Drug Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, & When To Get Help

Are you unsure whether you or your loved one is struggling with drug addiction? Read below to learn how to spot the warning signs.

Understanding Drug Addiction

Learn about drug addiction

Substance abuse refers to the excessive consumption of alcohol or other drugs, which often leads to the onset of functional disturbances. Those who become trapped within a pattern of ongoing drug or alcohol abuse start to suffer significant difficulty following through with daily responsibilities, which leads to immense distress for not just them, but also for those around them.

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists the criteria below as being indicative of the presence of a substance use disorder:

  • The substance continues to be used despite the onset or exacerbation of persistent or recurrent physical and/or psychological problems
  • Tolerance develops
  • Withdrawal manifests
  • Use of the substance continues despite the development of persistent interpersonal or social problems that are either directly caused or exacerbated by the effects of that use
  • Important occupational, social, or recreational activities are given up or significantly reduced as a direct result of the substance use
  • Cravings or a strong desire to use the substance are experienced
  • Recurrent use of the substance has resulted in a failure to fulfill major obligations
  • The substance is used in situations where it is physically hazardous
  • The substance is taken in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than was originally intended
  • There is an ongoing desire to reduce, eliminate, or control the use of the substance, but attempts at doing so have been unsuccessful
  • A significant amount of time is spent in activities that are necessary in order to obtain, use, or recover from the use of the substance

Depending on the specific substance that is being abused, different criteria will be met. However, the presence of any of the aforementioned criteria will undoubtedly lead to serious impairment and distress in an individual’s life. As a result, it is critical that treatment be obtained when an individual is grappling with the abuse of or addiction to any type of substance.


Drug addiction statistics

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that between 80% and 90% of adults over the age of 18 have abused one or more substances at some point in their lives. Alcohol, marijuana, and prescription medications are believed to be the most commonly abused. In addition, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) notes that more than 20 million people are struggling with substance use disorder, yet less than 15% of these individuals will get treatment to defeat their addictions.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for drug addiction

The causes and risk factors that might make a person more vulnerable to suffer from substance use disorder are explained below:

Genetic: Substance use and addiction have long been known to possess genetic links. In fact, research has suggested that nearly 60% of one’s likelihood of struggling with substance use disorder can be found within his or her genetic makeup. In other words, those who have family members who battle substance abuse and addiction are more likely to suffer from the same problems than they would be if they did not have his genetic background.

Environmental: Numerous environmental factors can play a role in an individual’s vulnerability to starting to experience with alcohol or drugs, and subsequently developing an addiction. Coming from a low socioeconomic background, being exposed to violence and crime, and having peers who partake in substance abuse can all increase one’s likelihood that someone will start using drugs and/or alcohol. In addition, being subjected to neglect or abuse, suffering another form of trauma, or suffering from symptoms of a mental health problem can lead an individual towards the use of substances.

Risk Factors:

  • Experiencing a trauma
  • Poverty
  • Witnessing violence
  • Family history of addiction
  • Personal or family history of mental illness
  • Possessing a novelty-seeking temperament
  • Suffering from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse and/or neglect
  • Possessing an impulsive personality

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of drug addiction

The specific substance that one is abusing will determine the type of symptoms that he or she might experience. However, even if individuals are abusing the same substance, the type, severity, and duration of symptoms can vary. With that being said, some of the different signs and symptoms that might be displayed by someone who is battling substance use disorder might include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Frequent absenteeism from one’s place of employment
  • Failing to adhere to responsibilities at home or within relationships
  • Possessing drug paraphernalia
  • Using substances even when it is hazardous to do so (such as while operating a vehicle)
  • Decline in occupational performance
  • Using substances more excessively or over a longer period of time than was originally intended
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Inability to stop using one’s substance of choice, despite having the desire to do so
  • No longer engaging in activities or hobbies that were once enjoyed

Physical symptoms:

  • Tremors
  • Presence of abscesses, scars, or track marks if a substance is being consumed intravenously
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Excessive sweating
  • Decline in hygiene
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Changes in sleeping patterns (hypersomnia or insomnia)
  • Slurred speech
  • Frequent headaches
  • Periods of excessive hyperactivity or excessive lethargy

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Poor concentration
  • Inability to reason
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Delusions
  • Psychosis
  • Delayed thought processes
  • Memory loss
  • Hallucinations
  • Hindered decision-making capabilities
  • Impaired judgment

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Changes in overall temperament
  • No longer demonstrating an interest in things that were once enjoyed
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Anxiety


Effects of drug addiction

When individuals develop a habitual pattern of constant drug and/or alcohol abuse, they are more likely to experience a number of negative effects. Whether it be to their health, within relationships, or regarding their careers, the presence of an addiction can destroy all areas of their lives. Specific examples of effects that can develop in the face of prolonged substance use can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Demise of marriages or partnerships
  • Loss of child custody
  • Job loss
  • Financial strife
  • Overdose and the complications that arise as the result of an overdose
  • Onset of self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Loss of friendships
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Elevated risk for certain cancers
  • Damage to vital organs
  • Hindered lung functioning
  • Exposure to viruses like hepatitis or HIV/AIDS
  • Onset of new, or worsening of current, mental illness symptoms
  • Irreversible cognitive impairment
  • Loss of memory
  • Malnutrition
  • Compromised immune system
  • Heart failure


Signs, symptoms, and effects of drug withdrawal

In the event that an individual has started to abuse drugs or alcohol and then suddenly stops that consumption, he or she is likely to suffer a period of withdrawal. This period can be very uncomfortable and, at times, even life-threatening. The type of symptoms that develop during the process of withdrawal will vary based on the specific substance or substances that are being used, however might include the following:

  • Bone and muscle pain
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Powerful cravings
  • Seizures
  • Elevated feelings of anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Depression
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting


Signs, symptoms, and effects of drug overdose

While there are many negative ramifications that develop as the result of chronic drug or alcohol abuse, an overdose can be one of the most dangerous. Occurring when an individual ingests more of a substance than his or her body can metabolize, an overdose can be life-threatening and should be viewed as a medical emergency, with treatment being obtained immediately. As is true for symptoms of withdrawal, the signs of overdose may vary depending on the substance that is being consumed. Examples of potential overdose symptoms include but are not limited to the following:

  • Heart failure
  • Psychosis
  • Losing consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Chest pains
  • Labored breathing
  • Severe confusion
  • Changes in the color of one’s skin tone
  • Dizziness
  • Disorientation

Co-Occurring Disorders

Drug addiction and co-occurring disorders

The presence of a substance use disorder often co-occurs alongside of symptoms of other mental health problems. Some of these conditions might include the following:

  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
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