Addiction: a hidden illness

Dr. Talia Karmo Special to the Chaldean News

Dr. Talia Karmo
Special to the Chaldean News

It is a fact that drug addiction is rampant and most pervasive among our society. For the first time, the United States Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, identified an unprecedented epidemic of opioids/heroin as a major public health problem, calling for the need to do something to curb addiction epidemics. Moreover, this addiction epidemic is a reality in the often-hidden communities. The Chaldean community is not an exception. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is a chronic, often-relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive drug seeking and drug use. The brain changes that can occur over time challenges a user’s self-control, and creates an intense impulse to use more.

It can be a real challenge at times to spot an addict. There are addicts who are barely functioning, and others that are highly functional. It has a lot to do with the personality type, family make-up, and familial stressors. Nevertheless, the list does not end here as the telltale signs of addiction depend heavily on the type of drug use and administration of the drug. 

There are various stages of addiction:  

Denial – Since functional addicts have avoided many of the negative consequences related to addiction, and since they can maintain some of the normalcy in their everyday life, they commonly deny that they have a problem. Additionally, their family and friends may deny the problem as well, either because they do not recognize it, or because they do not realize the severity of the situation.

Uncharacteristic behavior – All addictions have consequences, whether to health, careers or relationships. Noticing these slips in normal behavior can be a tell-tale sign of addiction.

Excuses – To continue the addiction, the functional addict must figure out how to hide his problem, which often means making excuses for unusual behavior. They may appear lazy, but in reality they are addicted. 

False appearance of normalcy – From the outside, most functional addicts look completely normal and healthy, but they have actually developed a complex double life that enables them to function in society while continuing to feed their addiction.

As a community, we need to be aware of the overall signs of addiction and be looking out for neighbors, friends, and children. There are several signs that many addicts will display that can be easy to pick up on. Neglecting important responsibilities such as missing work, cutting classes, or not taking care of chores at home could be a sign of addiction. You can also expect an active addict to frequently break commitments, blow off dates, or always have an excuse for missing important events. 

People that are facing addiction may stop enjoying activities or hobbies they used to love. This could be due to distraction caused by drugs, or the depression, anxiety, and paranoia that often accompanies addiction. Those with addiction often fight with their friends, parents, and partners. They might even separate, break up, or be estranged from the people for whom they used to care about the most.

An individual who gets behind on bills, always asks for money, and never has the cash for dinner could be addicted to drugs. After all, a drug addiction is expensive. Weight changes can also be indicative of an addiction, as rapidly losing or gaining weight could be a sign that someone is struggling. Addicts often would rather use than eat, and some drugs cause weight changes.

When someone has an addiction, there may be an unusual odor on a person’s clothes or in their hair; you could be smelling drugs. An addict will also use tons of mouthwash, perfume, or body spray to conceal their habit. On the other hand, many addicts don’t take the time to properly care for themselves when they are focused on getting or using their drug of choice. For example, dirty teeth, clothing, and hair can be a sign of drug use. Plus, certain drugs can cause bad breath and hair loss, additional signs to watch for. 

Stumbling, tremors, or slurred speech indicate a possible addiction. When you notice impaired coordination, it is possible that the addict needs a fix, is high, or is coming off a hit. Unexpected mood changes from one day to the next or even from one moment to the next, could indicate that they are suffering from addiction.

Be aware: addicts are excellent liars. Keeping secrets, hiding spending, activities, or friends could also be a sign of an addiction. Taking drugs can make people feel on top of the world, invincible, and capable of leaping tall buildings in a single bound. If you notice your loved one is taking more risks than usual, and you may be looking at a drug addict. Legal troubles can be a red flag for addiction. If one has citations or arrests for actions like disorderly conduct or stealing, it can indicate that a person may be suffering from addiction.

If indeed you or a loved one has become addicted to drugs, then seeking help from a health professional will be a decision that can save a life. Do not wait to see if something happens, because that “something” can turn into a devastating life-changing event.

Below are some possible specific signs of addiction found in addicts using marijuana, opioids (such as heroin or pain killers), opium, LSD, cocaine, and methamphetamines.



Shortly after smoking a joint, users may seem very relaxed, to the point of being sleepy. This drug can impair coordination, causing the user to walk and move in ways that appear awkward. A heightened craving for food is typical with marijuana use. Cognitive processes such as recalling past events, acquiring new knowledge, or responding to a problem are markedly limited under the influence of marijuana. Emotionally, they will experience little stress or anxiety during the high, which peaks after 15 minutes, then slowly fades over the course of several hours. Many of the stereotypes of pot users draw on this “laissez-faire” attitude the drug induces. Users may have dry, bloodshot eyes, prompting them to use eye-wetting drops frequently. Their clothes and body may emanate the scent of marijuana, an odor some describe as almost sweet.



Acid creates a sense of being disoriented by your surroundings, and these episodes can last up to 12 hours with one dose. With larger quantities, users experience hallucinations. These visualizations may prompt strange behaviors as the person attempts to respond or interact with what they think they’re seeing. Speech may be slurred, bordering on incoherent. The variance in emotions is a hallmark of LSD use. Unpredictable and erratic emotions cause extreme and frequent mood changes. Users may experience a disproportionate sense of panic. When combined with the other signs, sweaty hands and an increase in underarm perspiration are another clue that a person is using LSD. Pupils may appear larger than normal.



