Drug Addiction Signs and Symptoms

Drug addiction is a complex disorder that can seriously affect an individual’s and their loved one’s lives. It can be hard to determine whether someone has an addiction but recognising the symptoms can ensure you seek drug addiction treatment at just the right time.

If you are worried that you or a loved one has a substance abuse disorder, there are many signs and symptoms to look out for. Addiction isn’t a one size fits all disorder and many symptoms present themselves differently depending on the person. Just because someone doesn’t display these symptoms, does not necessarily mean that they are not living with an addiction.

Signs You May Have a Drug Problem

​​Although there are many common signs to look out for if you believe you are living with drug addiction, they can certainly vary from person to person and a lot depends on the type of drug that is being abused. This being said, there are a few signs and symptoms that are common to many different types of addiction. Here are 10 signs that may indicate you have a drug addiction:

  • You have a higher tolerance to the drug e.g., you need to take more of a substance to feel the same effects
  • A lot of your time is spent thinking about the substance: how you will get more, where you will take it, how you will feel afterward
  • You experience cravings for the drug
  • You feel unpleasant and not yourself when the drug wears off e.g., you experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, nausea, or sweats
  • You have withdrawn yourself from the things you once enjoyed and the people you love
  • You are stealing or borrowing money to obtain drugs
  • You attempt to hide your drug use and its effects
  • Your sleeping or eating habits have drastically changed
  • You continue to use the drug despite the negative consequences; perhaps your romantic relationship isn’t working anymore or you’re behind on paying the bills. Despite realising these negative instances, you still partake in drug use
  • You have a new circle of friends to accommodate your drug use

clients holding hands during group therapy

Recognising Unhealthy Drug Use in Family Members or Loved Ones

Worrying about a loved one’s drug addiction can really take its toll on your mental health. Addiction doesn’t just affect the person abusing the substance but can negatively impact the whole family. However, once one has successfully completed detox, treatment typically encompasses working with loved ones to ensure everyone is able to heal from the ordeal.

Maybe you are noticing changes in a loved one’s health, relationships, or social functioning and are worried about the direction their life is going in. Either way, recognising a drug addiction in a loved one can be harder than it seems; is your child displaying typical teenage angst, or are they signs of drug use? Below are a series of changes that may indicate if a loved one has a drug problem.

Changes in Mood or Personality

Any addiction is likely to cause changes in an individual’s mood or personality, sometimes this can be distressing to witness as someone you once knew very well is beginning to act in uncharacteristic ways. This can include:

  • Dishonest or secretive behaviour. Maybe your loved one has become less talkative and doesn’t respond well when questions are asked. They enjoy their alone time and do not share what they have been doing or where they have been.
  • It is not uncommon for people living with an addiction to develop or uncover an already existing mental illness. A loved one could appear depressed or anxious.
  • As addiction progresses, an individual becomes more concerned with how they will obtain the drug. Whether it be physical or verbal, if they are unable to, they may display aggressive behaviour.

Changes in Appearance or Health

If someone is misusing drugs then this will eventually take a toll on their health and physical appearance. Different drugs can cause different changes but spotting these signs can help you support your loved one in seeking professional help. From bones to teeth, substance abuse can change someone’s appearance in both obvious and not-so-obvious ways.

There are certain drugs that are known to damage and destroy an individual’s skin. For example, methamphetamine can cause a person to pick and scratch at their skin as the drug often induces a hallucination of parasites or bugs crawling under the surface. Opioids, such as heroin, can cause skin abscesses if unsanitary needles are used.

Stimulants can cause severe tooth decay, changes in taste, smell, and mouth sores. Similarly, morphine or heroin can lead to tooth loss and decay as well as the reduction of saliva production. Other common changes to look out for include:

  • Red eyes
  • Increased blood pressure or heart rate
  • Neglect in appearance i.e., lack of interest in grooming or clothing
  • Loss of muscle control
  • Slurred speech
  • Involuntary eye movements
  • Dilated pupils
  • Teeth clenching

Changes in Social Interactions and Friendships

a photo of two people who are looking forward to drug-free life after rehab

Drug addiction affects many areas of a person’s life, and relationships are no exception. When someone is addicted to drugs, their lives gradually become more concerned with using and obtaining the substance. This can lead to a neglect of other responsibilities, including effort in relationships.

Addiction can make it difficult to maintain respect, trust, and open communication – key elements to any healthy relationship, whether it be romantic or friendship based. Typically, when a person becomes addicted to a drug, they change their social circles and spend more time with others who are using drugs to justify their addiction. This tends to result in a person becoming socially withdrawn from their loved ones as they become more and more secretive about their activities and whereabouts.

It’s important to not take these symptoms personally, they do not reflect you and certainly do not reflect your relationship with your loved one. Addiction is classified as a mental disorder and can completely change a person’s way of being.

Recognising When It’s Time to Get Help

Despite the lists of distressing signs and symptoms, these conditions are treatable and with the right support, you or your loved one can get back on the right track. A lot of the time we are told that an individual must hit rock bottom before they are able to start their recovery journey. This is far from the truth. Treatment is available at any point of addiction and the sooner it is received the higher chance of long-lasting sobriety.

The first step is admitting and acknowledging that there is a problem. You must want to receive help for treatment to be successful, nobody can force you to want to change. If you are still unsure whether you are living with an addiction, then there are several screening tools that can help confirm this.

Alternatively, your GP is a good place to start, you can discuss your problems and they can support you in getting treatment. You are not alone and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

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