The cost of addiction: Part 3

The signs, symptoms and factors

In part three of our ‘cost of addiction’ series, Moneybags journalist Jessica Anne Wood finds out what the signs and symptoms of addiction are, as well as what factors can lead a person to being more susceptible to an addiction.


The signs

For those worried about family or friends who you suspect may be suffering from an addiction, there are a few signs that you can look out for. Some of these are the same among the different types of addictions, while others differ, and in some instances they may not be the result of an addiction at all.

Renate Netzel, a counsellor at LifeLine, points out that there are a number of signs that a person may be suffering from an addiction. “One of many signs would be sleeplessness if the addict is using stimulants. Cancelling dates and appointments which indicates the addict is isolating and withdrawing. Always borrowing money. If the person suffers from memory loss due to drinking. Having been arrested or caught for drunken driving. An addict also may disappear for days and be unreachable. If items disappear from the home (sold to feed a habit). Slurred speech, dilated pupils are just a few of the many signs. Depression and suicide attempts are often part of the addiction cycle as well.”

Tony* is actively involved in Gamblers Anonymous (GA), and is a recovering gambling addict himself. He notes: “If I put myself into the shoes again I would say that a definite first sign is depression, I would also say another sign is arrogance, always tired, if a person has a low self-esteem, a person is normally also very lonely.”

However, Simon Turner, director of Cape Recovery and a recovering alcoholic, emphasises that signs and symptoms of an addiction can vary, and while things like being withdrawn can indicate an addiction, there are two questions that you can ask to identify if you or someone you know is suffering from an addiction.

  1. How is it affecting your life? – In other words, is the addiction taking over other parts of your life, how is it affecting your behaviour? Turner highlights that “addiction is all about behaviour.”
  2. Is it affecting your life to the point where another area of your life is suffering?


The NRGP website lists a number of signs that you can look out for to see if you or someone you know might be suffering from a gambling addiction. Among the signs lists on the website are:

  • Money related signs, such as unaccountable dent or borrowing, unpaid bills, secret bank accounts, and money or assets disappearing.
  • Interpersonal issues, such as behavioural changes including moodiness and inexplicable anger, depression, secretiveness, depression and decreased contact with friends.
  • Time related signs, including disappearing for extended periods of time without an explanation, and taking sick days and days off often.
  • Control and/or manipulation issues.


Quintin van Kerken, chief executive officer of Anti Drug Alliance South Africa, is a recovering drug addict and an anti-drug campaigner. He points out that rather than talking about signs of an addiction, he prefers to look at behaviour. According to van Kerken, his organisation deals with thousands of addicts on a monthly basis, and every time it is their behaviour of that gives the addict away. Some of the questions that you can ask when looking at behaviour include:

  • Has your loved one changed?
  • Are they withdrawing?
  • Coming home at odd hours?
  • Lying? Stealing?
  • Are they excessively emotional or do they lack appropriate emotion?
  • Are they avoiding going certain places, or spending too much time at other places?
  • Has their friendship circle changed?
  • Are they doing things that are out of character?
  • Do you have that nagging feeling that something just isn’t right with that person?


Factors leading to addiction

“The root causes of addiction are extremely complex, ranging from genetics to environment. We do know however that there are a few key factors that influence someone being predisposed to addiction or not,” explains van Kerken.

“If the parents or one parent, grand parents have been addicts or alcoholics, the chances of becoming an addict are higher. Having said that, it’s not guaranteed either way. If traumas, rape or being molested as a child go untreated without counselling, the psychological pain often is deadened with a substance and/or alcohol. Any big life event like, divorce, a spouse having an affair, death of a family member or child, being involved in a violent crime and anything similar, could lead a person that for example drinks normally to turn to alcohol to cope and then find it difficult or impossible to stop again,” reveals Netzel.

Van Kerken elaborates, stating that the below factors can influence a person to be predisposed to addiction:

  • Environment – If you grow up in an environment where drugs or alcohol are abused, you have a greater chance of abusing these substances.
  • Home life – “We find that people who come from a home where they are abused in any way, or not allowed to express their emotions in a healthy way, are more likely to abuse drugs. (That being said, people from “normal homes” can also fall into addiction…)” says van Kerken.
  • Stress and trauma – People who have lost someone, or experienced severe traumas, or are under massive amounts of stress are more likely to abuse substances than most.
  • When people feel out of control, overwhelmed or can’t cope, they are at risk. Rather don’t drink, do drugs or anything that may be potentially addictive at that stage.
  • “A great way of figuring out whether it may be something potentially dangerous in the long run is by answering this question – Is this good for me, or does it just make me feel good?” advises van Kerken.


Important contacts

Below are the contact details for the organisations mentioned in this article:

Alcoholics Anonymous – 0861 HELP AA (435-722)

Gamblers Anonymous Gauteng – 071 377 2746 or 060 624 7140

Gamblers Anonymous KwaZulu Natal – 031 463 1616

Gamblers Anonymous Western Cape – 084 400 5844

National Responsible Gambling Programme – 0800 006 008

Recovery Direct – 083 415 7804

Cape Recovery – 082 6359419

LifeLine – 011 728-1347

Anti Drug Alliance South Africa – 011 083 7607


* Out of respect for the contributor, Moneybags has agreed to keep their identity confidential.


Click here to read part 1: Reaching the road of recovery

Click here to read part 2: The effects of addiction