Drug Addiction Signs & Symptoms

Addiction can be hard to spot. Learn about the warning signs & symptoms to watch for.

Understanding Drug Addiction

Learn about drug addiction

Substance abuse is defined as a pattern of continued drug and/or alcohol use that is consumed in excessive amounts despite the negative consequences that arise as a direct result of that use. Substance abuse can lead to the development of multiple serious, long-term consequences, such as physical and mental health problems, relationships difficulties, disruptions with employment, and, in some cases, interaction with law enforcement. After prolonged substance abuse, it is extremely likely that an addiction will develop, which will make it very difficult for someone to stop using despite any desires to do so. Most often, an addict with require support and services from a mental health professional and family members in order to break this dangerous habit.

While substance use disorders are serious conditions, it is important to recognize that there are many treatment options available that can provide an individual with the skills necessary to learn how to overcome addiction and live a sober, healthy lifestyle.


Drug addiction statistics

In the United States, substance abuse remains a prevalent problem. It has been estimated that 9% of Americans, which accounts for approximately twenty-four million people, have used and/or abused drugs and/or alcohol at some point in life. This approximation includes people of all ages and, according to those who research substance abuse rates, this estimate is expected to increase.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for drug addiction

There is no single factor that can predict whether or not a person will go on to develop an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. However, a person’s risk for addiction is determined by an individual’s biology as well as his or her environment. Consider the following:

Genetic: Research has concluded that the genes one is born with can significantly impact an individual’s vulnerability to developing substance use disorders. Individuals with a family history of substance abuse have an increased likelihood for using and/or abusing substances, and researchers believe this is due to the presence of a gene that can be passed down from one generation to the next.

Environmental: The environment by which an individual is surrounded includes many different influences that can greatly impact whether or not an individual will develop a problem with substance abuse. For example, factors such as socioeconomic status, peer pressure, stress, or the presence of any form of abuse or neglect can put an individual at an increased risk for using substances.

Risk Factors:

  • Lack of caregiver involvement
  • Poor parenting
  • Lack of effective, appropriate coping skills
  • Low self-esteem / low self-worth
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Exposure to violence
  • Being the victim of a crime, abuse, or neglect
  • Exposure to trauma
  • Peer pressure
  • Exposure to chaos
  • Easy access to substances
  • Lack of employment
  • Family history of chemical dependency or mental illness
  • Personal history of mental illness

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of drug addiction

Many times, the presence of a substance abuse problem is not obvious because an addict will go to great lengths to keep his or her abuse a secret or will deny the presence of a problem when confronted. However, the longer the substance abuse occurs, the more noticeable the associated symptoms will become. Substance abuse can adversely affect an individual’s behavior, appearance, health, cognition, and emotions. The following symptoms are those that indicate that someone may have a substance abuse problem:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Change in overall attitude with no identifiable cause
  • Missing school or work
  • Decline in performance at work or school
  • Not fulfilling roles or responsibilities
  • Hyperactivity
  • Lethargy
  • Change in activities or hobbies
  • Change in friends
  • Declined participation in things that were once enjoyed
  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Poor coordination
  • Increased conflict with others
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Secretive or suspicious behavior

Physical symptoms:

  • Inability to sleep or consistently waking up throughout the night
  • Loss of or increased appetite
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Runny nose or frequent rubbing of the nose
  • Deterioration of physical health
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Slurred speech
  • Headaches
  • Lack of hygiene
  • Presence of needle marks
  • Shakiness or tremors
  • Diarrhea

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Psychosis
  • Paranoia
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Delayed thinking
  • Confusion
  • Forgetfulness
  • Detachment from reality
  • Hindered decision-making abilities
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Inability to reason

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Depressed mood
  • Increased anxiety
  • Inability to experience pleasure
  • Lowered self-esteem
  • Oversensitivity
  • Moodiness or irritability
  • Drastic mood swings
  • Agitation


Effects of drug addiction

Substance abuse, specifically if it is left untreated, can wreak havoc on a person’s body and mind, causing a whole host of long-term negative consequences. Below are some negative effects that can occur if a person fails to receive care for a substance abuse problem:

  • Addiction
  • Dependence
  • Academic failure
  • Conflict among friends and family
  • Onset of another type of mental health condition
  • Exacerbation of symptoms associated with a mental health condition
  • Memory loss
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Damage to the central nervous system
  • Engagement in self-harming behaviors
  • Increased risk for certain cancers
  • Compromised immune system
  • Possibility of exposure to viruses, such as hepatitis or HIV/AIDS
  • Heart damage
  • Heart failure
  • Impaired lung functioning
  • Malnutrition
  • Stroke
  • Coma
  • Inability to acquire or maintain employment
  • Financial difficulty
  • Homelessness
  • Interaction with law enforcement
  • Suicidal ideation and attempts
  • Overdose
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Drug addiction and co-occurring disorders

Not only can substance abuse lead to the onset of an additional mental health condition but, if an individual is already struggling with a mental health condition, it can make the presenting symptoms worse. The following mental health disorders are known to occur alongside a substance abuse problem:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Additional substance use disorders

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of drug withdrawal and overdose

When an individual continuously abuses substances, he or she will most likely become physically and psychologically dependent upon his or her drug of choice. After individuals have developed an addiction, when they stop using said drug, they will most likely experience withdrawal symptoms. The following are some common withdrawal symptoms that can potentially occur and, in some cases, warrant immediate medical attention:

  • Seizures
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Intense cravings
  • Chills
  • Tremors
  • Panic
  • Increased levels of anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sweating
  • Paranoia
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Psychosis
  • Suicidal ideation

When an individual abuses drugs and/or alcohol, there is always a risk for overdose, which is a medical emergency where treatment should be sought immediately. If someone is displaying the following symptoms, in may mean than an individual has overdosed:

  • Slowed breathing
  • Confusion
  • Chest pains
  • Blacking out
  • Dizziness
  • Disorientation
  • Heart attack or heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma

I have been in and out of treatment for years and could not remain sober for more than a couple years sometimes no more than 60 days. I finally found Harbor Oaks Hospital and they saved my life -- please go here if you want the best care and the most amazing staff!

– Former Patient
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