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Navigation: What is Drug Addiction?, Changes in Behavior, Neglecting Responsibilities, Physical Changes, Withdrawal Symptoms, Financial Problems, Changes in Social Circle, Seeking Help for Drug Addiction, Treatment Options for Drug Addiction

There are many reasons why despite the severe consequences of drug addiction, many people do not receive proper treatment and medical attention.

One major barrier is the stigma associated with addiction. Society views substance use disorders (SUDs) as a moral failing or a lack of willpower rather than a complex medical condition. This stigma often leads to discrimination, isolation, and the reluctance to seek help. [1]

Many people fear the judgment of others, as well as the potential consequences of their drug abuse. Stigma prevents individuals from openly discussing their addiction and seeking the necessary treatment.

Another thing that prevents people from going to rehab is the lack of accessible and affordable treatment options. Addiction treatment can be expensive. A lot of addicted people do not have the financial resources or adequate insurance coverage to afford the necessary care. There is also a shortage of treatment facilities and healthcare professionals specializing in addiction. The result is long waiting lists and limited availability of programs. The scarcity of resources results in inadequate support for those who need them. [1]

Finally, one of the biggest reasons people don’t get proper addiction treatment is the inability to recognize the problem in the first place. Stigma contributes to this, but it can also have something to do with denial and a lack of education. If you suspect that a loved one may be struggling with a substance use disorder, it is important to be aware of the various drug addiction signs and symptoms.

In this article, we will discuss the signs of an active drug addiction and how to recognize them.

What is Drug Addiction?

We can’t talk about the signs and symptoms of drug addiction without discussing what this medical condition is. Drug addiction, also known as substance use disorder, is a complex and chronic condition characterized by the compulsive use of drugs despite harmful consequences. [2]

This means that an addicted person will keep taking the substance even when they are already suffering from its physical, psychological, and social effects. Drugs and alcohol change the way the brain works, limiting the person’s ability to control or stop their intake.

Addiction can develop from the use of various substances, including illicit drugs, prescription medications, and alcohol. The complexity of this condition comes from the fact that its development is influenced by a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors.

Genetics can predispose people to be more vulnerable to addiction. Environmental factors such as exposure to drugs, stress, and trauma can also contribute to its onset. Additionally, mental health conditions and a lack of social support may also play significant roles in the development of drug addiction.

This typically progresses from initial experimentation to recreational use, to regular use, to developing tolerance and dependence, to a stage where the person loses control over their drug consumption. However, some people start out by misusing or abusing the prescription medication given to them by their doctor. [2]

Physical dependence and tolerance often accompany addiction. While addiction and dependence are often viewed as interchangeable, they are not the same condition. Addiction is more of the compulsive use of drugs, while dependence is the body’s inability to function normally without the substance.

Over time, drug addiction can have severe consequences on a person’s health, relationships, employment, and well-being. It can affect every aspect of their life. This is why treatment is necessary, and why it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of addiction.

Recognizing the signs can lead to early identification and intervention. By understanding and acknowledging the signs, families and addicted individuals can address the issue proactively. It then becomes possible to prevent further deterioration of the affected person’s health.

Changes in Behavior

Loved ones of addicted individuals will often be the first to notice behavioral changes caused by substance abuse. Drug addiction tends to cause a myriad of these behavioral changes. As the person grapples with the physical and psychological effects of substance abuse, they may display various changes in their actions.

The most prominent behavioral change associated with addiction is the development of a compulsive drug-seeking behavior. They may become preoccupied with the next opportunity to use the drug, leading to a decline in productivity and an increasing disregard for their own well-being.

Addicted individuals may even engage in risky or dangerous behaviors. Under the influence of drugs, they may engage in activities that they would typically avoid. For example, they may drive under the influence or have unprotected sexual encounters. Some may even engage in criminal behavior just to acquire their substance of choice.

