Drug Addiction Signs and Symptoms

About Addiction

Learn More About Addiction

Substance abuse is a broad category that describes the intentional overconsumption or other misuse of alcohol or another drug, typically for mind-altering or mood-altering purposes. Substance abuse can involve both legal and illegal drugs, and may occur as a recreational pursuit or in an attempt to self-medicate symptoms of physical or psychological pain. Drinking alcohol for the purpose of becoming intoxicated, using a prescription painkiller in a manner that is contrary to the directions of the prescribing physician, and long-term heroin use are all examples of substance abuse.

In many cases, substance abuse leads to tolerance, which means that a person will need to take larger or more potent amounts in order to achieve a desired effect. Developing tolerance is one of the signs that a person is becoming dependent upon a substance. Tolerance may also increase the risk that a person will overdose, or take more of the drug than his or her body can safely metabolize. Depending upon the substance being abused, the dangers of overdose can include death.

It is difficult to overstate the many ways that substance abuse can negatively impact a person’s life. Physical health, mental acuity, emotional stability, and socioeconomic wellbeing can all be damaged or destroyed by a person’s involvement with substance abuse. The behavior can also have a profoundly negative impact on families, peer groups, and communities. When substance abuse progresses into addiction, the risks and damage can be exponentially greater to the individual and his or her loved ones.

Left untreated, substance abuse and addiction can be lethal. But with effective professional intervention, this destructive cycle can be stopped. Comprehensive treatment can assist adolescents and adults whose lives have been disrupted by the misuse of alcohol and/or other drugs so that they can regain control over their behaviors, address any underlying or co-occurring issues that may have led to or been exacerbated by their drug use, and develop the skills and strategies that will allow them to live healthy drug-free lives.

Statistics

Addiction Statistics

According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, one of every seven Americans ages 12 and above is or has been addicted to a legal or illegal substance. This ratio represents more than 40 million people, meaning that addiction impacts more people than does cancer, heart disease, or diabetes.

Information collected for the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NS-DUH) reveals that about 25 million Americans have abused an illicit substance at least once in the previous 30 days. Marijuana is the most commonly abused illicit substance in the United States, with more than eight million people admitting to abusing this drug on a daily or near-daily basis.

NS-DUH data also documents that substance abuse is responsible for more than two million visits to hospital emergency rooms or urgent care facilities every year. More than one of every four emergency room visits is related to the misuse of prescription medications, and about 14 percent of emergency room visits are by people who have abused alcohol along with another drug.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the abuse of legal and illegal drugs costs the U.S. more than $700 billion every year due to healthcare expenses, lost worker productivity, and crime.

Causes & Risks

Causes and Risk Factors for Substance Abuse

Substance abuse and the potential development of a substance use disorder can be influenced by a variety of genetic and environmental factors. These problems rarely result from a single cause; instead, a combination of both internal and external influences is typically involved. Decades of research into the nature of substance abuse and chemical dependency have identified several elements and experiences that commonly precede drug abuse and addiction. Consider the following:

Genetic: Heredity can play a significant role in determining whether or not a person will develop a substance use disorder. For example, people who have a parent or sibling who has struggled with addiction are at a heightened risk of experiencing a similar problem. As genetic researchers have developed more sophisticated techniques for analyzing DNA, several genetic components and variations have been identified as potentially influencing a person’s predisposition for addiction. For example, the one study reported that A1 allele of the dopamine receptor gene DRD2 is more common in individuals who are addicted to cocaine or alcohol, and that alcohol dependence is rare in people whose DNA contains two copies of the ALDH*2 gene variation.

Environmental: Being genetically susceptible to chemical dependency does not guarantee that a person will develop a substance use disorder. In many cases, external events or other environmental factors contribute to a person’s decision to engage in substance abuse. For example, being raised by inattentive parents or growing up in a house where substance abuse is common can increase the likelihood that a person will abuse alcohol or another drug, even if a person is adopted and therefore shares no genetic traits with his or her adoptive family. Also, chronic exposure to stress can precipitate a substance abuse problem, as can living in poverty, being abused or neglected, and associating with peers who abuse alcohol or other drugs.

