Learn About The Symptoms & Causes of Drug Addiction

The signs, symptoms, and effects of drug addiction can be different for every person impacted. Learning about drugs is one of the first steps towards getting better.

Understanding Drug Addiction

Learn about drug addiction and substance abuse

While many individuals experiment with drugs and/or alcohol, there is a fine line that can be crossed that differentiates between experimentation and substance abuse. When an individual abuses a substance or substances to such a degree that it begins to negatively affect his or her life and ability to function on a daily basis, that person is likely suffering from an addiction.

According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a person who is struggling with an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol will meet some or all of the following diagnostic criteria:

  • The consumption of the substance occurs in larger amounts, and more often, than intended
  • Despite a desire to end one’s substance abuse, unsuccessful attempts have been made
  • A great deal of time is spent acquiring, using, and recovering from the abuse of a substance
  • Overpowering cravings for one’s substance of choice are present
  • Failure to adhere to responsibilities occur due to substance abuse
  • Substance abuse continues despite problems caused by the substance abuse
  • Activities are given up in favor of substance abuse
  • Substance abuse occurs in situation where it could be dangerous
  • One continues to abuse substances despite knowing that it has caused problems
  • Tolerance to a given substance or substances develops
  • Withdrawal symptoms manifest when one is not able to abuse a substance

If you or someone you care about meets the criteria listed above, it is important to seek treatment. By seeking treatment for a substance abuse problem, a brighter, happier, healthier tomorrow can be achieved.


Drug addiction statistics

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that as many as twenty million Americans suffer from addictions to substances, but that only fifteen percent of those individuals actually seek treatment. Additionally, research conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that somewhere between eighty and ninety percent of people in the United States have abused substances during their lifetimes, with alcohol, marijuana, and prescription drugs being the most frequently abused substances in today’s society.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for drug addiction

There are many reasons why a person may turn to the abuse of drugs and/or alcohol. The following are the causes and risk factors that experts in the field of addiction believe to be true in terms of what makes some individuals more susceptible to abusing substances than others:

Genetic: Researchers have discovered a set of genes that can make an individual vulnerable to developing a substance abuse problem. Given this information, if a person has a first-degree relative who has struggled with substance abuse, addiction, and/or chemical dependency, that individual is at risk of also struggling with similar challenges at some point during his or her lifetime.

Environmental: In addition to genetic influences, the environment and places one spends most of his or her time can have an impact on whether or not an individual will come to abuse substances. For example, those who are exposed to substance abuse from an early age are vulnerable to also abusing substances if they lack effective coping skills and proper social support. Additionally, if an individual resides in an impoverished area, has a history of experiencing trauma, or associates him or herself with others who also abuse drugs and/or alcohol, there is a higher risk for substance abuse to occur at some point in that person’s life.

Risk Factors:

  • Possessing an impulsive personality
  • Possessing a novelty-seeking temperament
  • Personal history of trauma
  • Family history of substance abuse, addiction, and/or chemical dependency
  • Family history of mental health concerns
  • Personal history of mental health concerns
  • Living in an impoverished area
  • Lacking coping skills
  • Having an inadequate support system

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of drug addiction

In order to know if your loved one is abusing a particular substance, it is important to research his or her drug of choice to familiarize yourself with the warning signs of abuse. However, if you are unsure as to what type of substance your friend or loved one is abusing, it could be helpful to note the presence of the following behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms that suggest substance abuse is occurring:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Possessing drug paraphernalia
  • Abusing drugs and/or alcohol in situations that could be dangerous
  • Poor occupational performance
  • Missing work
  • Failing to adhere to responsibilities and obligations
  • Failed attempts at ending one’s substance abuse
  • Abusing a substance despite a desire to stop
  • No longer participating in activities that were once enjoyed

Physical symptoms:

  • Fluctuations in weight
  • Nausea
  • Increased energy
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep changes
  • Slurred speech
  • Vomiting
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Tremors
  • Injection marks caused by intravenous drug use
  • Headaches
  • Poor hygiene

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Delusions
  • Poor decision making
  • Impaired judgment
  • Slowed thought processes
  • Psychosis
  • Poor concentration
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Difficulty focusing attention
  • Memory loss
  • Hallucinations

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Abrupt changes in mood
  • Temperament changes
  • No longer interested in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Depression
  • Anxiety


Effects of drug addiction

Substance abuse can wreak havoc on a person’s life. Depending on the longevity and severity of the addiction itself, the effects that could result can be life-changing. The effects listed below are among those that may occur if a person continues to abuse substances without seeking professional help:

  • Development of certain types of cancers
  • Job loss
  • Financial difficulties
  • Interaction with the legal system
  • Development or worsening of mental health concerns
  • Malnutrition
  • Hindered immune system
  • Heart failure
  • Damage to vital organs
  • Poor lung functioning
  • Exposure to viruses, including HIV and hepatitis
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Overdose
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Demise of meaningful relationships
  • Loss of child custody
  • Irreversible cognitive damage
  • Memory loss

Co-Occurring Disorders

Drug addiction and co-occurring disorders

Some individuals who are grappling with mental health concerns turn to the abuse of drugs and/or alcohol as a means of coping with their turmoil. Additionally, there are those who only begin to suffer from mental health disorders once they start abusing substances. In either case, it is possible for a person to seek treatment for substance abuse and be diagnosed with a mental illness at the same time. The following mental health conditions are among those that people can suffer from at the same time as a substance abuse problem:

  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Anxiety disorders

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of drug withdrawal and overdose

Effects of withdrawal: The longer than an individual abuses drugs and/or alcohol, the more likely that person will be to develop a tolerance to his or her substance(s) of choice. When this occurs, it can signify that that individual has become chemically dependent on that substance(s) and will thusly experience withdrawal symptoms in the event he or she ceases his or her substance abuse. The process of withdrawing from a substance can be extremely uncomfortable and, unfortunately, trigger a person to seek out his or her substance of choice once more. The following are signs and effects of withdrawal, which also suggest that a person is in need of treatment for his or her addiction:

  • Cravings
  • Seizures
  • Bone pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Anxious feelings
  • Paranoia
  • Depression

Effects of overdose: For many substances of abuse, there is an ever-present risk of overdose when drugs and/or alcohol are used on an ongoing basis. Depending on the substance that is being abused, the telltale warning signs of overdose can vary. If any of the following occur, it should heed as a warning that emergency medical attention is needed in order to prevent a grave outcome:

  • Seizures
  • Losing consciousness
  • Dizziness
  • Disorientation
  • Labored breathing
  • Stroke
  • Chest pains
  • Heart failure
  • Psychosis
  • Confusion
  • Skin tone changes

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– Former Patient