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Physical Signs of Addiction

Drug addiction can start because of experimental substance use, often in social settings wherein recreational drug use is encouraged by peers.

What is Drug Addiction?, Physical Signs of Drug Abuse, Changes in Appearance and Hygiene, Withdrawal Symptoms, Owning Drug Paraphernalia, Behavioral Signs of Substance Abuse, How to Help Someone Who is Dealing with Addiction, Rehab is Your Best Chance


Drug addiction can start because of experimental substance use, often in social settings wherein recreational drug use is encouraged by peers. However, some people get hooked on their prescription medications. Just because it was prescribed by a doctor does not mean it is perfectly safe from being abused.

Some people do not abuse drugs but drink excessively. They engage in binge drinking, which involves drinking large amounts of alcohol within a short period of time.

There are many ways people can get addicted to certain substances. Regardless of how the addiction developed, you will want to learn how to identify the signs and symptoms of addiction. If someone you love is dealing with an addiction, it can be hard to help them. But knowing the signs to watch out for will help you identify the problem and start working towards a solution.

Virtually any substance can be abused. It is important to know the common signs of drug addiction and alcohol addiction so that you can help your loved ones get started on the road to recovery.


What is Drug Addiction?


Before we get started on the signs and symptoms of drug addiction, let’s first talk about what addiction is. Addiction is a serious medical condition that is characterized by the compulsive use of certain drugs and substances even when the person is already suffering from its adverse health effects. It affects a person’s decision-making capabilities, preventing them from making good decisions and quitting. However, addiction is not just a matter of willpower. It has physical and mental health effects that can easily overwhelm a person.

Addiction’s effects can be devastating and severe. In fact, it doesn’t just affect the person who is struggling with substance use disorder, it also strains their relationships with the people around them. It can hurt their family members and friends. It can affect their job, their finances, their reputation, etc.

Drug dependence often comes with addiction. Being physically dependent on a drug means your body has already adapted to the constant presence of the substance. Your body will struggle to function normally without it. This is why you may experience adverse effects if you try to quit cold turkey or even just reduce your intake.

Addiction also has a layer of psychological dependence. The person thinks that they need the substance just to function on a daily basis. They believe they need to take it every day because it has become a part of their day to day life.

Not everyone who is addicted to drugs actually seek out medical treatment. They may even deny that they have a problem at all. It is usually their friends and family members who notice the issue first and point it out. This means if you have someone you care about that is possibly dealing with an addiction, you need to know what the signs of drug use look like.

Recognizing these signs and helping the patient acknowledge the problem is the first step in a long process of addiction treatment and recovery. Understanding what addiction is and how it affects a person will significantly improve the way you support your loved one.

Keep in mind that not every addiction looks the same. Two people who are abusing the same drug may have different symptoms. You will have to watch out for both physical and behavioral signs of drug abuse. Here we will be concentrating on the physical signs of drug use and addiction.

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


Physical Signs of Drug Abuse

The effects of substance use disorders tend to become more apparent as time goes on. Friends and family members may begin to suspect drug abuse or alcohol abuse when they start to notice changes in the person’s appearance.

Drug addiction may cause slight changes to a person’s physical appearance at first. They may have red or bloodshot eyes for no apparent reason. Their pupils may be dilated as well.

Their skin texture may become flushed or washed out. You may begin to notice changes in their complexion. These may be small changes, but they are noticeable enough that you may become concerned over their condition.

Do not dismiss anything behavioral “tics” that you may notice. They may exhibit symptoms like frequent sniffing, persistent itching in a certain body part, slurred speech, or the compulsive need to pull on their sleeves to hide marks on their skin. The addicted individual may also become defensive regarding these behavioral tics. This may indicate a more serious ongoing problem.

As time passes by, there may be more drastic changes in the person’s body. They may neglect their personal hygiene, for example. They may even make drastic changes to their daily routine. These actions may seem suspicious at first, but they will make more sense once you realize that these may indicate drug addiction.

Changes in Appearance and Hygiene

One of the most apparent physical changes you will notice in a person who is addicted to a drug is a sudden lack of interest in personal hygiene. When someone becomes addicted, the drug tends to become their top priority. They immediately lose interest in other things, and that includes taking care of themselves. Without any explanation, their personal grooming habits will simply decline, which may give them an unpleasant or odd body scent.

Long term abuse of drugs will also lead to significant changes to the person’s physical appearance. The most noticeable changes will be to their body weight. They may suddenly lose or gain weight. Certain drugs have appetite-suppressing effects, and this may be the cause of sudden weight loss. Alternatively, drug use can also increase a person’s appetite, leading to significant weight gain.

They may also look visibly stressed or tired due to a lack of sleep. They will wake up at irregular times, fall asleep at irregular times, or just have difficulty sleeping in general. If they are not being lethargic, they may exhibit excessive amounts of energy.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Drug dependence may develop during substance abuse. The body adapts to the constant presence of drugs or alcohol, to the point where it can no longer function normally without it.

Withdrawal symptoms occur when a person who has developed drug dependence suddenly stops taking the substance or significantly lowers their intake. This is the body’s adverse reaction to the chemical imbalance caused by this sudden change.

Withdrawal symptoms may range from mild to severe. The experience is generally unpleasant, but in some cases it can even be life-threatening. This is why it is not recommended to quit a substance cold turkey. Doing so can be dangerous.

There are plenty of drugs that can cause withdrawal. Prescription drugs and illicit drugs alike may cause withdrawal. So whether you are taking opioids, benzodiazepines, heroin, or alcohol, you may experience these uncomfortable symptoms.