Another behavioral warning sign is the development of secretive or deceptive behavior. They may go to great lengths to hide their substance use from friends and family. This may involve lying about their whereabouts, providing inconsistent explanations for their actions, or becoming defensive when questioned about their activities. [2]

These behavioral warning signs can serve as critical indicators that someone may be in need of intervention and support for their substance use disorder.

Neglecting Responsibilities

As the drug becomes their main priority, they may begin to neglect their responsibilities. Drug addiction often disrupts cognitive functions, impairs judgment, and undermines motivation. It can impair decision-making, hinder problem-solving abilities, and compromise one’s capacity to plan and organize tasks effectively.

Additionally, the cognitive effects of substance abuse may lead to forgetfulness and procrastination. These changes make it much more difficult for the person to stay on top of their daily tasks and obligations.

Drug abuse alters the brain’s reward system. These substances hijack the brain’s natural reward pathways, creating a powerful drive to seek and use the substance. As a result, addicted individuals may prioritize obtaining and using drugs over fulfilling their duties at work.

Their relationships may suffer in the process. However, because of their distorted reward system, they may have a diminished need to fulfill these professional and social responsibilities and commitments.

Physical Changes

The signs and symptoms of drug abuse and addiction are not purely behavioral. Some can manifest physically by affecting the person’s health.

The physical signs of drug addiction often depend on the specific substance being abused. Different drugs, different dosages, and different methods of administration may cause different effects.

Substance abuse often causes changes in physical appearance. Those who are struggling with drug addiction may experience rapid and unexplained weight loss or gain, as well as a general decline in personal hygiene. They may have various skin issues, such as sores, acne, or a pale complexion.

The physical toll of addiction may also lead to dilated or constricted pupils and bloodshot eyes. You may notice that the person has a generally disheveled appearance. As the drug becomes their top priority, they may have a reduced need to take care of themselves. Because of this, they may have unusual smells on their breath, body, or clothing. They may also exhibit changes in appetite as well as their sleep patterns. [3]

Additionally, those who are addicted to substances like opioids may exhibit slowed breathing and lethargy. Meanwhile stimulant users may display heightened energy levels and increased motor activity.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms are a common and challenging aspect of drug addiction recovery. Just like the adverse health effects of substance abuse, the specific symptoms and duration of withdrawal can vary depending on different factors like the type of drug involved and the duration and intensity of use. A person who has been taking a particular drug for a long time has a greater chance of experiencing severe withdrawal once they reduce or quit their intake.

Withdrawal symptoms may depend on the type of drug used, the person’s age, their physical and emotional state, and the duration of abuse. [4]

While different drugs may cause different withdrawal symptoms, there are some that are commonly experienced across various substances.

Physical symptoms often include flu-like effects such as nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, and fatigue. These can make the withdrawal process physically uncomfortable and emotionally draining for the person.

Many people experience changes in appetite, sleep disturbances, and increased sensitivity to pain. Psychological symptoms are also prevalent and can include anxiety, depression, irritability, and mood swings. During withdrawal, cognitive functions may also be impaired, leading to difficulties with concentration and memory.

Severe withdrawal symptoms may include paranoia, confusion, tremors, disorientation, and seizures. Cravings for the substance are a prominent aspect of withdrawal, making it challenging for recovering individuals to resist the urge to use drugs to alleviate their discomfort. Symptoms may last from a few days to several months. [4]

In some cases, withdrawal can even be life-threatening, especially if the person attempts to quit cold turkey. This is why professional medical supervision is often recommended to manage the process safely.

Medically supervised detoxification programs and support from mental health professionals can help patients navigate the challenges of withdrawal and increase their chances of successful recovery.

Financial Problems

Maintaining a drug habit can be expensive. This is why addicted people tend to struggle financially.

The constant need to acquire drugs, whether it’s a prescription drug or an illicit substance, often requires a substantial amount of money. They may find themselves spending a significant portion of their income on the drug. Plus, they may need even larger quantities to achieve their desired effects as their tolerance builds.

