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Recognizing the Signs of Drug Addiction

About one in ten people in the United States aged 12 and older said they used an illegal drug within the previous month, according to the results of the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. With such widespread use of illicit drugs, there is a good chance that the average American knows someone who has a drug use problem. Anyone who has ever suspected that a friend has a drug abuse problem has probably wondered, “What are the warning signs of drug abuse?”

The Importance of Knowing the Warning Signs

Learning the signs of drug abuse and knowing how to address it with friends can help prevent the problem from getting worse. Drug use can have significant short-term and long-term effects, including physical and mental health problems, increased risk of infectious diseases from sharing needles or unsafe sex, accidents, overdose, loss of jobs, trouble with family, arrest and even death. Using some drugs can be particularly risky, especially when used at high doses or when combined with alcohol or other drugs.

The Complication of Co-Occurring Disorders

Drug abuse signs and symptoms can vary greatly, depending on the drug used, the length of time the individual used drugs, the doses used, and many other factors. Co-occurring disorders, particularly those conditions requiring prescription drugs, can increase the risk of drug abuse. Certain mental illnesses, such as depression and eating disorders, can also increase someone’s risk of abusing drugs. The specific signs of drug abuse depends largely on the type of drug a person abuses, but the abuse of nearly any drug causes some general physical and behavioral signs. The signs and symptoms of drug abuse may become more prominent the longer a person abuses the substance.

Physical Signs of Drug Use

Drugs cause physical effects, of course, which is why people use them. Some of the primary effects of drugs include euphoria, and increased or decreased energy. Drugs also cause other effects, and these effects can cause physical signs, such as:

  • Bloodshot or glazed eyes
  • Dilated (large) or constricted (small) pupils
  • Abrupt weight changes
  • Behavioral symptoms

Behavioral Signs of Drug Addiction

Drug abuse changes the brain in ways that can affect behavior. This is because drugs change areas of the brain associated with behavior. Behavioral symptoms of drug abuse can include:

  • Changes in personality, such as going from outgoing to reclusive
  • Changes in habits, including staying out late at night
  • Increased irritability or aggression
  • Changes in personality or attitude, such as going from upbeat to depressed or quiet to overly loud
  • Lethargy, lack of energy
  • Depression
  • Sudden changes in a social network, usually towards drug-abusing friends
  • Dramatic changes in habits and/or personal and professional priorities
  • Financial problems from purchasing drugs, drug-related loss of work or drug-related legal problems
  • Involvement in criminal activity

Signs Someone is Using Heroin, Meth or Other Drugs

Some drugs cause specific signs. Heroin causes different signs than methamphetamine, also known as “meth,” for example.

Signs of Heroin Abuse

Immediately after a person uses heroin, he or she may show signs of nausea, vomiting, itching and dry mouth. For several hours afterwards, the individual may appear drowsy or sleepy, seem to be in a foggy mental state, and have slowed breathing and slowed heart rate. He or she may “nod” between being awake and being asleep. With continued use, the person may have needle marks and bruising on his or her body, abscesses and skin infections, heart problems, organ disease and collapsed veins from repeated injections.

Signs of Meth Abuse

Meth abuse causes specific signs of drug abuse. After using meth, a person is unusually active, has higher blood pressure and breathing rate, dilated pupils, warmer body temperature, heavy sweating and a loss of appetite. They may engage in meaningless, repetitive tasks, and have tremors and jaw clenching. Long-term use of meth can cause serious mental health issues, significant weight loss, tooth decay and tooth loss sometimes known as “meth mouth”, heart and lung disease, stroke and death.

Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse

The abuse of prescription drugs may cause different signs than non-prescription drug abuse. These signs may differ from the signs of others, such as marijuana abuse. For example, marijuana use often causes an aroma not associated with the use of prescription drugs. Signs of prescription drug abuse can also differ according to the drug used. Abuse of prescription opioids, sedatives and anti-anxiety drugs can cause drowsiness, for instance, while abusing prescription stimulants can cause over-excitement and agitation. Other signs that a person is abusing prescription drugs include:

  • Forging, stealing or selling prescriptions
  • Taking higher doses than prescribed
  • Excessive mood swings or hostility
  • Changes in sleep, including needing more sleep or sleeping less
  • Poor decision-making
  • Appearing to be high or unexplainably “spacey”
  • Unusually sedated or unusually energetic
  • Continually “losing” one’s written prescriptions, requiring a new prescription
  • Doctor shopping, or visiting several doctors to get prescription drugs


Drug Addiction and Physical Dependence

Addiction and physical dependence are serious side effects of drug abuse. Addiction is a brain disorder that causes uncontrollable drug cravings and changes in behavior. Physical dependence is a condition where a person must use a certain amount of drugs every day for their bodies to feel “normal.” Many people who abuse drugs become addicted to them. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines addiction as “a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences.” This means that drug addiction is a long-term condition where a person seeks out and uses drugs, even though he or she knows the harmful effects drug use causes. Drug abuse and addiction signs and symptoms include:

  • Using drugs more than a person wants to
  • Continued use of drugs even though the person understands the negative consequences
  • Using stronger doses to achieve the same effects, a condition known as tolerance
  • Neglecting other activities and responsibilities
  • Engaging in risky behavior to get more drugs
  • Relationship problems
  • Secrecy, especially when it comes to getting, hiding and using drugs
  • Changing appearance, such as a decrease in personal hygiene, unclean clothes
  • Signs of withdrawal when the individual stops using drugs

Key Takeaways

  • Signs of drug abuse can vary, depending on the drug, dose, duration of abuse, and other factors
  • Different drugs produce different signs of abuse
  • Signs of drug abuse can develop and intensify over time
  • Learning the signs of drug abuse can help someone identify drug abuse in a friend
  • Knowing how to address drug abuse can help a friend seek out and complete treatment

We Can Help…

Millions of people show signs of drug abuse, yet many do not get the rehabilitative treatment they need to overcome it. It’s true that the person with a substance use disorder must want to get well, but by recognizing the signs of a drug problem can be a crucial first step. You can’t do it for your loved one, but you can start the conversation. Granite Recovery Centers can help you start that conversation. Contact us at (603)339-4160 or contact us online to find out how we can help you or a loved one find life and hope in sobriety. Whether you’re seeking information about our inpatient drug rehab program, or just need tips on the next steps. Our dedicated and knowledgeable staff are ready to help.

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