“For me, chemical dependency started as a casual habit. I knew it wasn’t the best thing to be doing. I also knew I’d never become one of those people – I’d be able to indulge from time to time without becoming addicted. The next thing I know, I’m facing losing my family. All I can think about is how to get my next fix. I’ve lost my job. It all felt hopeless. I had gone down the exact path I hoped to avoid.”

Signs and Symptoms of Chemical DependencyThis is a far too common story among those who suffer from chemical dependency. What begins as a habit they believe that they can master, soon spirals out of control.

Chemical dependency is a rising problem in the world. What begins as a stress relief turns into a disastrous situation. Knowing the signs and symptoms of this struggle is important for all of us so we can recognize it in ourselves and our loved ones. This article will share these as well as treatment options. If you are suffering, there is hope. If you’re concerned about a loved one, there’s hope for them too.

What is Chemical Dependency?

Chemical Dependency is a physical dependency upon a mind or mood-altering substance. This can be a drug, alcohol, or prescription medication. It progresses to the point where someone cannot function without the substance. They will continue to consume or indulge even though they’re fully aware of the damage being caused to their bodies, relationships, and life.

In some cases, this dependency ends up being lifelong. Some folks become so dependent on certain drugs that their body needs them to survive. They will need to get it in a controlled way for the rest of their lives.

Most cases of chemical dependency developed gradually over many years. Those who struggle with this are often good at hiding their behaviors. Close friends and even family members may be completely shocked to learn of their struggle. Sometimes people even question or doubt the severity because they are so surprised.

If someone shares with you that they are struggling with chemical dependency, please take them seriously, even if it comes as a shock to you. They’ve trusted you and need your support. The dependency is sometimes on an illegal substance, but it may not be. Do not automatically assume someone has been breaking the law by their substance use.

Signs and Symptoms of Chemical Dependency 1There does seem to be a genetic factor in those who are susceptible. If you have a relative who has struggled with substance addiction or dependency, use caution around any addictive substance yourself. For example, many adult children with generations before them who had alcohol abuse problems choose to abstain from alcohol altogether.

Periods of high stress also put a person at higher risk for problems. Find ways to manage your stress such as meditation, time in nature, massage, and other non-substance methods. Work with a counselor to help you learn to manage stress, trauma, and the periods following these experiences.

As mentioned above, folks are often surprised to discover someone they care about has chemical dependency issues. You may not see any of these signs in a loved one, but if you do, you should get professional support before confronting them. Reach out to a counselor or an addiction support expert first. Common signs and symptoms include:

Consuming more than the individual said they intended to. For example, at a meal, your loved one may say they’re only going to have two drinks and they end up having many.

  • Cravings
  • Decreasing social contact
  • Decreasing participation in favorite hobbies, activities, social and family gatherings, and other events
  • Emotional difficulties and instability
  • Fatigue
  • Frequently talking about wanting to cut back on the substance but never seeming to do it.
  • Heart rate problems
  • Hiding substances around the home or consuming the substance in a sneaky way (such as drinking alcohol out of a favorite coffee mug)
  • Increasing the amount of substance consumed
  • Irritable behavior, especially when confronted on their use of the substance.
  • Poor hygiene
  • Sleep issues
  • Spending any extra money on their substance
  • Spending considerable time recovering from the effects of the substance
  • Signs and Symptoms of Chemical Dependency 2Talking and joking often about the substance (some people may even joke about their use of the substance)
  • Tolerance continues to increase (more and more of the substance is needed to achieve the same effect)
  • Weight loss
  • Work or school problems
  • Folks will also display withdrawal symptoms such as:
  • Aggression
  • Agitation
  • Jittery hands
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty focusing or paying attention.

Treatment Options

In-patient treatment is almost always needed. This will involve testing, counseling, medications, mind-body techniques, withdrawal support, and more. These programs are often at least twenty-one days but sometimes last longer. Out-patient care is usually required afterward. In some cases, multiple in-patient sessions may be needed.

Detoxing and weaning off a substance can be dangerous to health and needs to be done in a carefully controlled environment. People with chemical dependency can die or have severe health issues if they try to go too fast. It should never be treated alone. Alternative medicines such as herbs, acupuncture, and homeopathic remedies can also be considered if someone is interested. Integrative treatment facilities exist that include these modalities.

Treatment is a lengthy process. It can last years or even the rest of someone’s life. It will not be a quick overnight stay in a hospital. Medical care is usually involved as well because the body has been damaged by substance use. Counseling, recovery meetings, addiction support, and mentorship will likely be a part of the journey.

Folks who develop a lifelong dependency will have a unique challenge ahead of them. They can take part in a program where they can go daily to get their substance administered in a safe and controlled environment. They will then wait out whatever mood/mind/physical symptoms at the facility before going home. Individuals usually can wean down to a lower dose and need to work very closely with a well-qualified treatment provider to monitor their health.

Signs and Symptoms of Chemical Dependency 3

Certain medications may be given during treatment. These are medications that may help with withdrawal, heal the body, provide mental support, or are a safer alternative to what has been consumed. Close monitoring of health is usually necessary too. Hospital stays to monitor vital signs may be necessary on multiple occasions. Sometimes people must be connected to medical monitoring when taking medication or when weaning off the substance.

Support for the Entire Family

Something like this is bound to rock families. If one of your family members or close friends has been struggling with this, consider getting yourself help and support too. Counseling is a good place to start.

Many folks report being blindsided by the news and need a safe place to process. Other families saw a gradual decline and felt unable to do anything to stop or prevent it. Marriages may be nearly destroyed or even torn apart. Children, even adult children, will feel an impact.

Your counselor can help you wade through the myriad of feelings and thoughts you have about your family member’s dependency. Counseling may occur one on one or as a family unit. You may do counseling with your children as well. Support groups are available for family members, including children. A counselor can help connect you to these resources. Counselors even run many.

Unfortunately, there is often a stigma around these types of struggles in churches. Your counselor can help you figure out how to share with your church community what is going on. They can also be a safe place for you to express your pain to God and any confusion about your faith that this has presented to you.

Helping a loved one recover takes a huge emotional, mental, and spiritual toll on us. Give yourself the grace and permission to have someone support you as you support your family member.

“On Top of the World”, Courtesy of StockSnap, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Walking Toward the Sunset”, Courtesy of StockSnap, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “The Garden Gate”, Courtesy of CongerDesign, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Flowers and Book”, Courtesy of Myriams Fotos, Pixabay.com, CC0 License


Articles are intended for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All opinions expressed by authors and quoted sources are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors, publishers or editorial boards of San Diego Christian Counseling. This website does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, physicians, products, procedures, opinions, or other information that may be mentioned on the Site. Reliance on any information provided by this website is solely at your own risk.
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