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Signs And Symptoms Of Drug Addiction

Drug addiction is a condition that can affect your behavior and brain, as well as various other parts of your body. Also referred to as substance use disorder, it can additionally make it impossible for you to control your use of illicit and legal drugs and medications - including nicotine, marijuana, alcohol, amphetamines, benzodiazepines, and more. Therefore, if you have a drug addiction, you might continue abusing these drugs in spite of the negative consequences such abuse brings about.

In most cases, drug addiction starts when you try to experiment with recreational drugs - particularly in social situations. For many people, such use eventually becomes increasingly frequent. On the other hand, it can also start when a doctor prescribes addictive drugs like opioids, or if you receive these medications from friends, relatives, and other acquaintance who have legal prescriptions for them.

That said, the risk of chemical dependence and how fast addiction develops tends to vary from one drug to another. However, some substances - including opioid painkillers - may carry a higher risk of drug addiction and lead to your chemical dependence faster than others would.

Eventually, after weeks or months of abusing drugs on a regular basis, you might have to increase your dose to achieve the pleasurable effects that you are looking for. Over time, you may find that you need to take your preferred drugs to feel happy and good about your life.

However, when your substance abuse continues escalating, it might be difficult for you to live without these drugs. At this point, when you try to reduce the dose you are used to or to cut the drugs out completely, you may experience intense cravings and withdrawal symptoms that make you feel ill.

This means that you will need help from family members, friends, doctors, organized treatment programs, and doctors to be able to overcome your addiction and lead a life free of drugs.

Understanding The Signs And Symptoms Of Drug Addiction

Anyone can get addicted, irrespective of their background, race, and age. Although some people can use prescription and recreational drugs without suffering any negative effects, many more find that using these substances often starts taking a toll on their general health and wellbeing. Substance abuse might also leave you feeling ashamed, isolated, and helpless.

In case you are worried that you have been abusing drugs or a loved one has, it is vital that you learn more about how substance use disorders and drug addiction develop and why they may have such powerful grips on your life. This way, you will be in a better position to start looking for solutions to the problem so that you can regain control over your life.


You, like anyone else, may start using intoxicating and mind altering substances for a variety of reasons. Whereas some people start experimenting with recreational substances because they are curious, to have a good time, ease problems like depression, or even to copy their friends, others may start after a doctor prescribes addictive pain medication.

In particular, prescription medications like tranquilizers, sleeping pills, and pain killers can also cause problems similar to recreational drugs like alcohol, marijuana, heroin, and cocaine. Research actually shows that painkillers - next to cannabis - are among the most abused of all chemical substances in the United States and that more people lose their lives after overdosing on potent opioid painkillers on a daily basis than from gun deaths and traffic accidents combined. Similarly, addiction to these painkillers can prove to be so powerful that it could lead you to heroin abuse.

That said, drug use - whether it involves prescription or any other kind of drug - does not automatically create an abuse problem. Additionally, there is no specific universal point from which substance use will automatically proceed from the casual and recreational to the problematic.

Therefore, you should remember that substance abuse and addiction is not just about the amount or the type of drugs you consume or how frequently you engage in such consumption. Rather, it is tied to the consequences that arise from such drug use.

Therefore, if drug use starts causing issues and problems in your health and life, such as at home, in school/work, and in your relationships, then it is highly likely that you will have crossed over to a substance use disorder and an addiction.

At this point, the most important thing you can do is recognize that you now have a problem and start looking for ways to overcome it. However, you will need tremendous strength and courage to get to this point.

Risk Factors For Addiction

Although just about anyone can experience adverse effects and social, legal, behavioral, physical, and psychological problems as a result of using drugs, the vulnerability to addiction tends to vary from one person to the next. While your family, social environment, mental health condition, and genetics all play an important role in the development of drug addiction, there are many other risk factors that could increase your vulnerability - including but not limited to:

  • Abuse
  • Any traumatic experiences
  • Family history of substance abuse and addiction
  • Mental health disorders, like anxiety and depression
  • Neglect
  • Starting on drug use at an early age, particularly during your teens
  • The mode of use or method of administration; injecting or smoking drugs might make it more addictive

The Brain And Addiction

Although every drug comes with its own unique physical effects, every intoxicating substances is similar in the sense that using them repeatedly and consistently over a certain period of time might change how your brain works. This applies both to recreational drugs and prescription medications.

