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signs of addiction.

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what is addiction?

The term “addiction” refers to a chronic disease that can be associated with many things. Often, the discussion around addiction includes topics like gambling, spending, sex, and substance use. At NACA, we’re focused on helping people who struggle with a substance use disorder, whether it be alcohol or other addictive drugs. Many types of drugs can result in substance abuse disorders.

early signs of a developing alcohol or drug addiction

Individuals who start to develop an addiction to a substance may not even realize it at first. Sometimes addiction develops slowly as a result of multiple uses over several months, but some drugs can result in alarmly quick dependence and addiction.

behavioral signs and changes

When an addiction is developing, individuals often exhibit changes to their behavior or regular routine. Addiction warps the way that they typically behave, and being able to identify when abuse may be occuring can be a crucial part of preventing lasting problems.

These behavioral changes are far from universal, but one of the more common changes is in how individuals interact with a potential addiction. Frequent trips to doctors to refill prescriptions or taking other people’s prescriptions could mean that someone is dependent on a substance. Increased secrecy and self-isolation can also be indicative of illicit drug use, and may be the budding cues of an addiction.

Addiction has major impacts on a person’s work and social life. Someone who is falling into serious substance abuse may stop communicating with family and friends, or suddenly have new friends who enable their behavior. They may also exhibit risky behavior and struggle to perform well at work or school. Once they are dependent, no behavior is truly off the table if it would help them obtain their drug(s) of choice. They may lie to family, ask for money, steal, or exhibit other out-of-character traits.

physical signs of addiction

The physical effects of addiction vary as well, and largely depend on the type of substance being abused. Those struggling with an addiction to a stimulant may exhibit consistently upbeat or highly energetic moods, and may also suddenly lose weight. Depressants, on the other hand, may cause bouts of depression, and can cause constant drowsiness or decreased energy in general.

As a whole, addiction tends to have major effects on personality traits like irritability or drowsiness, and may also lead to physical effects like weight loss, poorer hygiene, and headaches.

is it “serious”?

Yes. Nearly every type of substance abuse disorder can be life-threatening. Noticing that someone’s dealing with a substance abuse problem can be tough; the signs may not necessarily be obvious. However an individual’s addiction might manifest, the key is understanding that substance abuse can quickly become a problem. And while a problem may not be immediately threatening at the moment, it could worsen over time.

The experience of addiction is different for everyone, but the truth is, there’s no such thing as safe or manageable substance abuse. If left unchecked, individuals who are dealing with an addiction may see no way out of the spiral, and can worsen until their lives are threatened.

types of psychoactive substances

At the top level, substances are broken down into major groups based on how they affect the human body. Substances that generally slow down body processes are known as depressants, while those that increase or speed up body processes are labelled as stimulants. Other substances, like hallucinogens, have varied effects but typically cause individuals to see, hear, or feel things that aren’t actually there.

what are the most commonly abused substances?


Alcohol is one of the most abused drugs in the world. As a depressant, it is sometimes used to help get to sleep but also slows down other body processes, like breathing and heart rate. Some signs of alcohol abuse appear as excessive drinking, or drinking alcohol consistently in order to avoid hangovers. Those who abuse alcohol may show symptoms like mood swings, irritability, or alcohol cravings.

opioids & opiates

Opioids & opiates are another commonly abused substance group. The term “opiates” refers to natural substances like opium, heroin and morphine, while opioids (Oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, etc.) are produced synthetically. Both types are considered “narcotics,'' or sleep-inducing substances. While many people use prescription opioids legally to treat chronic or short-term pain, problems arise when opioid use continues after it’s no longer necessary. Even prescription opioids are highly addictive, meaning physical dependence can set in very quickly. Signs of opioid abuse can appear in the form of prescription refills from multiple different doctors, or going out of one’s way to get opioids illegally. Strong cravings for opioids, weight loss, or drowsiness are all common symptoms of an opioid use disorder.

xanax & benzodiazepines

Xanax and Benzodiazepines are primarily prescription drugs. Medically, these depressants help treat the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy. However, their popularity also means individuals can abuse them easily, and do. Using Xanax without a prescription or using more than the necessary dose can be signs that someone is abusing benzodiazepines. Benzo substance abuse typically causes increased anxiety, drowsiness, insomnia, and more.


Cocaine is a stimulant, but has nearly zero medical applications. As a result, most use of cocaine occurs illegally. This drug can have dangerous effects on individuals who use it even once. Cocaine abuse signs may appear as financial problems, changes in sleep patterns, secrecy, and paranoia. People who abuse this drug often exhibit symptoms of lowered appetite, fast heartbeat, or dilated pupils.


Methamphetamines are a branch of amphetamines similar to cocaine in that they have very rare medical applications, and are a powerful stimulant. Since they share similar legal status and physical impact, the signs often appear the same as cocaine use: secrecy, paranoia, and irritability. Physically, individuals who abuse methamphetamines often show symptoms of weight loss, poor dental health, and skin irritation that worsens over time.

adderall & prescription stimulants

Adderall and other prescription stimulants share some similarities to Xanax and benzos in that they both can treat a multitude of disorders, but have a significant potential for abuse. Rather than depressants, Adderall and similar prescription substances stimulate the individual, and generally speed up body processes. Those who take prescription stimulants without a prescription or consistently take more than the necessary dose may be exhibiting signs of substance abuse. Nervousness, anxiety, panic, and nausea are all potential symptoms of prescription stimulant abuse.


