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Drug Addiction Behaviors

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), drug addiction, also known as substance use disorder, is a chronic, relapsing brain disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use.

Navigation: Drug Addiction Behaviors: What to Watch Out for, Neglecting Responsibilities, Loss of Interest, Social Isolation, Engaging in Risky Behavior, Financial Problems, Helping a Loved One with Substance Use Disorder, Treatment Options for Drug Abuse, Addiction, and Mental Health Disorders, Rehab Is Your Best Chance


Recognizing the signs of addiction is the first step in helping someone who is struggling with it. So in order to do that, we need to talk about what addiction is and how it affects people.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), drug addiction, also known as substance use disorder, is a chronic, relapsing brain disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use. An addicted person will seek out a certain substance even when they are already suffering from its effects.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) uses a set of criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to diagnose substance use disorders, which can range from mild to severe based on the number of criteria met.

Alcohol use disorder also falls under the category of substance use disorder and is also considered an addiction problem. Addiction is considered a mental health disorder that involves a person’s inability to control their use of a substance, whether it’s alcohol, prescription drugs, or illicit drugs.

Although it is a form of mental illness, addiction also tends to co-occur with other mental disorders, most commonly anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and bipolar disorder. This is why addiction treatment often involves the help of a mental health professional.

If you want to get a loved one the help that they need, you have to understand the different signs of addiction. There are behavioral, physical, and psychological aspects of addiction. Here we are going to discuss some of the most common signs of drug abuse and addiction. Let’s take a closer look.


Drug Addiction Behaviors: What to Watch Out for

Drug addiction is a complex and multifaceted condition characterized by compulsive drug-seeking and use, despite negative consequences. As such, it usually involves both physical and psychological components. When left unchecked, it can have a devastating impact on a person’s life, health, and even their relationships.

Alcoholism and drug dependence are marked by certain behaviors such as compulsive drug use and loss of control over one’s drug intake. People with addiction often consume larger amounts or use drugs for a longer duration than they intended. Whenever they are not taking their drug of choice, they feel an intense urge or craving to use it.

With repeated drug use, the body may develop tolerance, requiring larger doses to achieve the desired effects. This can contribute to a cycle of escalating drug consumption, which eventually leads to drug dependence and addiction.

When an addicted individual tries to stop using the drug, they may experience withdrawal symptoms ranging from mild to severe, depending on the substance they were using and how long they’ve been taking it. Some substances, including alcohol, may sometimes produce life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.

Before it escalates into something dangerous, you need to recognize the different drug addiction signs and symptoms.

While it’s helpful to watch out for the changes in a person’s physical appearance and health condition, you may also watch out for certain behavioral symptoms that may signal substance abuse.


Neglecting Responsibilities

As addiction takes hold, individuals may neglect their responsibilities at work, school, or home. This happens for several reasons. Firstly, drug addiction tends to have a profound impact on a person’s behavior and cognitive functioning. It can cause a shift in a person’s priorities, where drug use becomes the primary focus of their life.

An addicted individual will prioritize the drug over everything else. They will spend most of their time thinking about the drug, attempting to obtain the drug, using the drug, and recovering from its effects.

Drug addiction alters the brain’s reward system and impairs the person’s ability to experience pleasure from natural rewards, such as fulfilling their responsibilities. This can lead to a prioritization of drug-seeking behavior over other obligations.

With their judgment and decision-making impaired, they may continue to make poor choices, continuing the endless cycle of substance abuse.

Sometimes people aren’t even aware of their own behavior and how it is impacting the people around them. That is why they won’t care as much if they are missing work or their classes. They may not fully recognize the extent to which they are neglecting their responsibilities.

If your loved one’s substance use disorder causes them to neglect responsibilities, they may need addiction treatment in a proper medical setting so they can focus on their recovery, learn about the underlying causes of their addiction, and reestablish their priorities.

Loss of Interest

As substance abuse becomes their main focus, their responsibilities are not the only ones getting left behind. The addicted person may also lose interest in their old hobbies and activities that used to bring them joy.

Interests that were once enjoyable to them may lose their appeal because their focus becomes centered on the substance.