When you take these mind altering and intoxicating drugs, they may cause a rush of dopamine - a neurotransmitter inside the brain. This will have the direct effect of trigger intense feelings of euphoria, happiness, and pleasure. Over time, your brain will remember these effects and want to repeat them. Eventually, when you develop an addiction to these drugs, they will have the same significance in your life like with any other survival behavior, including drinking, eating, having sexual intercourse, and sleeping.

Additionally, the drugs may cause changes inside your brain that could interfere with your natural ability to exercise good judgment, feel good and normal, control your behavior, or think clearly unless you continue taking them.

Irrespective of your substance of preference, you might also develop intense and uncontrollable urges and cravings to use them. These cravings will grow and come to be more important than other aspects of your life - including your health, happiness, career, friends, family, and anything else you attach value to.

These cravings might also be so strong that your brain will even start rationalizing or denying the addiction. Additionally, you might underestimate the dose of the drugs you take, the impact such substance abuse has on your life, as well as the level of control you wield over drug abuse.

That said, there is a line between regular substance use and addiction. As such, few addicts and drug abusers can recognize when they cross this line. Although the amount of drugs you consume or frequency of use does not constitute substance abuse/addiction, they are signs and symptoms and indicators that you have a problem related to drugs.

When these substances start fulfilling valuable needs in your life, therefore, you might find that you are increasingly becoming reliant on them. Eventually, you may start abusing intoxicating chemicals to energize and calm yourself or even to increase your levels of confidence. Some people also start abusing prescription medications to cope with panic attacks, improve their productivity and focus at work/school, and relieve pain.

However, when you use these substances to fill voids in your life, you will have a higher risk of shifting from regular casual use to full-fledged drug abuse/addiction. Still, you need to remember that these drugs are not meaningful in your life. You would be better off maintaining a healthier life balance by seeking out positive experiences that make you feel better about your existence without resorting to drugs.

Some people start abusing drugs to connect on a social level with others. This is why the greatest incidence of experimental drug use starts in social situations among friends, acquaintances, and peers. The desire to blend in with others might make you feel that you have no other option apart from doing drugs with the group.

Eventually, however, your substance abuse will start increasingly gradually. For instance, taking prescription painkillers to treat your backache, abusing ecstasy at parties, and smoking joints with your friends at a weekend getaway may soon give way to using these drugs every few days. Over time, you might find that you have started abusing substances several times in a single day. At this point, obtaining, abusing, and recovering from using these drugs will increasingly become more important - over and above everything else in your life.

When drug abuse has taken hold, you might start reporting late to school or work - or missing out altogether. Additionally, it might progressively deteriorate your work performance and cause you to start neglecting your family and social responsibilities.

Eventually, substance use might compromise your natural ability to quit drugs. Therefore, what might have begun as your voluntary choice will turn into a psychological and physiological need that you are unable to control.

With time, your substance abuse and drug addiction might consume your life and stop any further intellectual, social, or professional development. Such stagnation will also reinforce your already existing feelings of intense loneliness and isolation.

At this point, the only way you can overcome and counteract all the disruptive effects of substance abuse and addiction and gain control over your life is by getting the right help and support through a comprehensive addiction treatment and rehabilitation program.

However, you will still have to overcome the first obstacle of denial by recognizing you have a problem and admitting that you need help. You should also listen to your family, friends, and other loved ones - because they may be in a better place to identify the signs and symptoms of drug addiction that you have been displaying.