A person on cocaine will act as though they have little self-restraint, meaning they may engage in activities that they would normally find embarrassing, frightening, or stressful. Cocaine disrupts sleep, and frequent users can act violent. Whether snorted, injected, or smoked, cocaine imbues the user with energy, allowing them to stay active longer than normal. This means a coke user can stay up all night. Instead of acting sleepy, users act jittery and jumpy. The increased energy may speed up speech. It’s the promise of extreme happiness that attracts many first time users. However, this feeling is so brief it’s usually measured in minutes. The sense of joy is quickly replaced with depression or a very intense emotional low. Difficulty recalling memories and shifts in mood are common with cocaine use. This drug can create feelings of ambivalence toward people and activities that the user used to find engaging. A gaunt appearance marks a regular user who can’t keep on the pounds. In users who snort the drug, the nose bleeds frequently. The eyes may appear red with large pupils.



Intense laughter typically begins 20-25 minutes after ingesting a mushroom. For about six hours, users may vomit, feel physically weak, and be uncoordinated in moving their body. Users may feel confused and uncertain about their surroundings. This may cause them to feel “spaced out.” In some cases, users have hallucinations and may be so mentally impaired that they can’t identify the hallucinations for what they are. Their eyes may be dilated and may not focus on what is in front of them. They may show physical signs of nausea.


Methamphetamine (Meth) 

Methamphetamines are more common than people might think, and actually include commonly prescribed drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin. Meth addicts report being able to stay awake for days at a time. They may accomplish a large number of tasks in a short period of time because they aren’t stopping to sleep. Agitation, paranoia, and a sense of being on high alert stem from meth use. Some people who use meth feel increased aggression and have hallucinations while taking the drug. A dramatic shift in the appearance of the skin from healthy to sagging and acne-prone is a strong indicator of using this drug. It’s hard to mistake the look of meth mouth—rotting teeth and infected gums. Meth transforms a vibrant looking person into a haggard shadow of the former self. Hair and weight loss often occur from meth use, which can suppress the appetite.



Opium use can cause excessive talking and is associated with irritability and anxiety. Individuals may become aggressive or hostile towards others, as there is a constant state of tiredness and exhaustion. Muscle spasms, headaches, nausea, vomiting, agitated and restless, and insomnia are also consequences of Opium use. People will often feel depressed or anxious, and frequently lie to cover up the use of opium. A high craving will lead to a constant desire to take more opium. Feeling paranoid or experiencing hallucinations is also a common experience. Physical signs may include the skin itching, and becoming sweaty, or pale.

The signs of opium addiction are not limited to those mentioned above, and can depend on the severity of the addiction. Most signs might go unnoticed for a while because an addict can try and conceal their addictive problem. Also, these symptoms are not necessarily a fact that a person is addicted to opium. There may be other reasons for the changes a person is displaying.


Opioids (Heroin & Pain Killers)

Because this drug is connected to morphine, it tends to slow breathing and make the user sleepy. Near constant nodding off can be a problem for heroin users. The drug envelops users in a sense of relaxation. Mental activity of opioid users often declines, and is later replaced by lethargy and depression. Marks, or lines, from repeated injections appear on the arms of many heroin users. They may also care very little about keeping up good hygiene.


Life Threatening Signs of Opioid Addiction

The common signs of opioid addiction discussed above can be dangerous to you or your loved one’s overall health, and can have an impact on those around you, causing stress and worry. Other warning signs that are life threatening include stealing money or items from others to pay for more drugs, suicidal thoughts or actions, and taking lethal amounts of opioids. High doses of opioids can lead to an overdose which can cause one to become comatose, cause a stroke, heart attack, or even death.

Those reaching a truly dangerous point in an opioid addiction may exaggerate pain symptoms or lie about injuries to receive more prescriptions, and request frequent refills for pain killers. Many people will see multiple doctors to increase their chances to have access to more prescriptions. They will often isolate themselves and burn through money rapidly, focusing more on getting and using their drug that engaging in previously enjoyed activities. Mood changes can also occur, ranging from rage and anger to anxiety and depression. 


Dangerous Overdose Signs

Extremely dangerous physical signs of overdose include muscle weakness, slowed breathing or heartbeat, cold or clammy skin, profound drowsiness, loss of consciousness, coma, or death. If someone displays any of these signs, they should receive medical attention immediately.  

Dr. Talia Karmo is with Tri-County Counseling Services LLC in Madison Heights. (248) 298-1000.



• National Institute of Drug Abuse (2016). Emerging Trends and Alerts. Retrieved from

• The United States of America Department of Health and Human Services. (2016). Facing Addiction in America. The Surgeon General›s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, Health Substance Abuse, and Mental health Service Administration (SAMSHA). Retrieved from  

• SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental health and/or substance use disorders.

Phone: 1-800-662-HELP (1-800-662-4357)

Talia Karmo Al-Hamando, PhD. LLP LMSW is founder of Tri-County Counseling Services LLC in Madison Heights