Millions of people are affected by substance abuse each year in the United States. While people begin abusing drugs for a variety of reasons, drug abuse can quickly become addiction, dependence, and tolerance. After a person develops tolerance, addiction can rapidly develop, and once addiction starts a person may find it difficult to quit drug use without help.
Knowing how to identify substance abuse in a loved one, recognizing the signs of abuse and addiction, and knowing what to do when someone is addicted to drugs may allow us to help addicted individuals get the treatment they need.

How To Identify Signs Of Substance Abuse

short-term side effects of substance abuse, short-term drug abuse, short-term alcohol abuseWhen a person is struggling with substance abuse, he or she will likely experience life changes. These changes can be physical, or to the body and a person’s health, or they can be behavioral, and manifest as changes to the way a person acts.
In either case, the signs of substance abuse are often the short-term side effects a person experiences when taking drugs.  Each drug will affect a person differently than another drug, and signs of substance abuse can depend on the substance, the person taking the substance, duration of abuse, the frequency of abuse, and other biological and environmental factors. For example, a person who smokes marijuana will exhibit different signs of substance abuse than a person who snorts cocaine.

However, some signs of substance abuse are general, especially behavioral signs. When substance abuse turns into addiction, signs of addiction are similar for many types of drugs.

Physical Signs Of Substance Use And Addiction

One of the most apparent signs of substance abuse is tolerance, which occurs when a person no longer feels the effects of a drug. As tolerance develops, a person will usually continue taking more of the drug, and in more frequent doses. Tolerance often contributes to addiction. Tolerance, and taking higher doses of a drug because of tolerance, can also quickly lead to overdose, making the development of it extremely dangerous.

At first, a person may try to hide their substance abuse from friends or family members. Yet with time, hiding increased drug use becomes increasingly difficult as effects from the drugs begin to change the user’s appearance.

Physical signs of substance abuse may include:

  • bloodshot eyes, pinpoint pupils, dilated pupils
  • extreme and sudden weight loss
  • disruption to sleep patterns, insomnia
  • bruises, lesions, or infections at drug injection sites on the body
  • sores in the mouth and other dental issues (meth mouth)
  • changes in appearance: lack of hygiene, forgetting to shower, unkempt clothing

Some people abuse drugs which cause a physical addiction, known as dependence. People who become dependent on certain drugs, such as benzodiazepines or opioids, may experience withdrawal symptoms, which can be intense and uncomfortable.

Withdrawal signs may include:

  • headache
  • nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation
  • shakiness, trembling
  • insomnia
  • loss of appetite

People experiencing overdose, or close to experiencing overdose, should seek help right away. Overdose signs may look different for different drugs, but some signs of overdoses may include:

  • extremely pinpointed pupils (for opioids)
  • increase or decrease in body temperature, blood pressure, or heart rate
  • heart palpitations
  • dizziness
  • severe drowsiness or lightheadedness
  • severe stomach cramps
  • nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • hallucinations
  • seizures
  • coma

In many cases, an overdose reversal drug, such as Naloxone, may help medically stabilize a person from the effects of the overdose. Once a person is medically stable, he or she could seek proper addiction treatment.

Behavioral Signs Of Drug Abuse

While physical signs of substance abuse may take some time to recognize, behavioral signs may become apparent more quickly. Substance abuse often leads to addiction. Addiction is a disease which changes a person’s brain chemistry, aligning a person’s thinking with constant drug-seeking and use.

If a person is physically dependent and trying to avoid uncomfortable, or even painful, withdrawal symptoms, addiction can prompt a person to do things he or she normally would not do.

The following are behavioral signs of substance abuse and addiction:

  • loss of control: inability to stop seeking and using drugs, even with harmful consequences
  • taking risks: driving while intoxicated or high, stealing or using others’ money to buy drugs, etc.
  • neglecting responsibilities: work, family duties, school, and other obligations may all be neglected by someone with an addiction
  • keeping secrets: going to extreme measures to hide drug use is not uncommon for addicted persons
  • relationship problems: many people with drug or alcohol addiction experience problems in relationships with family and friends
  • changes in social involvement: withdrawing from friends and family who do not support drug use, or making new friends who are also involved with drug use

People with an addiction may become increasingly irritable or aggressive, especially if they are unable to obtain drugs. Withdrawal can also cause symptoms of anxiety or depression, or excite these symptoms if a person already struggles with these mental health disorders.

substance abuse withdrawal symptoms

Some people will also experience external effects due to substance abuse, such as loss of a job, legal issues, criminal involvement leading to a sentencing, or financial troubles.

What To Do When Someone Is Addicted To Drugs

If someone is addicted to drugs, seeking help is important. Speaking to the person about their drug use may help, but they may still perceive this help as a threat. Proceed with care and caution, and let the person know he or she has friends and family in support of a full recovery.

Finding the right treatment program for each individual will depend on the drug of abuse, duration of abuse, and a number of other factors, such as the presence of any co-occurring mental health disorders. In any case, individuals struggling with addiction or physical dependence can benefit from an inpatient drug rehab program.
Inpatient rehab centers specialize in treating many different types of addiction and dependence. Many of these facilities offer an array of treatment types to fit the varying needs of people who come to addiction treatment.
Some different programs include short-term addiction treatment programs, long-term programs, inpatient and outpatient treatment, and partial hospitalization programs. Rehab centers provide access to these programs to help addicted persons overcome substance abuse, and live healthy, fulfilling, sober lives.

To learn how to seek treatment for someone addicted to drugs, contact us today.

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence—Signs and Symptoms