Addiction Signs & Symptoms

Understanding Addiction

Learn About Addiction

Substance abuse is the common term for the misuse of both legal and illegal drugs, including the destructive use of prescribed medications, the abuse of legal substances like alcohol, and the consumption of illegal drugs like cocaine or heroin. The term substance abuse includes one-time misuse (such as drinking too much to a point where impairment occurs) as well as chronic abuse of substances like painkillers. Those who partake in substance abuse tend to grow dependent on the substances that they have been misusing. Clinically, this development is known as substance use disorder. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) describes substance use disorders as pathological patterns of behaviors that are connected to the use of specific substances or substance.

Substance abuse and substance use disorders have caused tremendous damage to individuals, their families, and communities throughout the country and the world. In addition to having a negative impact on the overall health and wellbeing of an individual, substance abuse is also linked to crime, familial discord, and a number of sociological problems.

When an individual develops substance use disorder, he or she is likely unable to defeat his or her compulsion to abuse substances without the help of professionals. Luckily, however, there are addiction treatment options that have proven to be highly effective in helping individuals put an end to their substance abuse problems and begin making the changes necessary to help them live drug- and alcohol-free lives.


Substance Abuse Statistics

he National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) collected data that has shown between 80% and 90% of adults within the United States have participated in substance abuse at least one time in their lives. Within the country, the most commonly abused psychoactive substances are alcohol, prescription medications, and marijuana. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that over 20 million Americans are battling substance use disorder at this time. However, less than 15% of these individuals will obtain the treatment they need.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Substance Abuse

The chances of an individual engaging in substance abuse or developing a substance use disorder can be impacted by a number of causes and risk factors, including:

Genetic: Many studies show that genetics are often a key player in the risk variance for an individual to develop specific substance use disorders. In fact, genetics make up as much as 60% of that variance. Those who have a family history of substance abuse are at a greater risk for developing a substance use disorder, partially because some heritable traits (like impulsivity and novelty-seeking) can increase one’s risk of developing the disorder.

Environmental: Cultural attitudes surrounding the use of certain substances can shape an individual’s vantage point on substance abuse and increase his or her likelihood of developing a substance use disorder. Other environmental issues can include excessive stress, experiencing trauma, living in poverty, and spending time with individuals who partake in substance abuse.

Risk Factors:

  •  Early aggressiveness
  • Early exposure to substance abuse
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • History of abuse, neglect, or other trauma
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Access to substances of abuse
  • Poverty
  • Associating with individuals who abuse substances
  • Low educational achievement
  • Novelty seeking
  • Impulsivity

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse

Those who partake in substance abuse or who have developed a substance use disorder might display a number of signs. Below are some of the more common indicators that an individual may be abusing drugs and/or alcohol:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Possessing drug paraphernalia
  • Unexplained absences from work or other responsibilities
  • Spending a great deal of time acquiring, using, or recovering from the use of a substance
  • Behaving in a hyperactive manner
  • Using substances even when it is dangerous to do so, such as when driving a car
  • Withdrawal and isolation
  • Failing to fulfill obligations at work or at home
  • Deceptiveness about whereabouts, acquaintances, and actions

Physical symptoms:

  •  Fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Frequent headaches and nosebleeds
  • Profuse perspiration
  • Rapid, slowed, slurred or otherwise abnormal speech patterns
  • Bloodshot and/or watery eyes
  • Dilated or pinpoint pupils
  • Sores, scabs, abscesses, and other skin problems
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Significant weight loss or weight gain
  • Dramatic change in appetite

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Poor judgment
  • Memory problems
  • Racing thoughts
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Inability to concentrate or focus

Psychosocial symptoms:

  •  Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Agitation


Effects of Substance Abuse

Substance abuse can destroy an individual’s life in a number of ways, including through the following:

  • Family discord, marital strife, separation, and divorce
  • Financial problems
  • Arrest and incarceration
  • Damaged or destroyed personal relationships
  • Development or worsening of co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Homelessness
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Suicide attempts
  • Job loss and unemployment
  • Diminished performance at work
  • Increased risk of developing certain cancers
  • Exposure to hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS through use of shared needles
  • Damage to major organs
  • Increased propensity to colds, flu, and similar illnesses

Co-Occurring Disorders

Substance Abuse and Co-Occurring Disorders

Those who develop substance use disorder are also at a greater risk for developing a number of co-occurring mental health disorders, such as:

  • Bipolar disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia

Withdrawal & Overdose

Know the effects of Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of substance withdrawal: When an individual has become dependent on a drug or alcohol and then attempts to stop suddenly, he or she will likely go through a period of withdrawal where painful symptoms present themselves. Specific symptoms will vary based on a number of factors; however the following are some of the most common withdrawal symptoms:

  •  Strong cravings for the substance
  • Seizure
  • Depression
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Tics and tremors
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Nausea, diarrhea, vomiting
  • Profuse perspiration
  • Pain in muscles and bones
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes

Effects of substance overdose: The signs and symptoms of an overdose will depend on a number of factors, including the type of substance that was consumed, how much of it was consumed, and what the individual’s tolerance for that drug is. However, below are some of the common signs that can indicate that an individual has overdosed on a dangerous substance:

  •  Seizure
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Profound confusion or disorientation
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Bluish tinge near lips and fingernails
  • Dilated or pinpoint pupils
  • Vomiting
  • Slow, shallow, or labored breathing
  • Excessive drop or rise in blood pressures
  • Irregular heartbeat