Substance Abuse Signs and Symptoms

In the movies and on television, people with addictions are easy to spot — usually because addictions are portrayed on screen either for overly dramatic or unfortunately comic effect.

In the real world, though, identifying an addicted individual isn’t quite as simple. Many alcoholics and drug addicts are able to hide their disease even from loved ones and close friends.

However, there are certain signs that can indicate that a loved one has developed an addiction to alcohol or another drug:

  • Dramatic changes in mood or behavior
  • Secrecy and/or withdrawal
  • Preoccupation with drugs or alcohol — always talking about getting a drink, or repeating “war stories” of past alcohol or drug use
  • Need to use alcohol or other drugs both to celebrate successes and in response to setbacks
  • Lack of control — for example, inability to have “just one drink” without drinking to intoxication
  • Vehement denial when questioned about substance abuse
  • Inability to stop even when substance abuse has led to negative consequences (such as relationship problems, financial difficulties, job loss and/or legal problems)
  • Hiding or sneaking drugs, using alone or lying about amount of use
  • Giving up hobbies or interests or skipping events in order to drink or use drugs
  • Abandonment of old friends for new “drinking buddies”
  • Binge drinking (five or more drinks in one setting for men, three or more for women)
  • Experiencing  anxiety, nausea, irritability, or other physical or emotional symptoms when unable to drink or use drugs


No one behavior can prove beyond a doubt that a loved one is struggling with alcoholism or another form of drug addiction. But if someone you care about is acting in a way that causes you to worry about his or her health, don’t ignore your suspicions.

Addiction is characterized by an inability to control one’s behavior. Thus, though your loved one may initially deny (or even become angry) when confronted with your suspicions, your willingness to take action may make all the difference between getting help and continuing down a dangerous — and potentially deadly — path.