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Signs of Addiction in Young Adults

by Landmark Recovery

October 1, 2019
A group of individuals engaging in an IOP program

When you’re bringing up children, it’s pointless pretending the teenage years are not fraught with trouble but is it inevitable you’ll be looking for signs of addiction or is this less common than you might fear?

Unfortunately, young adults are still experimenting with underage drinking and taking drugs in enormous numbers. In SAMHSA’s 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, tobacco uptake might be on the decline but 2.3 million adolescents drank alcohol in the previous month. Beyond this, 2 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 used illicit drugs.

So, it’s clear to see that while fewer young adults are likely to become addicted to cigarettes, there’s still no shortage of teen drinkers. Experimentation with a full range of substances is also happening across the country at a significant rate so when does casual use veer toward addiction?

To establish that, a quick glance first at what constitutes addiction.

What Is Addiction?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is any type of compulsive behavior that the user continues despite negative consequences.

This might seem a vast leap from finding a stash of weed in your teen’s bedroom drawer so what can bring about addiction in the first place?

How is that some teens sail through with a few pills and joints then leave drugs permanently behind them while others end up ravaged by cocaine or prescription meds?

Why is it that many people can hit the bar and even drink to excess now and again without any serious repercussions while others start becoming dependent on alcoholic before ending up in the trough of addiction?

Well, risk factors for addiction can be internal (genetic, for example) and they can be external (any environmental triggers).

The most frequent of these risk factors include:

  • Family history of addiction
  • Homelessness
  • Limited understanding of properly maintaining health
  • Mental illness
  • No social support system, like family or friends
  • Past abuse or domestic violence
  • Poverty
  • Traumatic life events

It might be easy to look at that list and write off any chance of your teen becoming addicted to drink or drugs. They’re not homeless, right? They’re not poor and there’s a perfectly adequate support system in place.

Take the time to think about the prevalence of addiction in your family, though. This is an important contributory factor to substance abuse and subsequent addiction.

While no specific addiction gene has been identified, all research to date suggests a strong interrelationship between addiction and genetics. Children with parents who misuse drugs, for example, are twice as likely as their peers to abuse drugs.

So, the bottom line is you just don’t know how any individual will be affected by taking drugs or drinking too much alcohol. How can you tell, then, if your teenager could be developing a less than healthy interest in substances?

Signs of Addiction in Young Adults

When you’re monitoring for signs of addiction in young adults, what you’re looking for will vary substantially depending on the substance.

Before anything, here’s an overview of 10 common general signs of addiction:

General Indicators of Addiction

  • Cravings: Cravings for the substance when there’s none around is a central feature of addiction. If you notice your son getting antsy at certain times, maybe his dealer isn’t answering the phone and he’s getting edgy.
  • Financial Difficulties: If you notice your teenager spending more money than normal, you should ask them directly why this is happening. If you spot money going missing, whether from a loose change jar or your purse, keep track of it as this might indicate your son or daughter is using more drugs than they can afford.
  • Impaired Judgment: Teenagers might take risks in general but if you witness your teen displaying more than usually reckless behavior, ask yourself why. More importantly, ask them why. When you’re bringing up teens, the more open and honest lines of communication you can open about drink and drugs, the more easily you can avoid problems.
  • Isolation: If your teen was previously pretty social but is now increasingly holing up in their room and seldom going out at all, this could be the result of drug addiction. Maybe they’re trying to hide an addiction or perhaps they’re suffering from depression as result of addiction. Whatever the reason, if your teen suddenly goes to ground, investigate why.
  • Neglected Responsibilities: Look for any marked changes in behavior where your son or daughter stops engaging in regular activities or starts neglecting responsibilities in general. This could indicate drinking or drug use is becoming problematic.
  • Physical Dependence: If you see your teen looking less than their best on a regular basis, they might even already be dependent on drink or drugs. When their preferred tipple is not around, agitation can set it along with physical symptoms we’ll be exploring below.
  • Time Spent Acquiring and Using The Substance: If your teen appears to be spending inordinate amounts of time on wild goose chases and returns home either elated or in a slump, maybe they’re hunting down their drug of choice.
  • Tolerance: As someone drinks or take drugs on an ongoing basis, it’s normal for tolerance to build. More of the substance is required to achieve the same effect. If you suspect your teen is developing a problem with alcohol, watch out for how much they drink and how this affects them.
  • Unhealthy Friendships: You’re never going to like all the friends your teenagers bring back home with them. If, though, you start seeing a sea of undesirable and unpredictable characters entering the life of your teen, sit down and have a word with them.
  • Withdrawal Symptoms: If your teen is already in the throes of addiction, you might notice them exhibit withdrawal symptoms when their supply is depleted.

