What is Addiction?

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), “Addiction is a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences.”

ASAM also notes that since 2011, the public understanding and acceptance of addiction as a chronic brain disease and the possibility of remission and recovery have increased. Treatment for addiction can be as successful as those for other chronic diseases.

What are the signs of an addiction?

Signs of an addiction can vary from person to person but in general, addiction can negatively affect the behavior, appearance, and the physical and mental health of an individual among other areas of their life such as school, work and socialization.

Behavioral Changes

  • Has changed relationships with family members or friends
  • Uses chewing gum or mints to cover up breath
  • Often uses over-the-counter preparations to reduce eye reddening or nasal irritation
  • Frequently breaks curfew
  • Has money problems
  • Drives recklessly, and has car accidents or unexplained dents in the car
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Locks doors
  • Goes out every night
  • Makes secretive phone calls
  • Makes endless excuses
  • Has the “munchies” or sudden appetite
  • Exhibits uncharacteristically loud, obnoxious behavior
  • Laughs at nothing
  • Has become unusually clumsy: stumbling, lacking coordination, poor balance
  • Disappears for long periods of time
  • Has periods of sleeplessness or high energy, followed by long periods of “catch up” sleep

Health Issues

  • Unusually tired
  • Lethargic movement
  • Unable to speak intelligibly, slurred speech, or rapid-fire speech
  • Nosebleeds
  • Runny nose, not caused by allergies or a cold
  • Frequent sickness
  • Sores, spots around mouth
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Wetting lips or excessive thirst (known as “cotton mouth”)
  • Sudden or dramatic weight loss or gain
  • Skin abrasions/bruises
  • Accidents or injuries
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Sweatiness

Mood & Personality Shifts

  • Exhibits mood changes or emotional instability
  • Sullen, withdrawn, depressed
  • Shows loss of inhibitions
  • Silent, uncommunicative
  • Hostile, angry, uncooperative
  • Deceitful or secretive
  • Less motivated
  • Unable to focus
  • Hyperactive
  • Unusually elated

Hygiene & Appearance

  • Smell of smoke or other unusual smells on breath or on clothes
  • Messy appearance
  • Poor hygiene
  • Red, flushed cheeks or face
  • Track marks on arms or legs (or long sleeves in warm weather to hide marks)
  • Burns or soot on fingers or lips (from “joints” or “roaches” burning down)

School & Work

  • Absenteeism or loss of interest
  • Loss of interest in extracurricular activities, hobbies or sports
  • Failure to fulfill responsibilities at school or work
  • Complaints from teachers or supervisors
  • Reports of intoxication at school or work

At Home & In the Car

  • Disappearance of prescription or over-the-counter pills
  • Missing alcohol or cigarettes
  • Disappearance of money or valuables
  • Receiving unusual packages in the mail
  • Smell in the car or bottles, pipes or bongs on floor or in glove box
  • Hidden stashes of alcohol or drugs
  • Appearance of unusual containers or wrappers, or seeds left on surfaces used to clean marijuana
  • Appearance of unusual drug apparatuses, including pipes, rolling papers, small medicine bottles, eye drops, butane lighters, or makeshift smoking devices, like bongs made out of toilet paper rolls and aluminum foil

Dispelling Myths About Addiction

Effectively managing drug or alcohol addiction can be complicated by the stigma that still surrounds it. The stigma or shame associated with drug or alcohol addiction often keeps individuals from seeking help.

  • Icon for A person with an addiction to drugs or alcohol is “lost.”
    A person with an addiction to drugs or alcohol is “lost.”

    Treatment can be effective, recovery is possible. There are many successful people living in recovery.

  • Icon for Recovery sticks the first time.
    Recovery sticks the first time.

    Unfortunately, recovery can be on-going. Although recurrence of use is possible, the person that is unsuccessful—even a dozen times—is STILL capable of recovery. Don’t give up.

  • Icon for There is one way to go about getting into recovery.
    There is one way to go about getting into recovery.

