What is Drug Addiction?
Recognizing the signs of drug addiction is the first step to getting help for yourself or guiding someone you care about to drug rehab. For this reason, it is crucial to have an understanding of the signs of drug addiction. There are physical, behavioral, and psychological signs of drug addiction.
Drug addiction is also called substance use disorder. It is a disease that affects an individual’s brain and behavior and leads to an inability to control the use of an illegal, legal drug or medication. Substances such as alcohol, marijuana, and nicotine also are considered drugs. When someone is addicted, they may continue using the substance or drug despite the harm it causes.
Drug addiction can begin with the experimental use of a recreational drug in social situations, and, for some people, the drug use becomes more frequent. For others, particularly with opioids, drug addiction starts with exposure to prescribed medications or receiving medications from a friend or relative who has been prescribed the medication.
The risk of drug addiction and how fast someone becomes addicted varies by drug. Some drugs, such as opioid painkillers, have a higher risk and cause addiction more quickly than others.
As time passes, someone may need larger doses of the drug to get high. Soon a person needs the drug to feel good. As drug use increases, a person may find it increasingly difficult to go without the drug. Attempts to stop drug use may cause intense cravings and make the individual feel physically ill (withdrawal symptoms).
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Signs of Drug Addiction
More often than not, people do not acknowledge that they have a problem, and family members or friends are the first to notice something has changed. If you are worried that you or a loved one is struggling from drug addiction, uncertainty makes it hard to proceed. However, there are some telltale drug addiction signs and symptoms to help you identify any potential issues.
Someone suffering from drug addiction typically experiences intense cravings or urges for the drug as their addiction progress. Cravings can be thought of as the unconscious or conscious experience of wanting to use a substance. They are a basic feature of addiction.
Over time and with continued use, people who use drugs can build up a tolerance to them, meaning they need more of a drug to accomplish the desired effects.
Most drugs create withdrawal symptoms when people who use them attempt to quit abruptly or reduce their usage. The appearance of a withdrawal syndrome and tolerance indicates that mental dependence on a drug is occurring.
Physical dependence on substances or drugs can develop as people grow accustomed to the influence and persistent presence of the drug. The changes in physiology that follow this process leave individuals feeling poorly or functioning sub-optimally when the substance is no longer in the system.
When a person is addicted to drugs, he or she may do anything to get more, including risky behaviors such as lying, stealing, selling drugs, engaging in unsafe sexual activity, or crimes that could land the individual in prison.
Individuals may spend excessive amounts of energy and time finding and getting their substance of choice.
People using drugs may spend large and unexplained sums of money, empty their bank accounts, and go outside their budgets to obtain the drug. This behavior can be a major red flag for addiction and has massive consequences. A recent survey of Americans showed that 44% had a loved one with a substance use disorder, and of those with a substance use disorder, 48% drained savings or retirement accounts, 42% sold assets for cash, 11% filed for bankruptcy.
When someone chooses to use or get the drug over meeting work or personal obligations, this is a classic sign of addiction.
Developing Unhealthy Friendships
When individuals start using new drugs, they may spend time with others who have similar habits. They may hang out with a new group of people who may encourage unhealthy habits; doing so makes them more likely to use for a longer time, especially if others in the group have a negative life outlook.
Alternatively, people may isolate and withdraw themselves, hiding their substance use from family and friends. Some reasons for this may include increased depression or perceived stigma, anxiety, or paranoia as a result of their drug addiction.
Signs of Alcohol Addiction
Substance like alcohol is considered a drug, and it is one of the most widely abused substances in the US. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , more than 700,000 Americans receive alcoholism treatment every day, but there is growing recognition that alcoholism (i.e., alcohol dependence or addiction) represents only one end of the spectrum of “alcohol misuse”. Moreover, there are approximately 79,000 deaths attributable to excessive alcohol use each year in the United States.
Both alcohol abuse and alcoholism come with a variety of signs and symptoms. Oftentimes, “functional alcoholics” may be able to hide or minimize these signs for some time; however, over time, it generally becomes harder and harder to hide the issue.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) , alcohol makes it harder for the brain areas controlling balance, speech, memory, and judgment to do their jobs, resulting in a higher likelihood of injuries and other negative outcomes. Drinking a lot over a long time or too much on a single occasion can damage the heart. Heavy drinking takes a toll on the liver and can lead to a variety of problems and liver inflammations, including steatosis, or fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and alcoholic liver cirrhosis.
Alcohol abuse and addiction can cause memory loss and blackouts,. Alcohol-induced blackouts can lead to impaired memory of events that transpired while intoxicated and a drastically increased risk of injuries and other harms. They can happen in anyone who drinks alcohol, no matter their age or level of experience with drinking.
