There is a difference between really liking something and being addicted to it. We all know this, but a lot of the time, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when someone slips across the line from one to the other. Colloquialisms don’t help. We often say that we are “addicted” to something when, really, we are just intense fans of that something. So how do you tell the difference? How do you know if you just really like something or if you are suffering from an addiction?
Unfortunately the answers to this aren’t always clear. Even doctors, says DualDiagnosis.Org, have a hard time talking about addiction with their patients. This is likely due to the fact that addiction presents differently in different people. And, often, there are other factors complicating the addiction, like mental illness or other mental health issues like anxiety, etc. (source)
That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t some very distinct signs that you might have crossed over from simply being a fan to being addicted. Here are a few “symptoms” of which you should be mindful.
Needing the Drug
There’s a difference between needing a drink (or a smoke or whatever) and needing that drink. Everybody has moments of thinking that they need a specific something to make them feel better. For example, when you are sick with the flu, you might feel like you need a specific comfort food to help you feel better. That’s normal. What isn’t normal is feeling like you need that same comfort food even when you aren’t sick. When the need becomes visceral, or life-dependent (I can’t live without this substance/I will die if I don’t get this substance), that is a bad sign.
The Drug Seems Weaker
When you first started drinking or using, it didn’t take much to get you buzzed or high. Now you’re on your sixth drink and you still feel the same. We all build up tolerances for things over time, it’s true. But those are usually subtle shifts. If you find that you need very large quantity of your chosen substance to maintain the level of high you used to reach with very little of that substance, you should start to worry.
The Drug Becomes a Priority
You used to only buy when you had extra cash on hand and knew you could afford to indulge a little bit. Now you’re prioritizing your drug of choice over your other financial responsibilities. When you find yourself justifying putting off paying your power bill so that you can afford to use, that is a problem.
To this end, it is also problematic when you prioritize your using experience over other things that you need to do. Feeling fine about calling out sick to work so that you can use is a sign that you’ve crossed the line into addiction. Skipping out on important life events and responsibilities in favor of using is one of the largest signs that you’re an addict.
Losing Track of Your Use
You sat down to have one cigarette. Now the whole pack is gone. You can’t remember anybody bumming one, which means you likely smoked them all yourself…but you don’t remember actually making the choice to smoke each cigarette after the first. You kept lighting up without even thinking about it. This behavior, whether it’s smoking, drinking, or other drugs, is a problem. If you can’t keep track of your using, you’re losing control of the situation.
Not Being Able to Stop
You don’t want to use. You make up your mind that you won’t use. You’re not an addict, you’re in control! Inevitably, though, you fail in your attempt to stay sober. There’s a great line from the movie 28 Days (the one with Sandra Bullock) in which Steve Buscemi says “and then something would happen…or nothing would happen.” You know exactly what that means and, even though you were determined not to use, you used anyway. You almost couldn’t help yourself.
Getting Sick When You Don’t Use
If you start to experience physical symptoms of withdrawal when you don’t have a steady stream of your drug of choice in your system, that is a bad sign. The only thing that stops it is using again. This is when you know that you are going to need help.
Please know that if any of these applies to you, telling someone about it and getting help is the best thing you can do for yourself. Many people believe that admitting to an addiction is a sign of weakness. In fact, admitting your addiction and getting the help you need to deal with it are the best and strongest things you can do for yourself.