Signs & Symptoms of Drug Addiction

Oasis Behavioral Health Hospital helps individuals in Chandler, AZ diagnose and treat their mental health & addiction disorders.

Understanding Drug Addiction

Learn about addiction and substance abuse

Substance abuse is defined as the misuse of substances which change how the mind and the body work. The main characteristic of a substance abuse problem is that an individual will continue to use the substance despite significant problems related to the use. Adolescents and adults who abuse substances may take the substance in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended, express a persistent desire to cut down or regulate substance use, and spend a great deal of time obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of the substance. In severe cases of substance abuse, an individual’s life will completely revolve around his or her drug of choice.

Many people have a hard time coping with why an individual would continue to use substances despite all of the negative consequences that are occurring in his or her life as a result of the use. These people may not understand why drug addicts do not just stop using, but it is much more complicated than that. The dependence that one develops on substances is an actual illness that results from a chemical disturbance in the brain that develops as a direct result of the drug use. Because of these disturbances, the addict’s ability to simply stop the behavior is compromised.

Some of the most common substances that are abused include: marijuana, narcotics and opiates (including heroin and prescription pain killers), stimulants (including methamphetamines, cocaine, and prescription amphetamines like Adderall), hallucinogens (including PCP, LSD, and ecstasy), and central nervous system depressants and downers (including barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and tranquilizers).


Drug addiction statistics

In 2012, 23.9 million Americans over the age of 12 were estimated to have used illicit drugs or to have abused prescription medications. This is the equivalent of 9.2% of the United States population, and the numbers are growing.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for drug addiction

There is not any one specific cause that has been identified as the sole reason why people develop addictions to substances, but rather it is believed to be a combination of different factors working together. Some examples of these factors include:

Genetic: Studies have shown that drug addiction tends to run in families and is therefore believed to have a strong genetic component. People with first-degree relatives (such as a biological parent or sibling) that have struggled with an addiction to any type of substance has a higher likelihood of developing an addiction as well.

Physical: The chemicals found in drugs act on the brain’s communication system and cause a disturbance in the way that cells normally process information. The longer that people abuse substances, the more likely it is that the drugs will cause lasting damage to the composition of this communication system, leading to physical and psychological dependence.

Environmental: It is believed by many that environmental factors can play a large role in whether or not a person will develop an addiction to drugs. For example, people who have a lot of stress in their life may find that using drugs provides them with a sense of relief. Or people who have been physically and/or sexually abused may develop a dependence to substances because it helps them forget about the experiences they have suffered through.

Risk Factors:

  • Exposure to violence
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of coping skills
  • Chaotic home environment
  • Suffering from other mental illnesses
  • Peer pressure
  • The level of availability that the person has to obtaining the drug
  • Experiencing some form of trauma
  • Poor socioeconomic status
  • Poor self-control

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of drug addiction

The signs and symptoms of substance abuse will vary greatly depending on the type of drug being abused, the frequency of the abuse, and the length of time that the person has been abusing it. The following are some examples of different symptoms that may be indicative that a person is abusing drugs:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Random periods of extreme lethargy
  • Participating in reckless behaviors
  • Disturbances within one’s personal relationships
  • Excessively rapid or excessively slowed speech
  • Impaired coordination
  • Impaired judgment
  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Social isolation

Physical symptoms:

  • Distorted vision
  • Weakness
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle tension

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Memory impairment
  • Altered states of perception
  • Disorientation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Confusion

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Extreme fluctuations in mood
  • Paranoia
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety


Effects of drug addiction

The long-term effects that substance abuse will have on a person will also vary depending on the type of drug being used and the length and frequency of the use. Those effects may not be enough to motivate an individual to quit using the substance and get help due to the fear of experiencing distressing and intolerable withdrawal symptoms. The most common effects that result from drug abuse can include:

  • Malnutrition
  • Insomnia
  • Memory loss
  • Damage to cardiovascular and nervous systems
  • Collapsed veins
  • Hepatitis B and C
  • HIV / AIDS
  • Addiction
  • Decline in mental health
  • Chronic mood swings
  • Coma
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Withdrawal
  • Overdose
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Death

Withdrawl and Overdose

Effects of drug withdrawl and overdose

Whenever an individual abruptly stops using a substance that they have become dependent upon, they will most likely suffer from unpleasant symptoms during the withdrawal period. Depending on the drug that has been used, the withdrawal symptoms will range in severity from mild to moderate to severe. The following are some examples of various effects of withdrawal:

  • Intense cravings
  • Agitation
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Pale, clammy skin
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tremors and chills
  • Shakes
  • Sweating
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Psychosis

As the length of time that a person uses a substance increases, the higher his or her tolerance becomes. As a result, many addicts find that they need to steadily increase the amount that they use in order to receive the desired effects. This increase in use can lead to a person taking more than his or her body can handle, resulting in an overdose. Like withdrawal, the overdose symptoms will vary depending on the drug that is being used. Some examples of signs that a person has overdosed may include:

  • Erratic breathing
  • Chills or profuse sweating
  • Acute psychotic behavior
  • Chest pain or tightening
  • Passing out
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Sudden heart failure
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Drug addiction and co-occurring disorders

It is common for those who struggle with substance abuse to also suffer from some type of mental disorder. Some of the most common disorders that occur alongside substance abuse can include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Polysubstance abuse
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder
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