Effects Of Drug Abuse

Drug use and addiction can have a wide variety of impacts and consequences in your life. Some of the most common effects of substance abuse include but are not always limited to:

  • Accidents
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Child abuse
  • Criminal activity
  • Disruptive behavior
  • Domestic violence
  • Drug-related death
  • Engaging in criminal activities like vandalism, violence, and theft, which might result in your incarceration
  • Homelessness
  • Impulsivity or a general lack of control
  • Inability to gain meaningful employment
  • Increased aggression
  • Increased cases of physical altercations
  • Infectious diseases
  • Injuries
  • Loss of employment
  • Lost opportunities
  • Medical emergencies related to your substance abuse
  • Neglecting your family
  • Physical illness
  • Promiscuity and risky sexual behavior
  • Psychological illness
  • Reduced productivity

You might also experience psychological problems as a result of your substance use disorder and addiction. This is normally referred to as a co-occurring disorder - a condition in which two or more mental health issues occur in one person.

However, these conditions might not always occur simultaneously since one of the conditions might happen before the other, or after it. Also referred to as dual diagnosis, these mental health conditions might also aggravate your addiction - while the addiction worsens the severity of the mental health problem.

Some of the most common of these co-occurring disorders include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorders
  • Conduct disorder
  • Disruptive disorders
  • Dissociative disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Impulse control disorders
  • Mood disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Other forms of substance use disorder
  • Personality disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Sexual disorders
  • Sleep-wake disorders
  • Stress related disorders, such as PTSD

Signs And Symptoms Of Substance Abuse And Addiction

Even though different substances come with different effects, most of the signs and symptoms of drug addiction tend to be similar and/or related. In case you recognize the following, you should talk to someone to get help because you might be addicted:

  • Abandoning activities and exercises you once enjoyed, such as socializing, sports, and hobbies
  • Building up tolerance to your preferred drug, meaning that you have to use more of it to achieve the same pleasurable effects that you are looking for
  • Continuing to abuse drugs in spite of the hurt it has been causing you, such as blackouts, depression, mood swings, paranoia, infections, and financial issues, among others
  • Experiencing legal problems, such as getting arrested for driving while under the influence, for stealing to support your addiction, or for disorderly conduct
  • Having problems in your personal and professional relationships, such as fighting with your friends and family, making your boss unhappy, and losing your friends
  • Losing control over your substance abuse, meaning that you find yourself using more drugs or more frequently than you intended or finding that you cannot overcome your drug use
  • Neglecting your responsibilities at home, school, or work, such as neglecting your family, skipping work, or failing to show up in school
  • Turning your life around so that it revolves around your substance abuse; meaning that you spend more time abusing drugs, thinking about them, looking for ways to obtain them, or recovering from the adverse effects of using them
  • Using drugs to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, shaking, sweating, depression, insomnia, restlessness, and nausea
  • Using intoxicating substances even in dangerous conditions as well as taking increasingly dangerous risks while intoxicated, such as using dirty needles, having unprotected sex, and driving while drunk or on drugs

Apart from the above, there are many other signs and symptoms of drug addiction. These may include:

1. Physical Symptoms

  • Blushing
  • Cold and sweaty palms
  • Deterioration in your physical appearance
  • Deterioration of your personal hygiene and/or physical health
  • Excessive sweating
  • Excessive talkativeness
  • Extreme hyperactivity
  • Frequently rubbing your nose
  • Frequently twisting your jaw back and forth
  • Hacking cough
  • Increase in or loss of appetite, accompanied by similar changes in your eating habits
  • Insomnia or a general inability to fall asleep, meaning that you will be awake at the most unusual times
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Nausea
  • Needle marks and tracks on the bottom of the feet, on the legs, and or the lower arm
  • Paleness
  • Poor physical coordination
  • Puffy face
  • Pupils that are smaller or larger than usual
  • Red and watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Shaking hands
  • Slurred speech
  • Staggering or slowed or staggering walk
  • Sudden weight gain or weight loss
  • Tremors
  • Tremors and shakes of the feet, head, or hands
  • Unusual and atypical laziness and lethargy
  • Unusual odor on clothes, body, and breath
  • Vomiting

