Symptoms and Signs
of Substance Abuse. ( Drug Addiction ).
All addictions, whether to substances or to behaviors, involve both physical and psychological processes. Each person’s experience of addiction is slightly different, and addiction usually involves a cluster of some of the following symptoms. You can still be addicted even if you do not have all of the symptoms.
There are many different addictions, but similar symptoms span them all.
Some of the symptoms common to addictions are:
• Tolerance – the need to engage in the addictive behavior more and more to get the desired effect.
Withdrawal happens when the person does not take the substance or engage in the activity, and they experience unpleasant symptoms, which are often the opposite of the effects of the addictive behavior.
• Difficulty cutting down or controlling the addictive behavior.
• Social, occupational or recreational activities becoming more focused around the addiction, and important social and occupational roles being jeopardized.
• The person becoming preoccupied with the addiction, spending a lot of time on planning, engaging in, and recovering from the addictive behavior
Signs of Addiction.
Symptoms can only be experienced by the person with the addiction, whereas signs can be observed by other people. You can never know what someone else is experiencing unless they tell you, so if you are concerned that someone else may have an addiction, look for signs as well as for symptoms.
You might see some signs in an addicted person but not others. These are signs which occur across many (but not necessarily all) addictions:
• Extreme mood changes – happy, sad, excited, anxious, etc.
• Sleeping a lot more or less than usual, or at different times of day or night.
• Changes in energy – unexpectedly and extremely tired or energetic.
• Weight loss or weight gain.
• Unexpected and persistent coughs or sniffles.
• Seeming unwell at certain times, and better at other times.
• Pupils of the eyes seeming smaller or larger than usual.
• Financially unpredictable, perhaps having large amounts of cash at times but no money at all at other times.
• Changes in social groups, new and unusual friends, odd cell-phone conversations.
• Repeated unexplained outings, often with a sense of urgency.
• Drug paraphernalia such as unusual pipes, cigarette papers, small weighing scales, etc.
• “Stashes” of drugs, often in small plastic, paper or foil packages.
Most of the signs of addiction have other explanations. For example, someone can be secretive because they are planning a birthday surprise for a friend. People can have changes of energy for numerous reasons, health related and otherwise. They can make new friendships and end old ones for many reasons other than addictions.
Most of the signs of addiction are similar to normal teenage behavior. Unfortunately, teenagers are one of the groups most vulnerable to addiction. Parents who are concerned about their teenage child should be very careful when discussing addiction with a teenager.
Be cautious about jumping to conclusions. Unless you have found drugs or drug paraphernalia, or have some other obvious evidence of an addiction, it is likely there is another explanation. However, do not be naïve if you have found drugs or drug paraphernalia, as you may end up with legal problems if you do not address the situation.
The most important factor in finding out whether someone has an addiction or not is trust. Trust needs to be earned, so try to be supportive. A confrontation with someone with an addiction is likely to just lead to denial and rejection from the addicted person.
Symptoms and Signs of Specific Addictions.
The links below will give you more details of the signs and symptoms of specific addictions.
• Alcohol – for example, wine, beer, liquor
• Amphetamine or similarly acting sympathomimetics – for example, speed, crystal meth.
• Benzodiazepines – for example, Xanax, Valium.
• Caffeine – for example, coffee, tea, sports drinks.
• Cannabis – for example, marijuana, grass, hash.
• Cocaine – for example, coke, crack,
• Hallucinogens – for example, acid, ecstasy.
• Inhalants – for example, poppers, aerosols.
• Nicotine – for example, cigarettes, cigars, nicotine patches.
• Opioids – for example, heroin, morphine, painkillers.
• Phencyclidine (PCP) or similarly acting agents – for example, angel dust, ketamine.
• Sedatives, hypnotics or anxiolytics – for example, sleeping pills, downers.
Here are some signs and symptoms to look out for if you are concerned about the possibility of a loved one being involved with substance abuse of any kind. Different drugs produce different effects resulting in slight variations in outward indications. Some signs and symptoms are specific to opiates and narcotics and distinct from those experienced with Central Nervous Stimulants like Cocaine or depressants like alcohol.
The National Library of Medicine documents these telltale signs in drug-taking children that should alert parents:
Change in friends. Hanging out with a new group.
Seclusive behavior – long periods spent in self imposed isolation.
Long, unexplained absences.
Lying and stealing.
Involvement on the wrong side of the law.
Deteriorating family relationships.
Obvious intoxication, delirious, incoherent or unconscious.
Changes in behavior and attitude.
Decrease in school performance.
Always remember that any one of the above signs may not be enough to indicate substance abuse but should be enough to suggest that there may be a problem.
There are several other signs and symptoms that relate more specifically to the mental and physiological effects of substance abuse. An obvious sign of opiate and narcotic abuse is the tracks of needle marks normally found on the upper arms of users. These needle marks often turn into skin abscesses that may leave visible scars. People who use this type of drug often cover up their arms even when the weather suggests more appropriate wear.
American Psychiatric Association. “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (4th Edition – Text Revision), Washington DC, American Psychiatric Association. 1994.
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