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Signs of Use, Abuse and Addiction

Provided by the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP). Written by Larry J. Wells, LSAC, CAC

Experimentation or Addiction?

What determines the difference between adolescent drug experimentation, substance use, substance abuse, addiction or potential addiction?

Adolescent experimentation generally consists of trying alcohol, and/or different drugs, generally marijuana, over a short period of time. It meets no need for the individual or brings a negative response and they discontinue use. It is generally connected with friends.

Substance use generally consists of infrequent use, for example, the occasional weekend or holiday party. The use does not become more frequent or increase in quantity. The use does not bring negative results and, if it does, such as a violation ticket, school or home problems, the user will quit.

Substance abuse generally consists of the following pattern: the abuser begins as a “user”. The use meets a personal need other than following the trend or joining the party. Use becomes more frequent, increasing in quantity, and problems develop at school, home and often with the law. If there is not an addiction (the body does not have a “reaction”), addiction potential, or deep personal need to medicate, a crisis develops resulting in intervention, the individual quits, and reunites with family and non-using friends, if they are able. Often it requires detox with either outpatient or inpatient treatment for the individual to stay sober. The substance abuser often becomes an addict unless appropriate assessment and treatment is provided.

Red flags of addition or a potential for addiction:

1.A history of extended family members having problems with alcohol, other drugs or compulsive behaviors (eating, shopping, relationships, sex, gambling, etc.)

2. Typical thought processes of an addict or a potential addict:

      • Negative thought process, “the glass is always half empty.”

      • Black and white thinking

      • Blaming: it is always someone else’s fault and often they feel picked on.

      • The addict sets themselves up to be taken care of, yet are often angry when the enabler does take care of them. The enabler doesn’t do it “right”.

      • Very good at manipulation and can make you feel like, somehow, you are the one with the problem, not them.

      • They are a champion liar, to the point they believe what they are saying, and will always “shoot their best lick”.

      • They have a “God Syndrome”, they believe they are bullet proof and negative consequences will never happen to them.

3. They have a Personality pattern of anger and depression when using chemicals.

4. Regardless of the pain, stress and destruction brought to themselves and their family as a result of their use, they do not quit.

5. They have a pattern of self-destructive behavior that repeats itself, for example:

      • Every person of the opposite sex with whom they have a relationship is an enabler or it is a self-destructive relationship.

      • There can not be an addict without an enabler/co-dependent. The addict will always have one or more in their circle of friends/family.

      • Lots of promises and hope, but does not follow through or happen.

      • Every time they get close to success, they relapse.

      • “Just going to have a beer/joint with the boys,” however two months later they are consistently in jail.

6. The addict is generally very sensitive and caring when sober. Often they are the most sensitive child in the family and often they are creative (artist, writer, musician).

Sobriety is a family affair.

The addict or potential addict must be involved in inpatient treatment to start their path to recovery and sobriety. If they or their family do not recognize their chemical dependency/addictive personality traits and family co-dependency, they will spend money, time and frustration to no avail on therapy, doctors, medication and special schools/treatment. Sobriety must come first – then behavior, school and health. Sobriety comes best if it is a family affair.


Get Help

If you or someone you know is experiencing signs of distress, please reach out to a mental health professional or get confidential, free support and text LOOKUP to 494949 or chat online here.

If you live in Indiana and need help finding a behavioral health provider, visit Find Help or call (800) 284-8439.


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