Addiction to drugs or alcohol, also known as a substance use disorder (SUD), is a complex, chronic brain disease. It changes a person’s brain chemistry and thus their behavior, causing them to continue seeking and using their substance of choice regardless of any negative consequences. For some people, addiction begins with the experimental or recreational use of drugs or alcohol. For others, it starts with using a prescribed medication, such as hydrocodone or oxycodone, or taking medications prescribed for a family member or friend.
The Importance of Recognizing the Signs & Symptoms of Addiction
Being aware of the signs and symptoms of a substance use disorder is the first step to helping a loved one receive the treatment they need. According to articles in Medical News Today and MentalHealth.gov, the signs and symptoms of addiction are physical, behavioral, social, and psychological. Some signs and symptoms vary by substance, but many are shared by anyone who has a drug or alcohol addiction.
Physical Signs & Symptoms
- The person experiences physical withdrawal symptoms if they stop or drastically reduce the amount of drugs they use. Depending on the substance, they may experience diarrhea, constipation, excessive sweating, seizures, headache, or a number of other physical symptoms. Withdrawal prompts very strong cravings for the drug of choice.
- The person may frequently have a runny nose, loss of coordination, and be extremely lethargic.
- Their eyes may be watery, bloodshot, or pupils smaller or larger than usual. Pinpoint pupils are common with addiction to heroin and other opioids.
- They may have unusual or chemical smells on their body, breath, or clothing.
- The development of disease or damage caused by using drugs or alcohol may develop. For example, chronic liver damage can result from drinking excessive amounts of alcohol regularly.
- Depending on the substance, a person’s appetite will increase or decrease. Weight loss or gain will occur. For example, cocaine use causes a decrease in appetite, while marijuana use increases it.
- Changes in sleep patterns, insomnia, or disrupted sleep are common.
- Changes in appearance are noticeable. Over time the person may appear tired, drawn, haggard, or disheveled. They often neglect their personal hygiene and physical appearance.
- Bad teeth, hair, skin, and nails are commonly found in those addicted to cocaine or methamphetamines.
- As tolerance to the drug increases over time, the person needs to take more of the substance to achieve their desired effect.
Behavioral Signs of Addiction
- Many people with substance use disorders experience sudden periods of agitation, irritability, hyperactivity, or giddiness. They often have unexplained angry outbursts, mood swings, and changes in attitude and personality. They may appear anxious, fearful, paranoid without any reason.
- A person with an addiction to drugs or alcohol frequently has problems at home, work, or school.
- The individual may act secretive or suspicious. They often hide their substance use and only drink or take drugs when alone.
- They often have hidden stashes of drugs or alcohol around the house, in the yard, or in their vehicle.
- People with a substance use disorder often stop doing things they once enjoyed, such as hobbies, sports, or family events.
- They may have a sudden change in friends and places they go.
- Many people with a drug or alcohol addiction are not aware of their problem. They may deny they have a problem or refuse to accept treatment. Many believe they can quit using drugs or drinking alcohol anytime they want to.
- Many people with substance use disorders have a good supply of their drug of choice, whether or not they have much money. They will not pay bills or buy necessities because they need the money for their substance of choice.
Psychological Signs & Symptoms
- A person with an addiction to drugs or alcohol cannot stop using the substance regardless of any health, relationship, financial, or legal negative consequences.
- The individual becomes obsessed with the substance. They are constantly thinking about getting and taking their drug.
- A person with a substance use disorder typically feels they need to take a drink or use a drug to deal with a problem.
- Risk-taking greatly increases. Sometimes a person may take risks to obtain their drugs, such as stealing money or medication from friends or family members. Or, they may trade sex for drugs. Risk-taking also occurs when an individual is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. For example, they may engage in risky or unprotected sex, drive fast or recklessly, or commit acts of violence.
- A person with an addiction to alcohol often drinks an excessive amount rapidly to feel its effects quickly.
If You Need Help
If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, help is available. You are not alone. Call and speak to a caring professional at Anabranch Recovery Center located in Terre Haute, Indiana. We will answer your questions and help you take the first step on the path to living a sober life.
About the Author:
Terry Hurley is a retired educational professional and freelance writer with more than fifty years of experience. A former reading specialist and learning center director, Terry loved her years working with children in the educational field. She has written extensively for print and online publications specializing in education and health issues. For the last six years, her writing focus has been on addiction and mental health issues.