When an individual suffering from alcohol use disorder stops drinking, they will experience withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, nausea, insomnia, and anxiety. There is the potential for serious withdrawal complications, including delirium tremens (DTs), a condition that can lead to hallucinations and life-threatening seizures. As a result, those who are addicted to alcohol should never attempt to stop drinking on their own; medical detox is required.
Other common signs of alcohol addiction include:
- Lack of control over how much one drinks and for how long
- Preference to drink alone, in secret, or during odd times, such as the morning
- Continuing to drink despite interpersonal, physical, and psychological problems related to it
- Depression, irritability, and mood swings, plus a propensity to argue with friends and family members
- Drinking to cope with problems, to relax, to sleep, or to improve mood
Risk Factors for Drug Abuse
Not everyone who takes drugs will become addicted to them. However, there are some factors that may increase the risk of drug abuse.
People whose family members have struggled with drug or alcohol abuse may have a genetic predisposition to addiction. They may also have learned these behaviors from those who’ve raised them.
Having a doctor who freely prescribes potentially addictive medications, or having a friend or family member who shares their prescriptions, increases the risk of drug abuse.
Drugs are often used to self-medicate the symptoms of mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder or depression. When using these substances to cope with daily life, drug abuse and addiction become more likely.
Lack of Support
Without the emotional support of loving friends and family members, it’s easier to fall prey to the trap of addiction.
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How Does Drug Abuse Start?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) , early abuse often includes such substances as tobacco, alcohol, inhalants, marijuana, and prescription drugs such as sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medicines. If drug abuse persists later in life, abusers typically become more heavily involved with marijuana and then advance to other drugs while continuing their abuse of tobacco and alcohol.
Scientists have proposed various explanations of why some individuals become involved with drugs and then escalate to abuse. One explanation points to a biological cause, such as having a family history of drug or alcohol abuse. Another explanation is that abusing drugs can lead to affiliation with drug-abusing peers, which, in turn, exposes the individual to other drugs.
Researchers have found that youth who rapidly increase their substance abuse have high levels of risk factors with low levels of protective factors. Gender, race, and geographic location can also play a role in how and when someone begins abusing drugs.
Signs of Drug Addiction Related to Specific Drugs
In addition to general signs of drug addiction, specific signs of drug addiction are associated with particular drugs. This information can help a person spot signs of abuse in a family member, friend or coworker.
Meth, Cocaine and other Stimulants
Someone on a stimulant may show frequent behavior changes, aggression, or rambling or rapid speech. They may exhibit dilated pupils, a fast breathing rate, and increased energy. In some instances, stimulant users may become hostile or paranoid. If someone snorts the drug, nasal congestion is a common sign of stimulant drug addiction. Snorting drugs like cocaine can damage the mucous membrane inside the nose .
Stimulants include amphetamines, meth (methamphetamine), cocaine, methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta, others), and amphetamine-dextroamphetamine (Adderall, Adderall XR, others). They are often used and abused in search of a “high,” or to boost energy, to improve performance at work or school, or to lose weight or control appetite.
Signs of stimulant drug addiction can include:
- Increased alertness
- Feeling of exhilaration and excess confidence
- Increased energy and restlessness
- Dilated pupils
- Behavior changes or aggression
- Rapid or rambling speech
- Confusion, delusions and hallucinations
- Irritability, anxiety or paranoia
- Changes in heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature
- Nausea or vomiting with weight loss
- Nasal congestion and damage to the mucous membrane of the nose (ifsnorting drugs)
- Mouth sores, gum disease and tooth decay from smoking drugs (“methmouth”)
- Impaired judgment
- Depression as the drug wears off
Barbiturates, Benzodiazepines and Hypnotics
These central nervous systems (CNS) depressants are often prescribed to treat sleep disorders and anxiety. Benzodiazepines (benzos) include common medications, such as Xanax and Valium. Barbiturates are not used as much as they used to be; however, they are still sometimes employed to treat seizure disorders and during surgery.
Barbiturates carry a higher risk of overdose than benzodiazepines. Someone who abuses these drugs may appear dizzy, uninhibited, or depressed. They may experience balance issues, blurry vision, and overall confusion. They may also present with involuntary eye movements, known as nystagmus. They’re often used and misused in search of a sense of relaxation or a desire to “switch off” or forget stress-related thoughts or feelings.
- Examples include phenobarbital and secobarbital (Seconal).
- Examples include sedatives, such as diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan), clonazepam (Klonopin) and chlordiazepoxide (Librium).
- Examples include prescription sleeping medications such as zolpidem (Ambien, Intermezzo, others) and zaleplon (Sonata).
Signs of drug addiction to Barbiturates, Benzodiazepines, and Hypnotics can include:
- Slurred speech
- Irritability or changes in mood
- Problems concentrating or thinking clearly
- Lack of coordination
- Memory problems
- Lack of inhibition
- Involuntary eye movements
- Slowed breathing and reduced blood pressure
- Falls or accidents
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Abuse of hallucinogens can give different signs and symptoms, depending on the drug. The most common hallucinogens are lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and phencyclidine (PCP).
