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Psychological Signs of Drug Addiction

Addiction is considered a brain disorder. In fact, drugs can alter the brain’s structure and function, leading to changes in behavior and decision-making.

Navigation: Psychological Signs of Drug Addiction, Why It is Important to Recognize the Psychological Signs of Drug Addiction, How to Help Someone Struggling with Drug Addiction, Rehab Is Your Best Chance


Drug addiction, despite what the stigma suggests, is not a moral failing or a sign of weakness. It is a a complex and serious medical condition that affects millions of people all over the world. This chronic disease not only affects a person’s physical health, but also their mental and emotional well-being.

While the physical signs of drug addiction may be more obvious, the psychological signs can often be overlooked or misunderstood.

But before we dive into the psychological signs of drug addiction, it is important to understand what drug addiction is. Drug addiction is a chronic disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking. Also known as substance use disorder (SUD), it causes people to keep taking a particular substance despite its harmful consequences. Addicted individuals cannot resist the urge to take the drug. [1]

Addiction is considered a brain disorder. In fact, drugs can alter the brain’s structure and function, leading to changes in behavior and decision-making.

The sooner a person can get treatment for their addiction, the more likely they are to avoid its more dire health effects. Remember that drug addiction isn’t just caused by illicit drugs like cocaine, meth, and heroin. It can also be caused by prescription drugs and medications if misused or abused.[1]

Drug addiction is a complex issue that can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, environment, and mental health. It is essential to recognize the signs before the condition worsens or becomes life-threatening. Here, we will focus on the different psychological signs of drug addiction.


Psychological Signs of Drug Addiction

Drug abuse and addiction can cause a variety of psychological signs and symptoms. These signs may vary depending on the type of drug being used, the frequency and amount of use, and the person’s overall mental health.

Loved ones should keep an eye out for certain behavioral changes in a person. An addicted individual will most likely violate their own codes of behavior as well as their sense of self. This is because the drug becomes inscribed into the brain’s structure, causing changes in the person’s ability to control themselves. [2]

Even though the signs and symptoms of drug addiction may vary, there are still several common psychological signs that you can watch out for.

Changes in Mood and Behavior

Mood and behavior changes are some of the most common psychological signs of drug addiction. Drugs can alter brain chemistry, leading to changes in emotions and behavior. A person struggling with drug addiction may experience extreme mood swings, from euphoria to depression, and may exhibit erratic or unpredictable behavior.

Loved ones are often the first to notice strange or weird behavior in addicted individuals. They might exhibit increased irritability, especially when they are unable to access the substance they are addicted to.

An addicted person may be aware of their own behavioral shifts, but they will mostly be unable to control it. They may rationalize their behavior or feel disappointed in themselves. It can even lead to negative self-image. [2]

On the flip side, they might also display intense euphoria or excitement when anticipating or using the substance. You may notice changes in their social activities or social circles. Addicted people may struggle with maintaining relationships or keeping up with their responsibilities as the substance use disorder develops.

These fluctuations in mood and behavior, marked by extreme highs and lows, often signal the presence of an addiction that requires attention and support for recovery.

Obsession with Obtaining and Using Drugs

Drug addiction is marked by the obsessive need for a particular substance no matter how much it is already affecting the person. This obsession can manifest in various ways. The person may constantly think about when and where they will get their next fix or spend excessive amounts of money on drugs.

The difference between drug misuse and addiction is that misuse is when you take a certain substance in ways you shouldn’t. Addiction is when you can no longer stop. [1]

Watch out for unexplained expenses or financial difficulties. Some people may resort to stealing or other criminal behavior just to support their addictive behaviors.

This obsession often consumes a person’s thoughts, leading to an incessant preoccupation with acquiring the substance. Addicted individuals may spend an inordinate amount of time planning, scheming, and seeking ways to obtain their drug of choice.

Unfortunately, this often comes at the expense of other responsibilities, relationships, and interests. This fixation can become all-encompassing, overshadowing everything else in their lives. The constant urge to use becomes their central focus, leading to a cycle of escalating dependence and reinforcing the psychological grip of addiction.

