Drug Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, & When To Get Help

Substance abuse refers to the chronic and excessive consumption of substances such as drugs and/or alcohol that leads to a series of upsets within one’s functionality.

Understanding Drug Addiction

Learn about drug addiction

Those who become trapped within a pattern of continuous drug or alcohol abuse can start to experience extreme difficulty in following up with daily responsibilities, which can cause extreme distress for themselves and those around them.

According to the fifth and most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the following criteria are indicative of a substance use disorder in an individual:

  • The substance is used in situations where it is physically hazardous
  • The substance continues to be used despite the onset or exacerbation of persistent or recurrent physical and/or psychological problems
  • Cravings or a strong desire to use the substance are experienced
  • Recurrent use of the substance has resulted in a failure to fulfill major obligations
  • Use of the substance continues despite the development of persistent interpersonal or social problems that are either directly caused or exacerbated by the effects of that use
  • The substance is taken in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than was originally intended
  • There is an ongoing desire to reduce, eliminate, or control the use of the substance, but attempts at doing so have been unsuccessful
  • A significant amount of time is spent in activities that are necessary in order to obtain, use, or recover from the use of the substance
  • Important occupational, social, or recreational activities are given up or significantly reduced as a direct result of the substance use
  • Tolerance develops
  • Withdrawal manifests

Depending on the type of substance that is being abused, specific criteria will be met. However, the presence of any of the criteria listed above can and will lead to significant impairment and distress within an individual’s everyday life.


Drug addiction statistics

The statistics regarding the prevalence of substance abuse throughout America is concerning. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that between 80% and 90% of adults over the age of 18 have abused a substance or substances at one point in their lives. Of that substance abuse, alcohol, marijuana, and prescription medications are believed to be the most commonly abused. In addition, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that more that 20 million people are battling with a substance use disorder, however less than 15% of that estimated 20 million obtain and receive the treatment they need to defeat their substance abuse problems.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for drug addiction

The causes and risk factors that might make an individual more likely to grapple with a substance use disorder can be explained through the following:

Genetic: Substance abuse and addiction have been known to possess genetic ties to its onset. Research has reported that nearly 60% of one’s likelihood of battling substance use disorder can be found within his or her genetics. For example, those who have family members who struggle with substance abuse and addiction are more likely to face similar challenges than they would be facing if they did not have that kind of family background.

Environmental: Numerous environmental factors can have a significant impact on one’s susceptibility to start experimenting with drugs or alcohol, which can lead to addiction. Coming from a low socioeconomic background, being exposed to crime and violence, and having peers who partake in substance abuse can increase the chances that an individual will start using drugs and/or alcohol. In addition, being abused or neglected, suffering other types of trauma, or battling symptoms of a mental health condition can cause an individual to start abusing substances.

Risk Factors:

  • Experiencing a trauma
  • Poverty
  • Witnessing violence
  • Possessing an impulsive personality
  • Possessing a novelty-seeking temperament
  • Suffering from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse and/or neglect
  • Family history of addiction
  • Personal or family history of mental illness

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of drug addiction

The specific substance that one is abusing will determine the type of symptoms that he or she will experience. However, even if individuals are abusing the same type of substance, the severity, the type, and the duration of symptoms can vary. Some examples of signs and symptoms that can be displayed by someone who is suffering with a substance use disorder can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Frequent absenteeism from one’s place of employment
  • Failing to adhere to responsibilities at home or within relationships
  • Inability to stop using one’s substance of choice, despite having the desire to do so
  • No longer engaging in activities or hobbies that were once enjoyed
  • Possessing drug paraphernalia
  • Using substances even when it is hazardous to do so (such as while operating a vehicle)
  • Decline in occupational performance
  • Using substances more excessively or over a longer period of time than was originally intended
  • Withdrawing from family and friends

Physical symptoms:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Tremors
  • Presence of abscesses, scars, or track marks if a substance is being used intravenously
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Slurred speech
  • Frequent headaches
  • Periods of excessive hyperactivity or excessive lethargy
  • Changes in sleeping patterns (hypersomnia or insomnia)
  • Decline in hygiene
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Bloodshot eyes

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Poor concentration
  • Inability to reason
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Hindered decision-making capabilities
  • Impaired judgment
  • Delayed thought processes
  • Delusions
  • Psychosis
  • Memory loss
  • Hallucinations

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Changes in overall temperament
  • No longer demonstrating an interest in things that were once enjoyed
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Agitation

Fortunately, with professional treatment for substance abuse and addiction, there is hope for those who are suffering.


Effects of drug addiction

When individuals develop a pattern of continued drug and/or alcohol abuse, they are likely to experience a number of negative consequences. Whether it be their health, their relationships, or their careers, the presence of an addiction can destroy every area of their lives. Some of the specific effects that can develop from prolonged substance abuse can include the following:

  • Demise of marriages or partnerships
  • Loss of child custody
  • Job loss
  • Financial strife
  • Onset of new, or worsening of current, mental illness symptoms
  • Irreversible cognitive impairment
  • Loss of memory
  • Malnutrition
  • Overdose and the complications that arise as the result of an overdose
  • Onset of self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Loss of friendships
  • Compromised immune system
  • Heart failure
  • Damage to vital organs
  • Hindered lung functioning
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Elevated risk for certain cancers
  • Exposure to viruses like hepatitis or HIV/AIDS
  • Stroke

Co-Occurring Disorders

Drug addiction and co-occurring disorders

The presence of a substance use disorder can also occur alongside of another mental health condition. Some of these conditions can include the following:

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

Withdrawal and Overdose

Drug withdrawal and overdose

Effects of withdrawal: In the event that an individual has been abusing drugs and/or alcohol and then suddenly ceases his or her consumption, he or she is likely to suffer from withdrawal. This period of time can be highly painful and even life-threatening at times. The kinds of symptoms that can develop during the period of withdrawal can vary based on the specific substance or substances that are being used, however can include the following:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Elevated feelings of anxiety
  • Bone and muscle pain
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Powerful cravings
  • Seizures
  • Paranoia
  • Depression

Effects of overdose: While there are a number of consequences that can develop as the result of chronic drug or alcohol abuse, an overdose can be one of the most dangerous. An overdose occurs when an individual consumes more of a substance than his or her body can metabolize, and it can be a fatal experience if not treated as a medical emergency. Similar to withdrawal symptoms, signs of overdose will vary based on the substance being abused. Some potential symptoms of overdose can include, however are not limited to, the following:

  • Heart failure
  • Psychosis
  • Losing consciousness
  • Stroke
  • Chest pains
  • Seizures
  • Labored breathing
  • Severe confusion
  • Changes in the color of one’s skin tone
  • Dizziness
  • Disorientation
What our clients are saying

If it weren't for Huntington Creek, I don't know where I would be today because of how much I let my drug addiction control me. I am very grateful to the knowledgeable and caring staff at Huntington Creek!

– Former Patient
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