How Do I Know If I’m Addicted?

Author: IAFF Staff

June 8, 2018

If you typed “Americans are obsessed with” into your search engine, you may get hits including: IPA Beer, guns, pizza, teeth whitening products, fast food, kale, social media and 12,000,000 other results. Whether it’s watching Netflix, scrolling through social media, going to the gym or playing video games — in extreme- each of these activities has the potential to cross into unhealthy territory.

While we sometimes hear the word addiction used casually to describe an activity or hobby you pursue intensely, true addiction is a complex biopsychosocial disease characterized by compulsively seeking out a substance or activity. While the American Psychiatric Association has identified specific diagnostic criteria for different substance use disorders, consider these additional factors when assessing whether a substance or activity has become unhealthy:


Priority equals importance. How important has the substance or activity in question become to your sense of self and the way you live your life? You can determine importance not only by how much you’re doing something, but also by how much you’re not doing other things.

Reward Response

Does the substance or activity in question make you feel better and more in control? Does not doing it make you feel worse? There is a positive physical payoff to a substance or activity that can obscure the negative consequences.

Fire fighter out of uniform sitting away from his spouse on the bed with an upset look


Do you experience the “never-enough” compulsion? If you feel compelled to say, “just a little bit more” all the time, you’re carving out more and more space in your life for these activities. If this is the case, ask yourself a difficult question: what else in your life is being cut?


One way to gauge how important something has become to you is to consider doing without it. Do you feel anxious or uncomfortable if you can’t do it or if you think about not doing it? The higher the level of panic and pain you anticipate, the stronger the hold the substance or activity may have on you.


Is what you’re doing disrupting your life and relationships? Do you have to shift necessities such as sleep, family, chores and work to make more time for this new substance or activity? The more time you spend on this activity, the more pressure it puts on the priorities and people already in your life.


Do you often tell yourself you’re going to do something different but then revert to old habits? This is the “I’ll start on Monday” syndrome. If you’ve already made room in your life for something pleasurable and fun, just thinking about depriving yourself of it can bring up rationales and reasons why right now is just not the best time for you to stop.

These signs can point to a much bigger issue: addiction. Addiction can take over and control you. Substance use disorders typically start as recreational, – you drink or use drugs in a social setting. The disorder is progressive. As time passes, you may exhibit a higher tolerance, frequently engage in the behavior and experience intense cravings or withdrawal symptoms.

Female fire fighter laying awake in bed at night looking at a clock

There are more specific physical, behavioral and emotional signs of substance addiction, including:

 Physical Signs of Addiction

  • Overactive or underactive (depending on the substance)
  • Slurred, pressured or repetitive speech patterns
  • Dilated or constricted pupils, red eyes
  • Excessive sniffing and runny nose (not attributed to a cold)
  • Pale or undernourished appearance
  • Changes in weight or eating habits
  • Changes in body odor or personal hygiene

Behavioral Signs of Addiction

  • Missed time at work or school
  • Problems functioning at work or school
  • Missing important engagements
  • Isolating or secretive behavior
  • Legal problems
  • Financial issues
  • Conversations dominated by drug or alcohol-related topics

Emotional Signs of Addiction

  • Defensiveness
  • Relationship or marital problems
  • Poor frustration tolerance
  • Loss of interest in activities or people
  • Denying the seriousness or full scope of the behavior or consequences
  • Placing the blame for the behavior on someone or something else
  • Changing the subject to avoid discussing the topic

If you are struggling with a drug or alcohol problem, help can’t wait. Talk to a trusted peer, chaplain, spouse or counselor and ask about what resources are available. If you’re not sure where to turn, call the IAFF Center of Excellence today for a no-obligation, free and confidential screening. The IAFF Center of Excellence is a comprehensive treatment center designed exclusively for IAFF members struggling with addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health concerns.

Medical Disclaimer: The IAFF Center of Excellence aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

We can help. Call 855-900-8437 or

Get Help Now