Changes in Cognitive Function

Drug addiction can affect cognitive function, leading to changes in thinking and decision-making. Drugs can impair judgment and decision-making abilities, making it difficult for a person to think clearly and make rational choices. This contributes significantly to their inability to quit the substance despite knowing its harmful effects.

Abusing drugs for a long time can cause changes in other brain chemical systems, impacting your decision-making, memory, judgment, and ability to learn. [1]

These changes within the brain can also lead to heightened impulsivity, where immediate gratification outweighs long-term consequences. Addiction can even disrupt attention and focus, making it challenging for addicted individuals to concentrate on tasks that are unrelated to the substance.

Secretive Behavior

When it comes to behavioral changes, secretive behavior is one of the tell-tale signs of addiction. This often happens as a person attempts to hide their addictive habits.

Whether it’s an illicit drug or a prescription drug, those struggling with addiction frequently go to great lengths to hide their actions. This secrecy stems from a combination of shame, fear of judgment, and the desire to maintain their addictive behavior without interference.

They might become highly protective of their personal space, avoid discussing their whereabouts or activities, or even lie about their actions to keep their addiction hidden.

This secretive behavior can often strain relationships, create a sense of isolation, and contribute to the cycle of addiction by preventing the person from seeking the help or support that they need.

Recognizing and addressing this secretive behavior is crucial in helping them overcome their addiction and seek the necessary assistance and support.

Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders

It is common for drug addiction to co-occur with other mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or bipolar disorder. This is known as a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. Co-occurring disorders tend to complicate the process of diagnosis.

While these problems don’t necessarily cause one another, they do have the tendency to worsen one another.

In some cases, a person may turn to drugs as a way to cope with symptoms of their mental health disorder. In others, drug use can trigger or worsen symptoms of a mental health disorder. These concurrent conditions can exacerbate addiction and vice versa, creating a cyclical pattern that intensifies both problems. It is often the reason people go into a downward spiral during addiction.

It is important to address both conditions at the same time in order to achieve long-term recovery. Luckily, there are rehab facilities that specialize in dual diagnosis treatment.


Withdrawal is another significant psychological sign of addiction, so we also need to talk about it while discussing addiction and mental health. It is often characterized by a range of distressing symptoms that manifest when drug intake is reduced or discontinued.

It is important to make the distinction between drug addiction and dependence. Addiction, as we mentioned earlier, is the compulsive intake of an addictive substance. Meanwhile, drug dependence is when the body has adapted to the drug’s presence to the point where it can no longer function normally without it. Because these conditions are separate from one another, it is possible to develop dependence without being addicted and vice versa. [2]

That said, dependence and addiction also tend to co-occur. When a drug dependent person suddenly reduces their intake, withdrawal symptoms occur.

Withdrawal occurs as the body and mind adjust to the absence of the substance they’ve become accustomed to. This uncomfortable experience can be a powerful motivator for continued addictive behavior.

Withdrawal symptoms can vary widely depending on the substance. Common examples of withdrawal symptoms include: irritability, anxiety, restlessness, mood swings, cravings, insomnia, physical discomfort, and even depression. Depending on the substance, withdrawal can sometimes be life-threatening. This is why quitting a drug cold turkey is often not recommended.

The severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms can also differ based on the substance involved, the duration of the addiction, and other personal factors. In fact, some substances like marijuana or hallucinogens do not actually cause withdrawal symptoms. [2]

Recognizing these signs is crucial in understanding and addressing addiction, as managing withdrawal symptoms is often a key aspect of successful recovery.


Tolerance is a hallmark sign of addiction. It is characterized by the need for increasing amounts of a substance to achieve the desired effect.

Over time, an addicted person develops a diminished response to the same dosage of the drug. This prompts them to consume the substance more often. For example, someone who is addicted to a substance like alcohol may find that they need to drink larger quantities to feel the same level of intoxication.

Tolerance often drives a cycle of escalating consumption or engagement, leading to further physical and psychological dependence.

Risk-Taking Behaviors

Risk-taking behaviors are often prominent psychological signs of addiction. Those who are grappling with addiction frequently engage in risky activities without regard for the consequences.

There are many ways for this to manifest, but the most common ones are reckless financial decisions and disregarding personal safety.

