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Signs of Addiction to Drugs

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Signs to Watch Out for

If you or someone you love is dealing with an addiction, you need to recognize the signs of drug abuse.

Physical Signs of Drug Abuse and Addiction, Changes in Appearance and Hygiene, Withdrawal Symptoms, Owning Drug Paraphernalia, Behavioral Signs of Substance Abuse, Denial of Drug Addiction, Reclusive Behavior, Compulsive Drug Use, Lack of Interest, Mood Swings, Erratic Behavior, What to do if Someone You Love is Struggling with Addiction, Rehab is Your Best Chance


Addiction is characterized by the compulsive use of a certain drug or substance even when the user is already experiencing its adverse effects. This is a serious medical condition that keeps a person from making good decisions because a particular substance makes them feel good. This prevents them from quitting any time they want. It’s not just a matter of willpower. Addiction has both physical and psychological effects that can be devastating and severe.

Addiction often comes with drug dependence. A person who is physically dependent on a substance cannot quit cold turkey because their body has grown used to the presence of the substance. It will react negatively if the user suddenly stops taking it.

There is also a layer of psychological dependence, wherein the person believes that they need drugs or alcohol just to function on a day-to-day basis. It has become a part of their daily habit, so they feel like they need to take it all the time.

If you or someone you love is dealing with an addiction, you need to recognize the signs of drug abuse. This is the first step in the long process of addiction treatment and recovery. Having an understanding of addiction and its effects can go a long way in helping a person deal with their condition.

Unfortunately, not everyone who needs treatment seeks it out. In fact, there are many people who don’t even acknowledge that they have a problem. Their friends and family members are usually the first ones to point it out. It’s normal to feel worried about someone in your life who is dealing with an addiction. If you truly want to help them, you first have to look for the telltale signs and symptoms of drug addiction.

You need to know that addiction has both physical signs and behavioral signs. Not every addiction looks the same. Even if two people abused the same drug, their situations may be different from one another.

Most people would display changes in their personality and behavior. They may become irritable or agitated. They may change their daily routine, neglect personal hygiene, or suffer from financial problems. Meanwhile, some would display more obvious physical signs like tremors, slurred speech, frequent bloody noses, and bloodshot eyes.

Let’s take a closer look at the warning signs for substance use disorder, alcoholism, and drug dependence that you should watch out for.


Physical Signs of Drug Abuse and Addiction


Whether it’s a substance abuse disorder or an alcohol addiction, the effects will become more apparent the longer the person uses the substance they are addicted to. Their friends and family members may begin to suspect drug abuse or alcohol abuse when their physical appearance starts to change.

It starts with slight alterations to their physical appearance. They may have red or bloodshot eyes and pinpoint or dilated pupils due to their drug use. Their complexion and skin texture may begin to change, becoming flushed, washed-out or puffy. These are telling signs of drug abuse.

Many forms of drug abuse, including abuse of prescription drugs, can come with small behavioral changes that are best described as “tics”. A person who has a drug addiction or alcohol problem may exhibit one or more of these tics. Pay close attention and do not just dismiss these outright. They may be pointing to a more serious problem.

Here are some examples of behavioral “tics”: slurred speech, frequent sniffing, and persistent itching in a specific area of the body. They may also pull down their sleeves impulsively to hide marks on their skin. If the person acts defensive or secretive regarding these tics, this may indicate a bigger problem.


Changes in Appearance and Hygiene

Long term drug abuse can lead to some drastic changes in a person’s physical appearance. You may notice certain changes in the person’s weight, such as sudden weight loss or weight gain. This may be due to the appetite suppressing effects of certain drugs.

They may also have problems with their personal grooming and hygiene. Their interest in their own cleanliness will typically decline without explanation. These rapid changes may be cause for concern.

Withdrawal Symptoms

One of the major signs of drug abuse is the existence of withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal occurs when a person who is physically dependent on a substance suddenly stops their intake. The body goes into withdrawal as a reaction to these drastic chemical changes.

During substance abuse, the body adapts to the constant presence of drugs or alcohol. It reaches a point wherein the person can no longer function normally without taking these substances. When they finally decide to quit, they experience withdrawal which is characterized by unpleasant and painful symptoms.