Risk Factors:

  • Age (substance abuse often starts before a person reaches age 18)
  • Gender (substance abuse is more common among men than among women)
  • Family history of chemical dependency
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Personal history of abuse, neglect, assault, or other trauma
  • Preexisting mental illness
  • Prior substance abuse
  • Chronic exposure to stress
  • Problems with stress management
  • Low self-esteem or poor self-image
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Availability of drugs

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse

With substance abuse being such a broad term, specific signs and symptoms of this problem can vary widely depending upon factors such as the substance being abused, the duration and severity of that abuse, the presence of co-occurring disorders, and the individual’s personal history. In general, though, people who exhibit a multitude of the following signs or symptoms may be abusing alcohol or another drug:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Deceptiveness regarding one’s activities and/or whereabouts
  • Declined participation in activities that were previously important or enjoyable
  • Pattern of unexplained absences from work or school
  • Diminished performance at work or in school
  • Persistent requests to borrow money
  • Stealing money or items that can be sold or traded for drugs
  • Wearing long sleeves and long pants, even in hot conditions, in order to conceal evidence of drug use
  • Possession of drug paraphernalia
  • Uncharacteristic energy, lethargy, aggressiveness, or passivity

Physical symptoms:

  • Poor hygiene
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Elevated or lowered blood pressure
  • Shallow or labored breathing
  • Heavy perspiration
  • Watery and/or bloodshot eyes
  • Pupil dilation
  • Change in appetite, which results in weight gain or loss
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Memory problems
  • Inability to focus or concentrate
  • Racing thoughts
  • Impaired problem-solving skills

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Abrupt changes in mood
  • Anhedonia, or an inability to experience pleasure
  • Anxiety and panic
  • Paranoia
  • Emotional dysregulation
  • Suicidal ideation

Effects

Effects of Substance Abuse

As is the case with the signs and symptoms of substance abuse, the effects of this behavior can vary widely depending upon a number of factors. In the vast majority of cases, though, chronic substance abuse and untreated addiction can have a profoundly negative impact. The following are among the many ways that substance abuse can derail a person’s attempts to live a productive and satisfying life:

  • Decline in physical health
  • Decline in mental wellbeing and emotional stability
  • Irreversible cognitive damage
  • Injuries related to impaired motor functions and/or reckless behaviors
  • Legal problems, including arrest and incarceration
  • Financial ruin
  • Academic failure
  • Job loss and chronic unemployment
  • Relationship problems
  • Family discord, including separation, divorce, and loss of parental rights
  • Homelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts and actions
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Substance Abuse & Co-Occurring Disorders

Many people who struggle with substance abuse are also dealing with additional mental health issues at the same time. Because substance use disorders and co-occurring disorders can impact each other, it is essential that treatment involves identifying and addressing all of the conditions that may have contributed to, exacerbated, or been made worse by the substance abuse. Common co-occurring disorders include the following:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Depressive disorders
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Personality disorders

Withdrawal

Effects of Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of withdrawal: When a person’s body has become dependent upon a substance, attempting to stop or drastically reduce one’s use may bring about a number of unpleasant symptoms. Depending upon the nature and severity of a person’s substance use disorder, withdrawal symptoms can range from mildly distressing to potentially lethal. The following symptoms are commonly experienced by individuals who are going through withdrawal:

  • Powerful cravings for continued substance use
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Watery eyes and runny nose
  • Tics and tremors
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Cramps
  • Heavy sweating
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Depression

Effects of overdose: Overdose occurs when the amount or potency of drugs being abused overwhelms the body’s ability to safely process them. Overdose is a dangerous and potentially fatal experience. People who experience the following symptoms after having engaged in substance abuse may be in dire distress and should be provided with immediate medical attention:

  • Shallow, constricted, or labored breathing
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Excessively rapid or slow heartbeat
  • Dangerously high or low body temperature
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Bluish tint to lips and fingertips
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Lack of response to external stimuli
  • Extreme paranoia or agitation
  • Seizure
  • Coma

I came to you with blind faith–knowing that if I didn't get help I would end up in prison or dead. I'm alive and well today thanks to the care that the Camp showed me and I am so grateful.

– Henry G.