2. Behavioral Symptoms

  • Being unreachable most of the time
  • Change in habits, such as losing interest in family activities
  • Changes in attitude and personality with no explicable or identifiable cause
  • Changes in friends
  • Changes in hobbies and activities
  • Changes in personal cleanliness and grooming habits
  • Changes in personality and attitude
  • Chronic dishonesty
  • Complaining of sore jaws, which could be as a result of the teeth grinding that occurs when you are intoxicated on ecstasy
  • Depression
  • Developing an uncaring attitude
  • Difficulty in focusing and paying attention
  • Dramatic changes in priorities and habits
  • Drop in your performance and attendance at school or work
  • Engaging in suspicious or secretive behaviors
  • Financial problems
  • Forgetfulness
  • Frequently getting into altercations and trouble, such as fights, illegal activities, and accidents
  • General lack of energy, self-esteem, and motivation
  • Giddiness
  • Increased aggression
  • Increased irritability
  • Increasing need for excessive privacy
  • Involvement in accidents
  • Involvement in illegal and criminal activity
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy
  • Missing prescription pills in the medicine cabinet
  • Moodiness
  • Nervousness
  • Paranoia
  • Possessing a false ID card
  • Possessing drug paraphernalia, like needless and pipes
  • Presence of an unusually large number of spray cans around you or in the trash
  • Resentful behavior
  • Silliness
  • Skipping school or showing up late to your classes
  • Spending more time with well-known drug users
  • Stealing items and money to buy drugs
  • Borrowing money on a regular basis with no logical reason
  • Sudden change in your acquaintances, hobbies, and hangouts
  • Sudden changes in your social network
  • Sudden oversensitivity
  • Suspicious and secretive behavior
  • Temper tantrums
  • Unexplained financial problems
  • Unexplained need for more money

3. Psychological Symptoms

  • Altered mood state
  • Anxiety
  • Appearing spaced out or lethargic
  • Changes in personality
  • Continued substance abuse in spite of the problems it is causing in your life, particular psychological disorders that it has caused or is exacerbating
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Fearfulness
  • Frequent angry outbursts
  • Irritability
  • Lacking the motivation to pursue goal oriented activities
  • Losing pleasure and/or interest in activities you previously enjoyed
  • Paranoia
  • Periods of unusual and intense giddiness, agitation, and hyperactivity
  • Poor judgment
  • Sudden and unexplained changes in mood
  • Unexplained changes in attitude and personality

Among these, however, the most noticeable signs and symptoms of drug addiction affect the internal mechanism of the body. For instance, your body might develop tolerance after you have abused drugs for long enough. At this point, you will need to increase the strength or quantity of the drug to achieve the desirable effects that you are looking for. However, this desire for more intense effects - as achieved through these incremental modes of use - are dangerous and might cause an overdose.

Warning Signs And Symptoms Of Commonly Abused Substances

Apart from the above signs and symptoms of drug addiction, different drugs also cause some unique signs and symptoms. Consider the following:

a) Marijuana

  • Glassy, red eyes
  • Inappropriate laughter followed
  • Increased and inexplicable motivation
  • Loss of interest
  • Sleepiness
  • Talking loudly for no apparent reason
  • Weight loss or gain

b) Hallucinogens (like PCP and LSD)

  • Absorption with yourself or with other uninteresting objects
  • Aggression
  • Bizarre behavior
  • Confusion
  • Detachment from people
  • Dilated pupils
  • Hallucinations
  • Irrational behavior
  • Mood swings
  • Paranoia
  • Slurred speech

c) Heroin

  • Contracted pupils
  • Coughing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Needle marks
  • No response of your pupils to movement or light
  • Sleeping at highly unusual times
  • Sniffling
  • Sweating
  • Twitching
  • Vomiting

d) Inhalants (like Vapors, Aerosols, and Glues)

  • Anxiety
  • Appearance of intoxication
  • Changes in appetite
  • Drowsiness
  • Headaches
  • Impaired vision
  • Irritability
  • Lots of aerosols and cans in the trash
  • Nausea
  • Nose secretions that can't be explained
  • Poor memory
  • Poor muscle control
  • Rashes around the mouth and nose
  • Reduced capacity for introspective thought
  • Watery eyes

e) Stimulants (such as Crystal Meth, Amphetamines, and Cocaine)

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Dilated pupils
  • Dry nose and mouth
  • Euphoria
  • Excessive sleeping at the oddest times
  • Excessive talking
  • Going for long time periods without sleeping or eating
  • Hyperactivity
  • Irritability
  • Weight loss

Warning Signs Of Addiction To Prescription Medication

In the past few years, more people have been abusing prescription drugs - which has usually involved stimulants, sedatives, anti-anxiety medications, and opioid painkillers. Most people start taking these medications when they are prescribed by their doctor for the treatment of specific medical conditions - such as taking pain relief drugs after surgery or injury, for instance.