Many prescription drugs and illicit drugs can cause withdrawal. Opioids, benzodiazepines, and alcohol are examples of addictive substances that can lead to withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms may range from mild to life-threatening. This is why it is not recommended to quit on your own.

Withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings will often lead to a relapse. It is important to seek proper medical assistance to ensure the safety of the patient as they go through withdrawal during addiction treatment.

Knowing the symptoms of withdrawal can make it easier for you to deal with the situation. Keep in mind that every person is different. Withdrawal symptoms may vary from one person to another, including their severity and duration, depending on the type of substance taken, how long it was used, how old the user is, and whether or not they have co-occurring mental health disorders.

Common symptoms of withdrawal include: irritability, insomnia, depression, mood swings, anxiety, aches, cravings, physical pain, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and hallucinations.

More severe withdrawal symptoms may include paranoia, tremors, disorientation, and seizures.

Owning Drug Paraphernalia

Since we’re talking about signs and symptoms of drug addiction, owning drug paraphernalia is a pretty obvious indicator of substance use disorder. Finding equipment in their room or among their things is a pretty clear sign of drug abuse, especially if they have attempted to hide them.

Common items used as drug paraphernalia are the following: syringes, pipes, cigarette wrapping papers, rolled up banknotes, lighters, soiled cotton swabs, bongs, burnt spoons, bottle caps, razor blades, and cut-up straws.

With that in mind, not all drugs require anything to take them. Some people just take large doses of a drug they’re really not supposed to take. If you see medicine bottles containing the same prescription drug from more than one doctor, this is a sign of prescription drug abuse.

Behavioral Signs of Substance Abuse

The signs of drug abuse aren’t just physical. You will also start to notice certain behavioral changes in the addicted individual.  Behavioral signs of drug abuse refer to the person’s outward relations with other people and the world around them. It’s different from physical signs that relate to the manifestation of side effects due to substance abuse.

Behavioral signs may refer to a mental health disorder, but there are other indicators to watch out for. For example, substance use disorder tends to take over a person’s life, changing their priorities and affecting the way they feel, think, and behave. Because of this, people around the addicted person tend to notice changes based on what they know to be “normal” for this person. Therefore behavioral changes may vary from one addicted person to another.

Recognizing the behavioral signs of drug addiction is all about paying attention to the way the person usually acts and how they are acting now. They may change their daily routines or abandon their old habits entirely. Even their relationships with their family and friends may become strained. These changes may seem strange at first, but they may actually be a consequence of drug addiction.

How to Break the Stigma of Drug Addiction

A person who is struggling with addiction may not readily admit that they have a problem. Denial is one of the biggest obstacles to treatment. Some people fail to recognize that they have a substance abuse problem while others simply lie to themselves and other people about it.

Denial may come from a place of fear, shame, or anxiety. They may not want to go to rehab because they are afraid of what they might go through. Instead of admitting that they need help, they just deny it or downplay their drug use. If they are struggling with alcohol abuse, they will deny that too.

Of course, denying the problem is not something that will work for a long time because behavioral and physical signs of drug addiction will start manifesting. It will become too obvious to lie about. And yet, some people will continue to be in denial. You may need a professional interventionist to assist you in guiding the person towards the truth.

Reclusive Behavior

Reclusive behavior goes hand in hand with denial. When an addicted individual can no longer deny their condition, they will start hiding their substance abuse. If their loved ones are not yet aware of their drug or alcohol problem, they may try to lie or hide their addiction to avoid having to explain their situation to others.

A lot of people will start doing drugs in secret. They will drink or do drugs in the middle of the day, even if they are alone.

Some people hide their substance misuse out of shame or regret. They will distance themselves from other people to avoid judgment or social stigma. Not to mention that certain drugs can make them more paranoid. This is why they would rather withdraw from their usual relationships instead of risking exposing themselves.

If a person suddenly becomes more private or secretive, that may be an indicator of substance abuse and addiction. They may spend too much time alone in their room with the doors locked. They won’t share any details about what they do or who they spend time with when they are out of the house. They may even shut you out completely, especially if you start asking them questions.