Hallucinogenic substances are quite different from other drugs. Many substances fall under the umbrella classification of “hallucinogenic,” but they generally all interfere with how individuals experience or perceive the world. That can mean changes in senses, or an altered perception of self. Not many hallucinogens are known to have a strong potential for physical dependence, but consistently seeking out hallucinogens or continuing use even after known danger are symptoms that may be exhibited by people who are abusing hallucinogens. The symptoms of hallucinogen abuse are varied, but often include trouble concentrating, dizziness, hallucinations, and high blood pressure.

helping someone with a substance abuse problem

Those with a substance abuse problem may refuse to see or acknowledge that they have an addiction, so confronting someone about their abuse may be necessary. In other cases, individuals may just need a helping hand from a friend or loved one to help them break the spiral of withdrawal and abuse.

expressing your concern and love

It’s important to remind a struggling individual that you’re concerned about their wellbeing, and that you chose to speak about their problem because you love them. This step can be reassuring, and help them understand that you look for what’s best for them, not necessarily what feels good.

providing support without enabling

This can be complicated. Many people enable their loved ones to continue a downward spiral, even if they have the best intentions and just want to help. Dealing with an addiction can be incredibly difficult, and overcoming cravings and withdrawal symptoms might feel impossible to do alone.

Being too lenient with an individual’s substance problem might lead to enabling, which helps nobody. Enabling is taking actions that prevent an individual from feeling the consequences of their actions enables that person to continue with dangerous or unhealthy behavior, and it doesn’t facilitate recovery. Providing support for real change —treatment, counseling, etc.—can make all the difference, but make sure to emphasize the end goal.

maintaining healthy boundaries

Boundaries can be a crucial part of encouraging changed behavior. Setting up clear and reasonable boundaries for a loved one struggling with addiction can be a good place to start working toward a solution. Boundaries are a way to let someone know that what they’re doing is not okay. They can also protect you if a loved one's behavior becomes unsafe.

This could look like not allowing drugs or alcohol in the house, or refusing to cover for mistakes or shortcomings. The purpose of boundaries is to encourage responsible behavior, and they can be different for each person.

stepping in to help: when is an intervention necessary?

A professional intervention includes a therapist in a discussion with a struggling loved one. They help guide the conversation through difficult topics that may be too hard or confusing to talk about otherwise. In addition, an interventionist is able to act as a third party and can help make sure the discussion doesn’t become emotionally volatile.

Knowing when someone’s in need of an intervention can be tough, since it largely depends on the mental state of the person. When an individual knows they have an addiction but still refuses to accept help or work toward a solution, it’s likely time to have an intervention with them.

long-term effects of addictive behavior

When an addiction persists for several months or even years, the effects on the individual can linger long after they’ve overcome the substance abuse. In some cases, the drug causes permanent damage to someone's body or mind.

how to tell if substance abuse is getting worse

Addiction is a chronic and progressive disorder, meaning it will worsen over time if left unchecked. Someone dealing with an addiction may start to exhibit more prominent symptoms, or start caring about hiding their problem less and less. It may be time to have a conversation with a struggling person if they begin taking more drastic measures to obtain a substance.

Stealing money, selling belongings, poorer performance at work or in school, depression, and consistent thoughts about a substance are all signs that an individual’s substance abuse is worsening.

treatment and the addiction recovery process

Overcoming an addiction can be a long and tough ordeal. Depending on the level of addiction and type of substance, a variety of treatment options might be necessary to facilitate full recovery.

types of treatment programs

To ensure we can treat any type of substance abuse disorder, we offer a wide array of programs and treatment options. For each patient, we want to provide the best, most personalized treatment route possible. Our focus is on a complete and robust rehabilitation, while also maintaining a compassionate and individualized atmosphere.

At NACA, we offer programs like intervention, medical detox, inpatient and outpatient rehab, partial hospitalization, and dual diagnosis care. One or more of these programs allow us to dynamically treat all the clients we take in. We’re able to treat the entire range of addiction, as well as accompanying mental health and behavioral disorders.

substance abuse recovery at NACA

At Northern Arizona Center for Addiction, it’s our mission to provide treatment that also builds the individual at a personal level. We’re equipped with the necessary programs and facilities to capably tend to each client’s body, soul, and mind. We make full psychiatric and physical assessments, and strive to understand the connection between each in order to best provide treatment.

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Our treatment philosphy.

At Northern Arizona Center for Addiction, we believe that healing of the body, mind and spirit are all necessary to overcome substance abuse. We offer a wide range of rehab options in order to facilitate your personal recovery. Our clients can go through drug and alcohol rehabilitation in a safe, comfortable environment, with holistic plans customized to their needs.

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