    There are LOTS of ways to go about getting—and staying—in recovery. There are also lots of points of entry into the system of services and supports.

Substance Types

Alcohol (AKA booze, hooch)

  • Liquids such as beer, liquor, and wine drunk to experience  intoxicating effects. Signs of abuse include slurred speech, lack of coordination, nausea, vomiting, and hangovers.


  • Cocaine/Crack Cocaine (AKA blow, coke, rock, snow) – A stimulant in the form of either white crystalline powder, chips, chunks or white rocks. It is either snorted, smoked or injected to experience its stimulating effect. Signs of abuse include nervous behavior, restlessness, bloody noses, and erratic, high energy.
  • Methamphetamine (AKA ice, chalk, crank, crystal, fire, meth, speed) – A powerful stimulant that is found in the form of white or slightly yellow crystal-like powder, or large rock-like chunks. It can be smoked, snorted, injected or swallowed to experience its effects. Signs of abuse include nervous physical activity, scabs and open sores, decreased appetite, and insomnia.
  • Nicotine – A highly addictive substance found in all tobacco products including e-cigarettes and vapes. When used during adolescence, nicotine can change the way the brain develops. This may affect learning, attention, and susceptibility to other addictions.
  • Vapes and E-Cigarettes – Often have extremely high concentrations of nicotine. This makes users particularly vulnerable to becoming addicted very quickly and easily. Many people do not realize the product they are using has nicotine in it, or they are unaware of the amount of nicotine the product contains. Over 60% of Juul users do not know that Juul pods always contain nicotine, even the flavored pods.
  • E-Liquids – The liquids intended for vapes or e-cigarettes. These come in a variety of sweet and fruity flavors, which are especially appealing to kids. The flavors may give the impression the products are harmless. Some brands even advertise themselves as being “safer” or “healthy”; all claims that are totally unsubstantiated.


  • Marijuana (AKA blunt, dope, grass, herb, Maryjane, pot, reefer, skunk, weed) – A depressant found in the form of a green/grey mix of the dried flowers and leaves of Cannabis plant. Marijuana is typically smoked, brewed into tea, or imbued into food in order to experience its effects. Signs of abuse commonly include slowed thinking, delayed reaction time, impaired coordination, and paranoia.

Inhalants (AKA whippets, huffing, poppers, dusting)

  • Can fall in either the stimulant or depressant category, depending on the specific inhalant. They can take the form of paint thinners, glues, nail polish remover, whipped cream aerosol, air conditioner fluid, and many other substances. As the name suggests, they are inhaled in order to experience their effects. Signs of abuse include missing household cleaning products, and a drunk, dazed, or dizzy appearance.


  • Heroin (AKA black tar, dope, junk, smack) – A common street opioid that can look like white to dark brown powder, tar-like substance, or chip. Heroin is typically injected, but can also be smoked, free based, or snorted in order to experience its effects. Signs of abuse include track marks on the arms or legs, slowed and slurred speech, decreased appetite, nausea and vomiting, and lethargy.
  • Opiates/Pain Medications (AKA Fentanyl, Codeine, OxyContin/Oxy, Percocet/Perk, Vicodin/Vitamin V/Vika) – These opioids have the appearance of pills, tablets, transdermal patches, and table salt. They are typically crushed up and snorted or injected, swallowed, or licked off the patch to experience their effects. Signs of abuse include missing medicine bottles, missing medication, disrupted eating habits, dark circles under the eyes, and nodding off.

Benzodiazepines (AKA benzos, tranx, sleepers, Xanax, Valium, Klonopin)

  • An intoxicant that is often found in the form of tablets or capsules. They are usually crushed up and then snorted, injected; or swallowed  to experience their effects. Signs of abuse typically include drowsiness, impaired equilibrium, blurred vision, amnesia, unexpected hostility and irritability, disturbing dreams, lowered inhibitions, and impaired judgment.