There are also indirect financial consequences caused by drug addiction. For example, because of the cognitive effects of substance abuse, their productivity and the quality of their work may suffer. This may affect their capacity to maintain stable employment. They may even lose their job and struggle to find another. Job loss will worsen their financial situation.

There are also legal issues associated with drug abuse such as arrests, fines, and legal representation which all cost money.

If your loved one suddenly asks for more money for no apparent reason, or if they start stealing, there may be a drug problem in place that needs to be addressed. [2]

Changes in Social Circle

Aside from the physical, mental, and financial warning signs, there are also social changes to keep in mind. Drug addiction often leads to changes in social circle due to the combination of behavioral and social factors.

As the person becomes more entrenched in drug addiction, their priorities and interests may shift towards using drugs. This can cause them to diverge from activities and social connections that were once important to them.

Friends and family members who do not use drugs may find it challenging to relate to or understand the person’s behavior. This is why the person would rather change their social circle to include those who do engage in substance abuse. This also minimizes judgment and confrontation. They may end up isolating themselves from their healthy support systems. Instead, they will align themselves with people who tolerate or enable their drug use.

Seeking Help for Drug Addiction

If you recognize these signs in yourself or a loved one, it is important to seek help immediately. Drug addiction is a chronic disease that requires professional treatment. Withdrawal from drugs can be dangerous and should be done under medical supervision.

Even if you have these signs and symptoms yourself, remember that reaching out for help is a courageous and essential step towards reclaiming your health and sobriety. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, despite what stigma may dictate.

In fact, acknowledging the need for support is the first significant stride in the journey to recovery. Addiction is a complex and challenging condition. It’s not something you can easily overcome yourself. That’s why it often requires professional assistance.

Seek emergency help if you or someone you know has taken a drug and may have overdosed; showing changes in consciousness; having trouble breathing; or having signs of a possible heart attack. [2]

Seeking help could involve reaching out to a healthcare professional, addiction counselor, or a support group. These people and groups are equipped to provide the guidance, understanding, and resources you need to overcome the obstacles associated with drug addiction.

Treatment Options for Drug Addiction

Once you are ready to get started on your road to recovery, you have to look into the different treatment options that are available for drug addiction.

Drug addiction treatment typically involves a combination of behavioral therapy, counseling, medication, and support groups. The specific approach can vary based on the type of drug, the individual’s needs, and the severity of the addiction. Because everyone is affected by addiction differently, a personalized treatment approach is always ideal. Here are some common treatment options:

Detoxification (Medical Detox)

Medical detoxification, commonly known as medical detox, is a supervised and medically managed process wherein the patient gradually lowers their drug or alcohol intake. During this process, they are monitored by medical professionals who can administer medications to help manage their withdrawal symptoms. [5]

As we mentioned earlier, the abrupt cessation of drug use can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms. That is why medical detox is designed to keep this process as safe and comfortable as possible.

Medications may be used to help keep cravings and withdrawal symptoms under control. This ensures the patient’s safety during this difficult stage of recovery. This process is typically done in a specialized facility.

Medical detox is an essential first step in the rehab process. It allows patients to focus on their recovery by removing the distraction of withdrawal symptoms. It also prepares them for subsequent phases of addiction treatment, such as rehabilitation and counseling.

Behavioral Therapies

While medical detox tackles the physical effects of substance abuse, behavioral therapies address the psychological effects as well as the root causes of addictive behavior. These therapeutic approaches focus on modifying maladaptive behaviors and thought patterns associated with substance abuse.

One prominent behavioral therapy is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which helps patients identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to their drug addiction. It is a structured, goal-oriented type of psychotherapy that emphasizes the development of coping skills to manage stress, cravings, and triggers, promoting long-term recovery. [5]

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is another commonly used treatment that helps those who have difficulty regulating their emotions. [5]

Another effective approach is Contingency Management (CM), which uses positive reinforcement to encourage abstinence. During CM, patients receive tangible rewards or privileges for maintaining sobriety and achieving specific treatment goals.