Drug abuse cannot stay hidden for too long. Secretive behavior is a sign of alcohol abuse or drug use, so keep that in mind. Eventually, the person’s substance abuse problem will have more dramatic effects that are much more difficult to hide, so even their reclusive behavior will not cover up the truth for too long. They may even spiral out of control if they abuse drugs for too long.

Compulsive Drug Use

Addiction is a medical condition that is described as the compulsive use of drugs or alcohol, even when the person is already suffering from its adverse effects. Despite the physical, mental, and social problems caused by their addiction, the user will keep on taking it. They can’t help it. Addiction prevents them from simply walking away from their drug of choice.

So if someone you love is taking drugs or drinking compulsively, then that is a clear indicator of addiction. Even those who want to stop cannot do so. Repeated attempts at quitting only end in failure for them. This creates a cycle of frustration and relapse for them.

Addicted people struggle with limiting their intake. Even if they are using a prescription drug, they will take it at a much higher dose than what has been prescribed. They will keep taking it even when the health problem it was being used on has already been treated.

Addiction makes it hard to follow these rules. Some people will take drugs at the right dosage but take it more often than they are supposed to. This is also considered drug abuse.

Then there are those who take drugs for recreational purposes to feel good and get high. Addicted individuals will keep taking their drug of choice regardless of the harm it is causing their body, their mind, and their relationships. They may even obsess about it, and most of their thoughts throughout the day will revolve around it.

Lack of Interest

As the acquisition and usage of the drug becomes the addicted individual’s main priority, they will begin to lose interest in things they used to enjoy. This happens because the substance takes over the brain’s reward system. It motivates the brain to seek out and use the drug because it makes them feel good.

Their old hobbies and interests will take a backseat to the drug or drink. They will lose interest in things they used to take great pride in. They will now become apathetic towards these activities and people. This is what usually strains relationships.

Instead of spending time on activities that are healthy or mentally stimulating, they will use up all their energy feeding the impulse of using drugs. They will show a lack of enthusiasm towards any activity that doesn’t involve drugs and alcohol. Oftentimes, they won’t even show up.

More importantly, they will begin to neglect their obligations and responsibilities, including work, school, and their own family. If you notice a sudden lack of interest from a family member, they may be dealing with an underlying struggle involving drugs or alcohol.

Addiction is already taking up most of their energy, so engaging in anything else is exhausting for them. They may even engage in risky behavior such as criminal activity to fuel their addiction. Because of their underperformance at work and their excessive spending on alcohol and drugs, they may suffer from financial problems. These are all obvious signals of a drug problem.

Mood Swings

A lot of substances can impair a person’s ability to manage their emotions properly. This is why many people experience mood swings due to their substance use disorders. Sometimes an addicted individual may go through periods of irritation, upset, anger, or sudden misery when they normally should be able to regulate their mood.

It may also be different for other people. Sometimes a person who is normally calm and collected becomes manic or hyper. Even an optimistic individual may experience sudden waves of depression. These may be signs of drug use.

Erratic Behavior

Their behavior in general will become more erratic due to their substance addiction. This depends on what type of drug they have been using. Some drugs may cause euphoria while others may make the person more paranoid or confident.

Regardless, their emotions may lead them to reckless or sometimes even dangerous actions. In some cases, the person may even become violent due to their emotional distress.

Even their sleeping habits may change due to their substance use. Stimulants and depressants alike can wreak havoc on someone’s sleeping habits. These substances can affect the hormones that are responsible for wakefulness and tiredness. Using these drugs can throw off a person’s normal sleep schedule.

What to do if Someone You Love is Struggling with Addiction

Now that you have recognized some of the signs and symptoms of addiction, you can help your loved one move on to the next step: seeking the treatment that they need. Proper addiction treatment is necessary because it will teach them how to address their addictive behavior, learn healthy coping mechanisms, and detoxify their body so that drugs and alcohol do not affect their decision-making as much as it used to.

A personalized treatment approach is always ideal because everyone goes through addiction in different ways. What you need to remember is that treatment is available. Recovery is possible. Look for a rehab near you today and get started on the road to recovery.


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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