Hobbies and activities are often used to pass the time and feed your artistic or creative needs. However, with substance abuse, the person becomes consumed by escapism. Instead of coping with their emotional or psychological issues through healthy mediums and creative outlets, they just escape it for a short while using drugs and alcohol. They self-medicate to forget about their problems for a little while.

Drugs of abuse, particularly those that stimulate the brain’s reward system, can lead to changes in neural pathways and the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine. This can result in a heightened focus on drug-seeking behavior while diminishing the pleasure derived from previously enjoyed activities.

With continued drug use, the brain’s reward system can become less responsive to natural rewards due to the flood of dopamine produced by drugs. This blunted response can lead to the inability to experience pleasure, making it difficult for individuals to find joy in activities that previously brought them satisfaction.

Simply put, addiction narrows a person’s focus to obtaining and using drugs, leaving less mental and emotional space for other interests.

Social Isolation

When addiction takes the forefront, the person loses interest in everything, including their friends and social connections. This is why substance use disorder is known for straining relationships.

Addiction can lead to social isolation as individuals may prioritize drug use over spending time with friends and family. They may change their social circle and choose to hang out with new friends who enable their addiction.

Alternatively, they may become secretive due to their addiction. They may lie about their whereabouts or spend prolonged periods alone in their room.

Some people begin isolating themselves out of shame, fear, or regret over their behavior. Some refuse to seek help due to the stigma associated with addiction and treatment. Going to rehab is still considered controversial even today. This may leave them feeling alone and isolated.

Additionally, this isolation can exacerbate feelings of depression and loneliness, leading to an increased desire to self-medicate and continue the cycle of addiction. Loved ones need to educate themselves about addiction and its effects so that they can break the stigma and offer support from a place of love, understanding, and empathy.

Engaging in Risky Behavior

Addicted individuals may engage in risky behaviors to obtain drugs. They may lie, steal, or associate themselves with dangerous individuals or environments just to obtain their substance of choice.

Drugs often provide intense feelings of pleasure and reward, which can lead people to prioritize the immediate positive sensations over the potential negative outcomes. They also become more impulsive, meaning they will have trouble with self-regulation.

Some addicted people engage in unsafe sex or driving under the influence. They are inherently more prone to seeking novel and intense experiences.

Whether it’s to pursue excitement or to escape negative emotions, addicted individuals may put themselves in danger just for the thrill of it. They think the potential consequences are no big deal simply because the high is worth it. This is why it is common for addicted individuals to get in trouble with the law.

Financial Problems

With their impulsive decisions and tendency to make questionable choices, addicted people may rack up debt and experience significant financial strain.

Some individuals may spend a substantial amount of money on acquiring drugs, often at the expense of other necessities. Maintaining a drug addiction can be extremely expensive. The cost of purchasing drugs, especially over time, can quickly deplete a person’s financial resources.

With the development of drug tolerance, the addicted individual will have to increase their intake over time. Once they are drug dependent, they will feel like they can no longer function normally without the substance. It will create a significant strain on their finances as they feel like they have to keep taking it just to feel normal.

We mentioned earlier how priorities tend to shift as addiction takes hold. An addicted person may begin neglecting essential needs such as food and healthcare. Substance abuse can also lead to health issues, both physical and mental. These health problems may require medical treatment, therapy, or rehabilitation, all of which come with associated costs. Money that would have been spent on these necessities is redirected toward the addiction.

There’s also the problem of employment. Drug addiction can lead to inconsistent attendance, poor performance, and unreliability at work. This often results in job loss, making it difficult for people to maintain a stable income.

Plus, due to their risky behavior, they may even encounter legal problems. Many drugs are illegal, and individuals addicted to them are at a higher risk of engaging in illegal activities to fund their addiction. This can lead to arrests, legal fees, fines, and potential incarceration, all of which strain their finances.

Borrowing money or taking out loans to finance the addiction is common among individuals struggling with substance abuse. This leads to debt accumulation, interest payments, and a cycle of financial dependency.

Addiction often leads to short-term thinking and a disregard for future consequences. Saving money, investing, and planning for the future take a backseat to immediate gratification.

If your loved one is struggling financially for no apparent reason, they may be hiding a substance use problem.

Helping a Loved One with Substance Use Disorder

Helping an addicted loved one begins with educating yourself about the effects, risk factors, and treatment options for addiction. While this whole process may be challenging, your support and encouragement can make a significant difference in their recovery journey.

