Signs for Drug Addiction (for parents and educators)

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Drug Abuse and Addiction: Understanding the Signs, Symptoms, and Effects Drug Abuse and Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, Effects and Testing

Drug abuse is not a new problem, but it is a stubborn one for contemporary society. What may start as medical or so-called recreational use of controlled drugs can tip over into craving and addiction, with dire consequences for the user’s well-being and, frequently, consequences for the community as well. Find out how to recognize the signs and symptoms of drug abuse or addiction in someone you care about.

What is drug abuse?

Drug abuse, also known as substance abuse, involves the repeated and excessive use of a drug to produce pleasure or escape reality despite its destructive effects. Although legal substances such as alcohol and nicotine certainly can be and are abused, when we talk about drug abuse, we tend to think of two kinds of situations:

  • use of illegal substances such as marijuana, cocaine, or heroin
  • misuse of legal substances such as prescription drugs or fumes from household products

In such situations, even a small amount of an illegal or improperly consumed substance can alter how your brain works, and if you can’t function normally under the influence of that substance, its use constitutes abuse. More dangerously, the short-term effects of the drug — whether they involve euphoria, extra energy, sensory enhancement, or heightened performance — tend to become so alluring that the drug takes over the user’s life, disrupting his or her relationships, work, and peace of mind. How drug use can lead to addiction

You cross the line from drug abuse to drug addiction when using drugs stops being a choice and becomes a necessity, when it controls you and not the other way around. You’re convinced that the drug is necessary for you to have a feeling of well-being or even just to get through the day. Your craving for your drug of choice crowds out most other thoughts, and your pursuit and use of the drug become what takes up most of your time. Nothing is more important than getting high: not your job, not your kids, not your spouse, not your folks. Getting high, in fact, becomes so important that you’re willing to sacrifice your work, family, and home, even as you deny that you have a problem.

At the same time, the drug is not only something you want but something your brain and body come to need. In fact, your brain and body get used to the amount of the substance you’ve been using and require increasingly larger doses in order to achieve the same high. That phenomenon, called tolerance, is one hallmark of physical addiction. Another is withdrawal, the development of debilitating physical symptoms if you stop using the drug. Signs and symptoms of drug abuse and addiction

Substance abusers are often the last ones to recognize their own symptoms of abuse, dependence and addiction. Even when they know they have a problem, drug abusers often try to downplay their drug use and conceal their symptoms. But if you suspect that a friend or loved one is abusing drugs, there are a number of warning signs you can look for. Behavioral symptoms of drug abuse

  • Angry outbursts, mood swings, irritability, manic behavior, or overall attitude change
  • Talking incoherently or making inappropriate remarks
  • Risky behavior, such as driving under the influence of drugs, starting a fight, or engaging in unprotected sex
  • Secretive or suspicious behavior: frequent trips to the restroom, basement, or other isolated areas for privacy while using drugs
  • Deterioration of physical appearance and grooming
  • Wearing sunglasses and/or long-sleeved shirts frequently or at inappropriate times
  • Frequent absences from work or school; drop-off in quality of work or grades
  • Neglect of family responsibilities
  • Evidence of money problems: frequent borrowing, selling possessions, or stealing items from employer, home, or school
  • Legal problems rooted in drug use: arrest for driving under the influence, possession of a controlled substance, disorderly conduct, or stealing
  • Using drugs first thing in the morning
  • Using increasing doses of a drug

Social symptoms of drug abuse

  • Abandoning or spending less time on activities such as hobbies, sports, and socializing
  • Inability to relax or have fun without doing drugs
  • Associating with known drug users and dropping friends who don’t use drugs
  • Talking about drugs all the time and encouraging others to use
  • Estrangement from old friends and loved ones

Physiological signs of drug abuse

  • Frequent exhaustion or weakness
  • Unexplained injuries and infections
  • Blackouts
  • Flashbacks
  • Delusions
  • Paranoia
  • Withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, tremors, and sweating

Different illegal and misused substances produce different physiological symptoms; several articles listed in the Related Links below can provide information about substance-specific signs of drug abuse. Classifications of abused drugs

Almost all drugs, including common household items such as caffeine and aspirin, have the potential for abuse and addiction. However, the majority of drug problems not related to alcohol involve use of the substances listed below. These drugs affect users’ brains and bodies in different ways, producing symptoms of intoxication and abuse that are unique to each substance.