Overall, behavioral therapies play a vital role in addressing the psychological aspects of addiction, helping individuals develop healthier coping mechanisms and paving the way for sustained recovery.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment or MAT is a comprehensive approach to addressing drug addiction that involves the use of medications. The primary goal of MAT is to alleviate the physical and psychological effects of substance abuse, promoting recovery and preventing relapse.

Medications used in MAT work by either blocking the euphoric effects of the substance, reducing cravings, or alleviating withdrawal symptoms. This approach is most commonly used for opioid use disorder (OUD) and alcohol use disorder (AUD), also known as alcoholism.

Common medications used in MAT are methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone for opioid addiction, and disulfiram, Acamprosate, or naltrexone for alcohol use disorder.

This is an evidence-based practice that has shown effectiveness in improving treatment outcomes, reducing illicit drug use, and enhancing recovery. However, medications only serve as one part of the treatment. It still needs to be combined with detox and behavioral therapies to provide the best results.

We can say it is an integral component of addiction treatment, offering a holistic strategy that addresses both the physiological and behavioral aspects of addiction.

Support Groups

Since addiction also has a social aspect to it, treatment must also factor it in. This is where support groups come into play.

Support groups for drug addiction are structured gatherings where those who are grappling with substance abuse come together. Here, they can share their experiences, struggles, and triumphs in a supportive and understanding environment.

In these groups, participants engage in open discussions, share their personal stories, and work through the steps to attain and maintain sobriety.

These groups offer a sense of community, empathy, and accountability. In a support group, participants can learn from those who have gone through or are currently dealing with the same problems as them. They can gain a different perspective from others who understand exactly what they are going through.

Support groups can provide emotional support and accountability, meaning members get to support one another and keep each other on the path of sobriety.

One of the most well-known support groups for drug addiction is Narcotics Anonymous (NA), a global organization that follows the 12-step model similar to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

The collective understanding within support groups fosters a non-judgmental atmosphere that encourages individuals to be open about their challenges, providing a foundation for mutual support and encouragement in the journey toward recovery.

Family Therapy

Family therapy for drug addiction is a therapeutic approach that involves the active participation of family members in the treatment process.

Addiction not only affects the individual but also the people around them. The primary goal of this type of therapy is to address the impact of addiction on the entire family system. It also aims to promote healing and recovery for both the addicted individual and their loved ones.

Family therapy recognizes that addiction is a family-wide issue, affecting relationships, communication, and family dynamics. In these sessions, family members explore their roles, emotions, and patterns of interaction within the context of the addiction.

Therapists work collaboratively with the family to identify and address dysfunctional patterns, improve communication, and develop coping strategies. By involving the family, this approach seeks to create a supportive and understanding environment that enhances the person’s chances of sustained recovery.

Aftercare and Relapse Prevention

The recovery journey does not end after you leave rehab. Rehab will equip you with the tools you need to maintain your sobriety in the long-term, even after you leave their premises. Addiction recovery is a lifelong journey after all. But by eliminating the adverse health effects and cravings, and teaching you healthy coping mechanisms, you will be better prepared to reclaim your life and start a new, drug-free path.

Aftercare and relapse prevention are aimed at supporting people in maintaining long-term recovery. Aftercare involves the ongoing support and interventions provided to those who have completed a formal treatment program, such as inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation.

This phase is designed to help people transition back into their daily lives while reinforcing the skills and coping mechanisms they acquired during treatment.

On the other hand, relapse prevention focuses on identifying and managing triggers that may lead to a relapse. It involves the development of personalized strategies to make sure the patient no longer falls for the same destructive patterns. This can be achieved through proper stress management, healthy coping mechanisms, and establishing a strong support system.

Both aftercare and relapse prevention play pivotal roles in supporting people as they navigate the challenges of sustained recovery from drug addiction.

This journey begins with recognizing the signs of an active drug addiction and making the step towards treatment. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, do not hesitate to seek help. With the right treatment and support, recovery is possible.

Remember, addiction is a disease, not a choice, and with the right help, it can be overcome. Look for a rehab near you today to learn more.








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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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