Nearly every mental illness has a stereotype attached to it — and these tropes are often overgeneralized and straight-up inaccurate. For instance, when people think of the illness of addiction, they often picture a person who's been fired from their job for showing up visibly inebriated, or imagine some version of the "strung out party girl" who conspicuously disappears every 15 minutes at social gatherings, coming back infinitely happier and more energetic. Because of the stigma attached to addiction, we don't talk about it nearly enough — and, as a result, the illness can very easily go undetected, as we rely on stereotypes for information about what addiction looks like.
Although problems at work are often one of the biggest signs of addiction, there are plenty of high-functioning addicts whose work performances are unaffected — so it's important to remember that there are way more signs and symptoms of addiction than the ones that immediately pop into our heads. Although only a doctor can diagnose you with addiction disorder, these seven signs are red flags that you may have an addiction and not realize it. If they hit close to home, the best thing you can do for yourself is schedule an appointment and have a very honest, open dialogue with your doctor about your alcohol and drug use.
1. You Hide Your Use From Loved Ones
If you feel the need to be secretive about your alcohol or drug use, that's a red flag that, deep down, you know your behavior has moved past "recreational" or "under control." It's easy to make the excuse that it's no one's business and they'll just be judgmental — and it's true that sometimes certain people are a bit too quick to judge. But if there's no one in your life who you're honest with about exactly how much you're drinking or using a certain drug — or if the only people who know are people you're using substances with — it's probably because you fear their reaction would be genuine, legitimate concern.
2. It's Pretty Much Your Only Coping Mechanism
We've all been there — after a particularly exhausting, rough day, we can't get wait to get home, put on our sweats, and drink a glass or two of wine in front of the TV. There's certainly nothing wrong with doing this once in a while — but if a drink, a joint, or another drug is your go-to whenever the smallest problem or stressor arises, it might be a sign that you're using it as a crutch. In the moment, it's a quick-fix that's often more appealing than going to a yoga class, taking a walk, reading, or journaling — but if you can't think of any coping mechanism that doesn't involve alcohol or drugs, it's time to talk to your doctor.
3. You're Always Sick
Abusing any substance, whether it's alcohol, cocaine, or painkillers, takes a toll on your body and can weaken your immune system. If you catch every cold or virus that goes around the office, it's a sign that you're physically compromised. And, even when you don't have a specific illness, you may feel perpetually exhausted and suffer from chronic headaches or stomach pain. These are all potential signs that your substance use has turned into an addiction, and your physical health has declined as a result.
4. You Experience Anxiety When Your Substance Of Choice Isn't Around
If you arrive at a party and immediately feel anxious that you can't get a drink right away, it's a sign that you view the substance as the most important aspect of a social gathering, rather than a fun bonus. And if you're at home and crave a glass of wine at midnight, only to realize that there's no booze in your apartment and all the stores are closed, your reaction could be very telling. If you panic because you realize drinking isn't an option, that's a red flag that you've become dependent and don't know how to handle situations where the substance isn't present. When drugs or drinking become the center of your social and home life, it's time to ask yourself why the substance is so important to you and why you feel anxious when it's not easily and immediately accessible.
5. Friends Have Expressed Concern
Your friends may not be medical experts, but they do know you better than anyone — so it's only fair to at least hear them out if they express concern about your drinking or drug habits. Be sure to let them make all their points, ask for specific examples if you feel they're being vague, and then really reflect on everything they've said. No one wants to confront a friend about a potential addiction and risk a huge argument — so if your pal expresses concern, it's likely because they are genuinely worried about you and your health.
6. It's Occurred To You That Your Substance Use May Be A Problem
As much as we can be in denial about a problem, we are often aware deep down that something's wrong. Simply put, the illness of addiction feels terrible both physically and mentally. Constant comedowns and hangovers will leave you feeling exhausted, depleted, physically weak, and unhappy. If it's crossed your mind that you're using substances in an unhealthy manner that's affecting your overall quality of life, don't ignore that instinct — seek help and a diagnosis.
7. You Engage In Risky, Out-Of-Character Behaviors
This can apply to both when you're under the influence, or when you're obtaining an illegal substance. For example, if you engage in high-risk behavior after drinking — like choosing to drive under the influence, putting other people's lives in danger as well as your own — that's a major red flag. If your substance of choice is illegal, think about the risks you take in order to obtain it — because every time you buy illegal substances from a dealer, you're risking serious legal ramifications that could have a major impact on your life.
Remember, addiction is an illness and there's no shame in admitting you need help. Once you're in treatment, it's up to you to take recovery into your own hands and fully commit to it — but the first step is admitting you have a problem and seeking the help you need and deserve.