Over time, however, you may start needing increasing doses to experience the same level of relief from intense and severe pain. At this point, you might become physically dependent on the prescription drugs. This means that you will inevitably experience adverse withdrawal symptoms if you stop using these medications. Among the early warning signs that you have developed a problem with prescription drugs is going through your prescription faster than you - or your doctor - expected.

Other people may also start abusing drugs that they do not have a prescription for while trying to experience their pleasurable effects, increase their focus and alertness, improve their concentration, or relieve any tension, pain, anxiety, or stress they may be feeling.

To ensure that you do not develop any problems with these prescription drugs, however, it is essential that you only use them if your doctor prescribed them and in the exact way they directed. If possible, you should take the smallest dose possible for the shortest duration.

Alternatively, you could ask your doctor if there are other ways that the problem can be treated without having to resort to these addictive and sometimes mind-altering medications.

You should also be aware of all the signs and symptoms of prescription drug addiction - so that you can inform your doctor in case you notice any of them. Remember, the earlier you spot a drug problem, the easier it will be for you to manage it. You might even be able to stop it before you develop a full-blown addiction.

The following are some of the warning signs and symptoms of most of the commonly used and abused prescription medications:

a) Anti-Anxiety Hypnotics, Sedatives, and Medications (like Ambien, Valium, and Xanax)

  • Clumsiness
  • Contracted pupils
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Drowsiness
  • Drunk-like and slurred speech
  • Poor judgment
  • Slowed breathing

b) Opioid Painkillers (such as Norco, Vicodin, and OxyContin)

  • Avoiding the social activities that you used to find pleasurable and enjoyable
  • Constricted pupils (even in when the light is dim)
  • Decline in performance and productivity at school or work
  • Drooping eyes
  • Drowsiness
  • Inability to focus and concentrate
  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of motivation
  • Neglecting friendships
  • Slurred speech
  • Sudden flushing or itching

c) Stimulants (including Dexedrine, Adderall, Ritalin, and Concerta)

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Dilated pupils
  • High body temperature
  • Insomnia
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Paranoia
  • Reduced appetite

Dealing With Drug Addiction

In case you suspect a friend or a member of your family is addicted or has a drug and/or alcohol problem, you should observe them to see if they display any of the above signs and symptoms of drug addiction. If you notice these signs, you might want to:

a) Avoid the Blame Game

You should encourage the person with the substance use disorder and drug addiction providing them with support and asking that they get treatment. However, nothing you can do can directly force them to change - unless you take drastic measures such as by threatening to cut off your support and friendship.

Since you might not be able to control their decisions, however, you need to learn how to let them accept responsibility for their behavior and action. This is one of the best things you can do to push them along the way to full - albeit eventual - recovery.

b) Speak Up

The worst thing you can do when you notice these signs and symptoms of drug addiction is to stay silent - it will only encourage the substance use and they will sink even further into the clutches of their condition.

Instead, you should talk to them about your concerns. If possible, offer them your support and assistance while trying as hard as you can not to be judgement or show that you are superior to them.

Remember, the earlier they get help, the easier it will be for them (and for you) in the long run. Therefore, you should not wait until they reach rock bottom before you speak up.

During the conversation, it would help if you were able to list and explain specific examples of their behavior and actions that are related to their substance abuse and addiction. You should also inform them that you are worried about their health, wellness, and safety, as well as encourage them to get treated as soon as possible.

c) Protect Yourself

Last but not least, ensure that you are safe and away from harm's way. This means that you should not focus too much on your loved one's addiction and substance abuse that you forget to take care of your own needs.

If possible, get your own support team and lean on and talk to them. This will protect your physical and psychological health even as you continue urging your loved one to seek treatment.