Going into withdrawal every time you attempt to quit a drug is an indicator of addiction. Instead of forcing someone to quit on their own, it is much better to seek proper medical treatment in a rehab facility. There, the patient can go through medical detox where their intake will be lowered gradually while health care providers monitor their symptoms and manage their condition.

Quitting cold turkey is dangerous and it often leads to relapse because the patient has not learned any coping mechanisms that will help them deal with their cravings. The unpleasant symptoms caused by withdrawal will also encourage them to just keep on taking the drug. Quitting on your own is generally not a good idea.

Common signs of withdrawal include: insomnia, irritability, mood swings, depression, aches, anxiety, physical pain, cravings, nausea, fatigue, vomiting, and diarrhea. In some cases, withdrawal may cause more severe effects like paranoia, hallucinations, tremors, disorientation, and seizures.

Being familiar with all of these withdrawal symptoms can help you support your loved one better as they go through this difficult period. Remember that the duration and intensity of these symptoms may vary from one person to another. The severity of withdrawal depends on different factors like the type of substance taken, how old the user is, how long it was used, and whether or not they have co-occurring mental health disorders.

Owning Drug Paraphernalia

Another clear indicator of a drug abuse problem is owning drug paraphernalia. Of course, in order to recognize this, you need to know what kinds of drug paraphernalia there are.

Drug paraphernalia may include things like syringes, pipes, lighters, cigarette wrapping papers, rolled up banknotes, soiled cotton swabs, bongs, burnt spoons, bottle caps, cut-up straws, and razor blades.

If you find these things in their room or among their things, this may serve as proof of drug addiction, especially if they are trying to hide them.

Not all drugs require anything to take them. Some people just take large doses of a drug within a short amount of time. If you see a prescription medication from more than one doctor, this may be an indicator that they are “doctor shopping” or visiting different doctors to get the same prescription repeatedly. This is a sign of prescription drug abuse.

Behavioral Signs of Substance Abuse

Now that we’ve covered most of the physical signs of drug abuse and addiction, it is important to note that there are also plenty of behavioral signs to watch out for. We will briefly cover all of them here.

Behavior refers to the outward relations a person has with other people as well as the world around them. Behavioral signs of drug abuse may have something to do with a mental health disorder, but some of them are simple behavioral changes. Substance abuse has a tendency to change a person’s priorities, influencing the way they think, feel, and act.

The fact that you are close to your friend or family member means that you are most equipped to recognize the signs of drug abuse in your loved ones. You know what type of behavior is “normal” for that person and can therefore notice changes in their actions.

Behavioral changes may vary from one person to another. It’s all about paying close attention to their daily routines and picking up on unusual behavior.

The most common behavioral effect of addiction is denial and secrecy. An addicted person may deny their situation out of shame, fear, regret, or the simple inability to accept their reality. Some people even fail to recognize that they have a substance use disorder.

Afraid of what they might go through if people found out about their addiction, they may lie to themselves and become more reclusive in the process. You may notice secretive behavior or frequent lying. They will either hide or downplay their drug use. They will also become more paranoid or start doing drugs in secret. If they have an alcohol use disorder, they may drink even when they are alone or in the middle of the day. You may need an intervention to help them face the truth.

The person will engage in drug use out of compulsion. Even if they want to quit, they won’t be able to do so because of withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings. They will keep using the drug or drinking alcohol even if they are already suffering from the physical, mental, and social consequences of their addiction. This is a serious medical condition—it’s not something they can just walk away from.

An addicted person will also begin to lose interest in things they used to enjoy. Acquiring and using the drug becomes their main priority because the substance has taken over the brain’s reward system. The drug promotes drug-seeking behavior by making the brain feel good.

Their old hobbies will take a backseat to their preferred substance. Chances are, they will even begin to neglect their responsibilities. They will become apathetic towards the people they care about, straining their relationships in the process. It is also common for addicted people to struggle financially.

Addiction will take up most of their energy, so anything else will feel dull and boring for them. Some people even engage in risky behavior like criminal activity to fuel their addiction.

You may notice other outward signs of drug abuse and addiction such as mood swings, irritation, anger, misery, inability to regulate their emotions, mania, depression, erratic behavior, and recklessness.

Even their sleeping habits may be affected by their drug use. There are drugs that can alter the hormones that are responsible for tiredness and wakefulness. Taking these substances and abusing them can throw off a person’s normal sleep schedule.

How to Help Someone Who is Dealing with Addiction

Recognizing the signs of drug addiction is an important part of the recovery process, but it’s still just the first step. You need to help your loved one understand that their actions are not only affecting them but also the people around them. The goal is to help them make the decision to go into treatment for their addiction.

Proper addiction treatment is necessary because it is the safest way to beat the effects of substance abuse. The patient will have to go through medical detox to wean them off of the substance without putting their life in danger of severe withdrawal. The detox process is done in a safe and comfortable environment where they can receive round the clock care from addiction experts and treatment professionals.

Afterwards they have to go through behavioral therapy and counseling. While detox will help them get sober, therapy will teach them how to stay sober. It involves a deep dive into the person’s situation, underlying mental health, triggers, and all the unhealthy thought processes that are keeping them from a sober life.

Your role is to provide emotional support during this long and difficult process. Giving them the motivation they need without tolerating or enabling addictive behavior. Relapse is a normal part of the process. It simply means that there is more work to be done.

A personalized treatment approach is always ideal because everyone goes through addiction in different ways. No matter what their situation is, 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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