Note: All of the above are merely indicators that addiction could be an issue. In no instance should you assume the worst and overreact. Being aware of these signs, though, allows you to stay alert to any changes in your teen that might suggest involvement with drink or drugs.

4 Types of Change Brought About By Addiction

With those generalities sketched in, we’ll now highlight 4 key areas of change by category:

  • Changes in Appearance
  • Changes in Behavior
  • Changes in Health
  • Changes of a Psychological Nature

Changes in Appearance

The first signs you’ll notice of addiction in a loved one are likely to be physical. As drinking or drug use slides into first dependence and then addiction, you’ll notice a range of physical manifestations.

Some pronounced changes in appearance seem to come on suddenly while other forms of neglect take effect over a period of time.

The most frequently noticed signs include:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Changes in appetite or general eating habits
  • Changes in weight
  • Chemical odor on breath and clothes
  • Extreme lethargy
  • Frequent runny nose (commonplace with cocaine addiction)
  • Irregular sleeping patterns
  • Loss of physical coordination
  • Marks on the skin
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Tremors or seizures

While the way in which drugs and alcohol work on the body can vary significantly, substances almost always effect the eyes quite noticeably. Whether it’s the reddened eyes stereotypical of marijuana use the dilated pupils caused by stimulated or the constricted pupils brought about by opiates, the eyes rarely lie.

Aside from this array of symptoms, sudden weight loss can often be attributed to substance abuse and addiction. This is common with stimulants like cocaine, ecstasy, meth and Adderall. All these substances can decrease appetite.

How about if you notice your teen piling on the pounds instead? This could be a result of excessive eating after smoking marijuana.

Keeping an eye on how your teen is sleeping can also give you an insight as to whether they might be using drugs. Different drugs affect sleep patterns differently. Someone smoking too much marijuana might have a tendency to sleep in the afternoon after getting up late. If your teen is using stimulants and staying out all night, they’ll be left to sleep off their excesses during the day.

Sustained drug abuse can bring about changes in skin from acne and paleness through to jaundice. If you notice any scabs, scars, bruises or track marks, do not ignore this sign.

The other overarching physical sign indicative of addiction is a dramatic decline in physical appearance. From grooming and dental hygiene to overall levels of cleanliness, if you notice any serious dip in the way your teen looks, this could be more than hormonal

Changes in Behavior

As well as undergoing physical changes, addiction can lead to someone acting like another person entirely.

Some of the most common signs behavioral signs of drug addiction include:

  • Changes to normal activities and hobbies
  • Financial problems
  • Legal issues
  • Lowered participation in family activities
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Repeated lying and deceit
  • Secretive behaviors
  • Self-isolation
  • Shifts in social circles
  • Secretive Behavior

The latter of these behavioral signs, secretive behavior, is perhaps the most common.

If you notice your teen starting to withdraw and present secretive behavior of any, sit down and have an honest chat with them about the cause of this.

Isolation is another factor that’s difficult to separate from normal and healthy teen behavior but if you notice your teen spending more and more time alone, it’s worth opening channels of communication.

Changes in Health

Overall health changes in teens corresponding to drug or alcohol use can include:

  • Appetite changes
  • Coordination issues
  • Erratic sleep schedule
  • Frequent illness

Psychological Changes

If your teen is abusing drugs or alcohol to the point of addiction, there’s every chance they’ll look and act differently as outlined above.

Beyond this, they are highly likely to think and feel differently as a result of excessive substance use.

Psychological changes as a result of addiction extend to changes in attitudes, priorities, thought processes and beliefs.

Here are a few of the most common psychological signs of alcohol abuse and drug addiction:

  • Changes in personality traits
  • Feelings of apathy and disinterest
  • Lack of motivation
  • Mental illness (depression, anxiety…)
  • Negative self-image
  • Paranoid, fearful and obsessive thoughts
  • Poor outlook and attitude
  • Sudden, dramatic mood swings
  • Withdrawing emotionally from family

One of the most frequent warning signs, mood swings are often an indicator someone might be struggling with addiction. When they’re high, you might notice them becoming hyperactive and excitable or atypically affectionate. Conversely, when they’re coming down and withdrawal symptoms come to the fore, you might find them becoming angry and irritable to the point they could become outright abusive.


While the precise nature and severity of the symptoms depends to a large extent on the substance being abused, being aware of the above indicators of addiction can help you stay aware of what’s happening with any teens in your household.

What can you do if you feel they have a problem with drugs or alcohol and need help?

What To Do Next

If you’re at all concerned about your teen using drink or drugs to the stage where you’re noticing signs of addiction, reach out to our Indiana drug rehab and speak with an admissions team member.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.