Signs of Addiction

Knowing the signs and symptoms of drug abuse is key to help an individual struggling with addiction to get help and achieve sobriety. Abused drugs range from over-the-counter cold remedies to cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines. Symptoms of abuse vary widely between different drugs. One thing they all have in common: an inability to manage life once addiction takes hold.

The following article describes some common signs and symptoms of drug abuse and what to look for if you suspect someone of being addicted to drugs.

Signs and Symptoms of Drug Abuse

Drug addiction can affect anyone, and its onset can be gradual or immediate — depending on multiple factors including the individual, the drug, and the manner of abuse. When a drug is abused, addiction is an inevitable next step: Recognizing the signs of an oncoming addiction can save a life. Although various substances create different effects in users, the disease of addiction remains the same, regardless of substance.

Signs of Addiction

  • Withdrawal family and friends
  • Justifying greater amounts or a higher frequency of use
  • Hiding use of a substance or lying about use of a substance
  • Change in friends, associates, and activities
  • Problems with the law
  • Significant problems at work
  • Physical deca or /bad hygiene
  • Poor decision-making
  • Placing oneself in dangerous situations
  • Lack of responsibility and trustworthiness

While addiction signs can be blatantly obvious at first, some can struggle with addiction for multiple years before their problems become evident to themselves or others. Depending on the person and their own history with substance abuse and addiction, it may not been apparent that there is a problem. However, there are certain signs of drug or alcohol abuse that cannot be hidden and are almost always sure signs of abuse and addiction.

Signs of Substance Abuse and Addiction

  • Feeling a need to use in order to be normal
  • Constantly thinking about getting more of the substance
  • Spending more time, energy, and money on obtaining more of the substance
  • Engaging in irresponsible and dangerous activities while under the influence
  • Performing dangerous and uncharacteristic acts to get money or resources for the substance
Most addicts will say they never wanted to be the way they are, stealing, prostituting, scamming, and in constant pain over their dependence on a drug. Addicts are powerless over their addiction in every way. And when people  begin to do things they would never do under normal circumstances, far too often, addiction is holding them hostage. Aside from the internal changes a drug user experiences, there are physical signs that are very easy to recognize. The key is knowing the effects of these various drugs on the brain and body, then looking for the outward signs of these effects.
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What are the Signs of Cocaine, Meth, and Other Stimulant Abuse?

People under the influence of stimulant drugs will have the appearance of someone who is suspiciously too alert, seeming to appear nervous, and sweating, often thinking and moving very quickly with abnormally high energy. Another sign of stimulant use can be found in the eyes. Generally, in very low lights, normal eyes will dilate to get more light, but constrict in brighter light to adjust to the abundance of light entering the eye. In comparison with normal pupil size under various light conditions, persons under the influence of stimulants will appear to have dilated pupils: The eyes will look like big black holes and eye color will be hard to see around the pupil. Often this physical effect will make a the eyes appear to be "popping" out of the head. This characteristic can be noticed for the duration of the high, no matter the lighting: So if a person is in daylight, and his pupils appear to be dilated, this is a good indicator of stimulant use, especially when the above symptoms are also present  The picture to the left is an example of a dilated pupil, where the eye color is difficult to see around the size of the pupil. For parents, spouses, siblings, friends, and children who know what an individulal usually looks like at sober times, examining the pupil's size and factoring other symptoms like abnormal energy, attention, and high body temperature are very conclusive signs for stimulant use. 

Additional effects of cocaine and other stimulant abuse include:

  • Elevated body temperature
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased attention
  • Weight loss

What are the Signs of Opiate Abuse?

Opiates such as heroin, morphine, and pain prescription medication like OxyContin and Vicodin are central nervous system depressants that slow the functions of the brain and body. Under the influence of opiates, people are likely to

  • Experience slurred speech
  • Appear very tired, and often fall in and out of sleep (nodding off)
  • Have a hard time standing or sitting straight
  • Appear extremely unbalanced and uncoordinated. 

Individuals under the influence of opiates — the opposite effect of stimulants — will seem far too relaxed and often oblivious to their surroundings without a care in the world. During an opiate high, individuals under the influence are in a trance- or sleep-like state, unable to function normally and find it very difficult to keep their eyes open during normal activities.  Additional signs of opiate abuse can, again, be found in the eye. Contrary to stimulant abuse, with opiate abuse the pupils appear to be extremely constricted to pin points in the eye.  This effect is often used to describe people high on opiates as "pinned."  As illustrated in the image to the left, the pupils are almost invisible due to their small size.  Often, even in the brightest of lights, normal eyes do not constrict to the point they do in persons under the influence of opiates.  Along with this dramatic change from normality, the other signs of opiate abuse are very clear. Thinking logically, there is no amount of fatigue that can mirror the extreme effects of opiate abuse, and when combined with the constricted pupils, abuse is a very clear conclusion.

In general, symptoms of substance abuse can be easily recognized, most especially when the abuse is still in early stages. Once tolerance has an opportunity to develop — along with dependence — the signs can be harder to identify. As with any condition, tolerance to abused substances often circumvents many of the side effects, such as abusing multiple drugs to counteract the extreme effects of any single substance.  The most important thing to consider in determining whether your loved one is under the influence of drugs or alcohol is to examine his or her behavior.  If someone begins to behave in a manner that is not normal for that person, this change in personality and behavior is enough to raise suspicion and warrant further investigation. It is important in the fight against addiction to do whatever is necessary to save a life, and not try to ignore the problem or avoid confrontation.  If you see signs that lead you to believe a loved one is abusing drugs or alcohol, reaction time is limited before life completely spirals out of control. As long as substances provide a high, the warning signs will always be there, but the key is having the information to recognize them. 

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If you have any questions about other signs and symptoms of abuse or if you suspect abuse, but aren't sure and would like more information to have conclusive evidence, please feel free to contact us anytime. We are always more than willing to help in any way we can.
This likely feels overwhelming to you. That's ok, because you're not alone. Call us at 1-800-610-4673 and we can help guide you though this critical stage in reclaiming your loved one.