Signs of LSD drug addiction may include:
- Greatly reduced perception of reality, for example, interpreting input from one of your senses as another, such as hearing colors
- Rapid shifts in emotions
- Impulsive behavior
- Permanent mental changes in perception
- Rapid heart rate and high blood pressure
- Flashbacks, a re-experience of the hallucinations — even years later
Signs of drug addiction to PCP may include:
- A feeling of being separated from your body and surroundings
- Problems with coordination and movement
- Aggressive, possibly violent behavior
- Involuntary eye movements
- Intolerance to loud noise
- Lack of pain sensation
- Increase in blood pressure and heart rate
- Problems with thinking and memory
- Problems speaking
- Impaired judgment
- Sometimes seizures or coma
Ketamine, ecstasy, and GHB are common types of club drugs. Signs of drug addiction include increased body temperature, dizziness, poor coordination, excessive sweating, clenched teeth, and slurred speech.
Club drugs are commonly used at clubs, concerts, and parties. These drugs are not all in the same category, but they share some similar effects and dangers, including long-term harmful effects.
Opioids include both prescription painkillers, like Vicodin and OxyContin, and the illicit drug heroin. Signs of opioid abuse include overall sedation, memory issues, inability to concentrate, slowed reaction times, lethargy, and mood swings. Since opioids can slow the digestive system, users often experience constipation and other intestinal issues. When without the drug, users may become anxious and display flulike symptoms.
K2, Spice and Bath Salts
Two groups of synthetic drugs — synthetic cannabinoids and substituted or synthetic cathinones — are illegal in most states. The effects of these drugs can be dangerous and unpredictable, as there is no quality control and some ingredients may not be known.
Signs of K2, Spice, and bath salts drug addiction can include:
- A sense of euphoria
- Elevated mood
- An altered sense of visual, auditory and taste perception
- Extreme anxiety or agitation
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure or heart attack
Substituted cathinones, also called “bath salts,” are mind-altering (psychoactive) substances similar to amphetamines such as ecstasy (MDMA) and cocaine. Packages are often labeled as other products to avoid detection.
Despite the name, these are not bath products such as Epsom salts. Substituted cathinones can be eaten, inhaled, snorted, or injected and are highly addictive. These drugs can cause severe intoxication, which results in dangerous health effects or even death.
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Signs and symptoms of inhalant use vary, depending on the substance. Some commonly inhaled substances include glue, paint thinners, correction fluid, felt tip marker fluid, gasoline, cleaning fluids, and household aerosol products. Due to the toxic nature of these substances, users may develop brain damage or sudden death.
Signs of inhalant drug addiction can include:
- Possessing an inhalant substance without a reasonable explanation
- Brief euphoria or intoxication
- Decreased inhibition
- Involuntary eye movements
- Combativeness or belligerence
- Nausea or vomiting
- Appearing intoxicated with slurred speech
- Irregular heartbeats
- Lingering odor of inhalant material
- Rash around the nose and mouth
Opioids are narcotic, painkilling drugs produced from opium or made synthetically. This class of drugs includes, among others, heroin, morphine, codeine, methadone, and oxycodone.
Sometimes called the “opioid epidemic,” addiction to opioid prescription pain medications has reached an alarming rate across the United States. Some individuals who’ve been using opioids over a long period of time may need physician-prescribed temporary or long-term drug substitution during treatment.
Signs of narcotic drug addiction and dependence can include:
- Reduced sense of pain
- Agitation, drowsiness or sedation
- Slurred speech
- Problems with attention and memory
- Constricted pupils
- Lack of awareness or inattention to surrounding people and things
- Problems with coordination
- Runny nose or nose sores (if snorting drugs)
- Needle marks (if injecting drugs)
Finding the Next Level of Treatment At We Level Up NJ
Recognizing the signs of drug addiction is not only for trained professionals. Family and friends are the first lines of attack against an advancing drug problem. One of the best responses to witnessing the signs is to talk to a qualified counselor about how to get help.
If you’ve tried to quit in the past but ended up drinking or using, that’s a clear sign you need professional help. Get them the safest help they need and deserve. Our team at We Level Up NJ specializes in creating an ideal environment and providing effective therapies.
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 CDC – https://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/health-strategies/substance-misuse/index.html
 NIAAA – https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/interrupted-memories-alcohol-induced-blackouts
 NIDA – https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/preventing-drug-use-among-children-adolescents/chapter-1-risk-factors-protective-factors/when-how-does-drug-abuse-start-progress
 NIDA – https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-are-long-term-effects-methamphetamine-misuse