Addictions Health Center

Symptoms of addiction, both chemical and behavioral, may be subtle or very apparent. In the case of substance use, patients my experience physical withdrawal symptoms, and using the substance alleviates the withdrawal. In all addictions, patients may engage in the substance/behavior for longer periods of time or in greater quantities, and may want to or try to quit but are unable to do so. They may spend extensive amounts of time trying to find or using the substance or engaging in the behavior. Ultimately, they will continue to use the substance or engage in the behavior despite problems brought on by it (ex. lung disease from smoking, or high debt from gambling).

Listed below are symptoms of various types of addictions: 

Tobacco Addiction

Tobacco abuse harms every organ in the body. It has been conclusively linked to leukemia, cataracts, and pneumonia, and accounts for about one-third of all cancer deaths. The overall rates of death from cancer are twice as high among people who smoke as those who don’t, with people who smoke heavily having rates that are four times greater than those of people who don’t smoke.

People who smoke also lose some of their sense of smell and taste, don’t have the same stamina for exercise and sports they once did, and may smell of smoke. After smoking for a long time, people find that their skin ages faster and their teeth discolor or turn brown.

When nicotine addicts stop smoking they may suffer from restlessness, hunger, depression, headaches, and other uncomfortable feelings. These are called "withdrawal symptoms" because they happen when nicotine is withdrawn from the body. 

Sex Addiction

Sexual behavior that mirrors patterns of other addictive behaviors has similar symptoms to all addictions, such as:
 recurrent failure to resist the impulse to engage in sexual behaviors, despite wanting to or being unable to stop
-inordinate amounts of time and effort spent in obtaining sex or engaging in sexual behaviors
-engaging in sexual behavior instead of fulfilling work, family or social obligations, as well as continuing these behaviors as these areas suffer.
-increasing tolerance to the behavior requiring increases in the intensity, frequency and risk of the behavior.

When one becomes preoccupied by sexual thoughts and/or engages in risky sexual behaviors which lead to conflict in relationships or avoidance of relationships (and other negative consequences), we could say that an individual has a sexual addiction. This is because it meets the general criteria for "addiction." Another term used to describe sexual addiction is Compulsive Sexual Behavior.

Drug Addiction

The following are symptoms of drug addiction:

  • You’ve built up a drug tolerance. You need to use more of the drug to experience the same effects you used to attain with smaller amounts.
  • You take drugs to avoid or relieve withdrawal symptoms. If you go too long without drugs, you experience symptoms such as nausea, restlessness, insomnia, depression, sweating, shaking, and anxiety.
  • You’ve lost control over your drug use. You often do drugs or use more than you planned, even though you told yourself you wouldn’t. You may want to stop using, but you feel powerless.
  • Your life revolves around drug use. You spend a lot of time using and thinking about drugs, figuring out how to get them, and recovering from the drug’s effects.
  • You’ve abandoned activities you used to enjoy, such as hobbies, sports, and socializing, because of your drug use.
  • You continue to use drugs, despite knowing it’s hurting you. It’s causing major problems in your life—blackouts, infections, mood swings, depression, paranoia—but you use anyway.

Food Addiction

Symptoms of food addiction can include the obsession and preoccupation with food and eating, an inability to control oneself around food, binging and eating despite negative consequences, eating when not hungry, rapid eating, feeling shame and embarrassment that results in solitary eating, and decreased pleasure from eating. Often food addicts have a preoccupation with their weight and have a history of dieting unsuccessfully.

The most common food addiction symptoms include consuming large amounts for a long period, repeated attempts to cut down, and continued use despite adverse consequences. Tolerance and time effort are further, but less frequent symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms and reduction of social, occupational, or recreational activities are rarely reported.

Alcohol Addiction

People who have alcoholism or alcohol abuse often:

  • continue to drink, even when health, work, or family are being harmed
  • drink alone
  • become violent when drinking
  • become hostile when asked about drinking
  • are not able to control drinking -- being unable to stop or reduce alcohol intake
  • make excuses to drink
  • miss work or school, or have a decrease in performance because of drinking
  • Ssop taking part in activities because of alcohol
  • need to use alcohol on most days to get through the day
  • neglect to eat or eat poorly
  • do not care about or ignore how they dress or whether they are clean
  • try to hide alcohol use
  • shake in the morning or after periods when they have not had a drink

Symptoms of alcohol dependence include:

  • memory lapses after heavy drinking
  • needing more and more alcohol to feel "drunk"
  • alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you haven't had a drink for a while
  • alcohol-related illnesses such as alcoholic liver disease
Review Date: 
March 13, 2012
Last Updated:
June 28, 2013