Drug Addiction & Substance Abuse Signs & Symptoms

Understanding Addiction

Learn about drug & alcohol addiction & abuse

Substance abuse is characterized by behaviors that consist of chronic, excessive consumption of drugs and/or alcohol that continue despite the onset of negative consequences that occur as a direct result of that consumption. Regardless of the type of substance that an individual is abusing, the longer that that pattern of abuse is allowed to persist, the more likely he or she is to develop a dependency on and an addiction to that substance. When any substance is used in excess, it causes a direct activation to occur on the brain’s reward system, ultimately forcing an individual to become much more focused on his or her drug of choice than he or she is on other things that should take priority. This significant change can subsequently result in the onset of disturbances in most, if not all, aspects of an individual’s life.

Whenever substances are used for mood-altering or mind-altering purposes, the behavior can be classified as substance abuse. There are a great deal of substances that are abused throughout the world today, but some of the most common include alcohol, marijuana, methamphetamine, heroin, stimulants like cocaine and Adderall, prescription painkillers, synthetic marijuana, and central nervous system depressants, like benzodiazepines.

Once a substance abuse problem has developed, it can be extremely difficult for an individual to overcome his or her need and compulsion to use without help from professionals in the field of mental health and addiction. Fortunately, there are many treatment options available that can help individuals put an end to their substance use and return to a life of sobriety.


Substance abuse statistics

Research has indicated that more than 9% of the United States population over the age of 12 has used or abused various substances, including alcohol, illicit drugs, and prescription medications, at some point during their lifetimes. This is the equivalent to approximately 23.9 million people and researchers predict that the numbers will continue to steadily increase.

Causes & Risks

Causes and risk factors for substance abuse

The development of substance abuse and addiction is said to result from a number of factors that work together to increase an individual’s susceptibility to experiencing the onset of such behaviors and compulsions. Consider the following:

Genetic: Long-standing research has proven that addictions run in families, providing conclusive evidence that there is a strong genetic link to its onset. Individuals who have first-degree, biological family members who struggle with an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol are at an extremely heightened risk for suffering from an addiction at some point in their lifetimes as well.

Environmental: There are a great deal of environmental factors that can contribute to a person’s susceptibility to developing an addiction to substances. For example, individuals who are the victims of abuse or neglect, or who have gone through traumatic experiences, often turn to substances as a means of self-medicating the negative emotional turmoil that they face as a result of those experiences. In addition, individuals who are exposed to drug and/or alcohol use, or who have easy access to obtaining substances, are more likely to struggle with substance abuse concerns than are those individuals who do not have similar exposures nor do not have ease of access to obtaining substances.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of substance abuse and addiction
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Personal preexisting mental health condition
  • Suffering from abuse and/or neglect
  • Experiencing a traumatic event or series of traumatic events
  • Having great ease of access in regards to obtaining substances
  • Suffering from low self-esteem
  • Being exposed to chronically high levels of stress
  • Exposure to crime and violence

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of substance abuse

The signs and symptoms that will be displayed by an individual who is struggling with substance use will vary greatly depending upon the type of substance being abused, the length of time during which the abuse has occurred, and the frequency of the abuse. Examples of various symptoms that may indicate that a person is abusing drugs and/or alcohol can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • No longer participating in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Change in peer group
  • Frequent absences from work
  • Decline in occupational performance
  • Slurred speech
  • Engaging in reckless behaviors
  • Failing to adhere to responsibilities
  • Acting out in sudden, unwarranted episodes of aggression
  • Periods of extreme hyperactivity
  • Periods of extreme lethargy
  • Disturbances arising within one’s interpersonal relationships
  • Slowed or rapid speech

Physical symptoms:

  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Excessive sweating
  • Decline in proper hygiene
  • Chronic headaches
  • Distorted vision
  • Muscle tension
  • Shakiness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Concentration disturbances
  • Memory impairment
  • Loss of the ability to reason
  • Episodes of detachment from reality
  • Altered states of perception
  • Delayed thought processes
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Hindered ability to use appropriate decision-making skills
  • Extreme confusion

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Dramatic fluctuations in mood
  • Changes in temperament
  • Periods of emotional detachment / emotional numbness
  • Excessive feelings of irritability and agitation
  • Heightened levels of anxiety
  • Extreme feelings of depression
  • Declined interest in things once interested in
  • Declined ability to experience pleasure
  • Onset of suicidal ideation


Effects of substance abuse

Whenever individuals abuse any type of substance, they are placing themselves at risk for experiencing any number of negative, long-term consequences. These consequences can be detrimental to drug or alcohol users physically, psychologically, and socially. While the effects themselves will inevitably vary from person to person depending upon the type of substance that one is using, the length of time that he or she has been using, and the frequency of the use, possible examples may include the following:

  • Decline in one’s overall physical and mental health
  • Onset of symptoms synonymous with various mental health conditions
  • Exacerbation of symptoms of a preexisting mental health condition
  • Malnutrition
  • Irreversible cognitive impairment
  • Contraction of viruses, such as HIV/AIDS or hepatitis
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Job loss / chronic unemployment
  • Onset of self-harming behaviors
  • Financial strife
  • Familial discord
  • Hindered lung functioning
  • Heart damage
  • Compromised immune system
  • Damage to the central nervous system
  • Unintentional overdose

Co-Occurring Disorders

Substance abuse & co-occurring disorders

Sadly, it is not uncommon for individuals who abuse substances to also be battling symptoms of additional mental health conditions. Some of the most commonly cited disorders known to occur alongside the presence of substance use disorders include:

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

My life had been overrun by my addiction. The Life Center of Galax taught me that recovery was possible, through hard work and dedication, and I am capable of living a life free of addiction.

– Matthew
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