often the first time a person uses a substance, simply likes the feeling a lot. Some people get drunk for the first time and say, “never again.” It isn't even the hangover that bothers them, it's the feeling of being out of control while drunk that scares them. Other people get drunk for the first time and think, “wow, that was great.” Guess which one of the two could find themselves addicted to alcohol someday.
It is often said in recovery groups that the first person to know that there is an addiction underway is the addict. Even with this in mind, they fail to act on their discovery, hoping to put off their recovery until they are ready, even though every day of abuse makes quitting a little bit harder.
To round out this discussion, yes, there are very positive addictions, as well. Some people are addicted to bicycling. Others get hooked on jogging. Some people become addicted to work, which might come with problems, but might also be beneficial, since that can lead to promotions or raises or both.
It might be said that some addictions – cigarettes or eating, for example – are less harmful than others, such as heroin or crack cocaine. Indeed, some addictions tend to be associated with riskier behavior – stealing to support a heroin addiction, for example – than others.
Of course, no addiction should be dismissed as harmless, but sometimes recovery means choosing the lesser of two evils. I know of one alcoholic who quit and took up the fiddle and now plays quite well and stays sober and clean through music. Is he addicted to the fiddle? By all means. I know others who have taken up gardening or golf. Sometimes the propensity for addictions can help an addict recover. An addict who puts all of the obsessive energy they once used to stay drunk or high into their recovery can lead to positive outcomes.
The early signs of recovery? Now, we're talking.