Learn about the specific drug or drugs your loved one is struggling with, their effects, withdrawal symptoms, and the recovery process. This knowledge will help you understand what they’re going through and how to provide appropriate support.

Initiate an open and non-judgmental conversation with your loved one. Express your concern and let them know you are there to support them. Listen actively and avoid criticism or blame. Let your loved one know that you care about them and believe in their ability to overcome their addiction. Your encouragement can be a significant source of motivation.

If they are open to it, suggest that they seek professional help from a doctor, therapist, or addiction specialist. Professional guidance is crucial for assessing the severity of the addiction and creating an effective treatment plan.

Help with practical tasks like finding a treatment center, arranging transportation, or managing daily responsibilities during their recovery. Encourage them to take care of their body by engaging in healthy activities like exercise, hobbies, and social interactions. A positive routine can help fill the void left by drugs.

If they are not open to professional treatment, you may have to stage an intervention. Do your research on how to arrange a successful intervention, organize it, and hope for the best.

While offering support, it’s essential to set healthy boundaries to protect yourself emotionally and mentally. Make it clear what behavior you won’t tolerate and what support you’re willing to provide. This will help prevent enabling, which will only hinder their recovery in the long run. Avoid giving them money or providing opportunities that could be used to acquire drugs.

Next, you can start researching treatment options. Research nearby treatment facilities, counseling services, support groups, and rehab programs. Present these options to your loved one and offer to assist them in finding the right resources.

Remember to be patient. Recovery is a challenging and ongoing process. Be patient with your loved one’s setbacks and relapses. And don’t forget to celebrate their victories and milestones, no matter how small. This provides extra motivation through positive reinforcement.

Addiction is a complex issue, and it’s ultimately up to your loved one to choose recovery. You can provide support, but they need to be motivated to make changes in their life. If their addiction is severe, don’t hesitate to involve professionals who specialize in addiction treatment.

Treatment Options for Drug Abuse, Addiction, and Mental Health Disorders

Everyone experiences addiction in different ways. Once you have recognized the problem, you have to guide your loved one towards treatment. But keep in mind that their journey is unique and there is no one-size-fits-all solution out there.

The treatment options for drug addiction can vary depending on the person’s specific circumstances, the type of drug they are addicted to, and their overall health condition. With that said, here are some common treatment options:

Medical Detox: This is the first step in the treatment process, where the individual stops using the addictive substance under medical supervision. Detox helps manage withdrawal symptoms and ensures the person’s safety during the process.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): There are many different behavioral therapies that may be used for addiction treatment. CBT is one of them. This therapy helps individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with drug use.

Contingency Management: Provides incentives for maintaining drug-free behavior through rewards and positive reinforcement.

Motivational Interviewing: A counseling approach that helps individuals find the motivation to change their behavior and engage in treatment.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT): Combines CBT with mindfulness techniques to help manage emotions and stress.

Family Therapy: Involving family members can help improve communication, address underlying family dynamics, and provide a supportive environment for recovery.

Medications: Medications used to manage opioid addiction by reducing cravings, managing withdrawal symptoms, and discouraging substance use include methadone, buprenorphine, naltrexone, disulfiram, and Acamprosate.

12-Step Programs (e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous): These peer-led support groups provide a structured framework for recovery and ongoing sobriety.

SMART Recovery: A secular alternative to 12-step programs that focuses on self-empowerment and self-reliance.

Inpatient Treatment: Also known as residential treatment, this provides a structured and supportive environment for those with severe addiction or those who have relapsed repeatedly.

Outpatient Treatment: Provides counseling, therapy, and support on a part-time basis, allowing individuals to continue with their daily lives while attending treatment sessions.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment: Designed for patients with co-occurring mental health disorders, this integrated treatment is essential for treating both addiction and mental health issues simultaneously.

Aftercare and Relapse Prevention: Developing a relapse prevention plan and participating in ongoing support and therapy can help individuals maintain their sobriety in the long term.

The most effective treatment plans are tailored to the individual’s needs and may involve a combination of the above options. It’s recommended to consult with medical professionals and addiction specialists to determine the best course of action for a specific patient.

Look for a rehab near you today and get started on the road to sobriety.

Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.



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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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