As the addictive substance becomes their number one priority, they lose interest in everything else, including their own well-being. They will lose interest in things they used to enjoy, whether it’s their own job, their relationships, or their hobbies.

The pursuit of the addictive behavior becomes a priority, overshadowing rational thinking and leading to a pattern of compulsive risk-taking.


Why It is Important to Recognize the Psychological Signs of Drug Addiction

So why are we discussing the psychological signs and symptoms of substance addiction?

This is because recognizing these warning signs can potentially allow for early intervention and support. It can help addicted individuals break free from the destructive cycle of substance abuse.

Understanding these signs enables loved ones, friends, and professionals to intervene before the addiction escalates further. Beyond the physical health effects of drug addiction, the psychological symptoms are also very noticeable. So even if the person seems physically healthy, their behavior might tell another story. [3]

Psychological symptoms often manifest as changes in behavior, mood swings, and altered cognitive functioning. By being aware of these signs, friends and family can offer support and encourage professional help. This can help prevent the addiction from worsening. It can also reduce the risk of severe consequences such as overdose or long-term health issues.

Acknowledging these signs and symptoms even contributes to reducing the stigma associated with substance abuse.

Once society understands that addiction is a complex issue involving neurological and psychological factors, it will create a more empathetic and supportive environment for those who have this condition. Something as simple as recognizing the warning signs becomes an essential factor in building this society. [3]

It fosters an atmosphere where people feel more comfortable seeking help without fear of judgment. It also helps break the cycle of stigma and substance abuse. Acknowledging and understanding the psychological signs of drug addiction can lead to a more compassionate approach to addressing substance abuse issues in society.

How to Help Someone Struggling with Drug Addiction

If you suspect that a loved one may be struggling with drug addiction, it is important to approach the situation with empathy and understanding. Recognizing the signs and symptoms is a crucial step towards supporting your loved one. It’s not always easy to recognize drug addiction, but it’s possible. [4]

First, you need to educate yourself about your loved one’s condition. This will help you better understand what they are going through and how you can support them. This will also help eliminate any internal biases or misconceptions that you may have due to stigma.

Helping someone struggling with drug addiction begins with understanding the complexity of addiction itself. Learn about the nature of addiction, its physiological and psychological effects, and the available resources for treatment.

This knowledge equips you to approach the situation with empathy, patience, and a deeper understanding of the challenges they are facing.

While it’s not easy to start a conversation about a person’s drug addiction, it is another essential step that you need to take. Approach your loved one with empathy and express your concern for their well-being. Let them know that you are there to support them and that you are willing to help them seek treatment. [4]

Focus on your care for them and your desire to see them healthy and happy. Avoid blaming or engaging them in a confrontation. This will only cause them to shut you out.

This may be a difficult step, but it is not something you can delay. Do not wait for your loved one to hit rock bottom before you offer your support.

Offer to help them find professional help, whether it’s through therapy, support groups, or rehabilitation programs. Let them know you’re there for them, willing to listen without casting blame.

Encourage them to seek help and assure them that they’re not alone in their journey towards recovery. Your consistent presence and encouragement can make a significant difference in their path to overcoming addiction. Don’t forget to listen to what they have to say, If they are not ready to go to rehab or have this conversation yet, you may have to arrange for a professional intervention.

Lastly, it is important to set boundaries with your loved one and stick to them. You need to establish clear limits on what behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable, not just for their well-being but also for your own. Communicate these boundaries in a compassionate and firm manner, emphasizing the importance of their recovery journey.

For instance, you might establish boundaries around not enabling their substance use, such as refusing to provide money or sheltering them when they’re actively using drugs. While setting boundaries, it’s equally important to offer support and encouragement for seeking professional help or joining a rehabilitation program, underscoring your commitment to being there for them during their recovery process.

Drug addiction is a complex issue that can have a profound impact on a person’s mental health. By recognizing the psychological signs of drug addiction, we can better understand the disease and provide support and resources for those who are struggling.

If you or a loved one is struggling with drug addiction, know that there is help available and recovery is possible. Seek professional help and support to begin the journey towards a healthier and happier life.

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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