Drug addiction isn’t a matter of failed self-control, lack of willpower, or any other personal shortcoming. It isn’t an issue that suddenly develops overnight. Now referred to as substance use disorder, addiction is a powerful and complex disease. It is also a disease that is considered to be lifelong.
Addiction cannot be cured. It doesn’t go away by simply abstaining. Instead, this is a chronic condition that must be diligently managed. With ongoing recovery efforts and continued support, addiction can be kept at bay.
One of the most common characteristics is denial among people with addiction and their loved ones. People have a hard time admitting that they have a problem. It’s hard for some to say that they cannot control their drug use. Sometimes enabling family members cover for addicts and make excuses to justify their actions.
However, recognizing the signs someone has a drug problem, can be life-saving. For many people, this is often the very first step towards getting the help they need.
What Is Drug Addiction?
Drug addiction is characterized by the chronic, uncontrolled use of prescription drugs or illegal drugs. When addicts aren’t actively using drugs, they’re actively thinking about them or worrying about how they’ll get more. For someone with drug addiction, getting high or finding ways to get high is always the top priority. When people who are addicted to drugs stop using, they quickly develop the symptoms of withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms indicate widespread physiological distress caused by the body’s dependence upon drugs.
Substance use has an impact on the brain’s natural, normal functioning. It alters the brain’s chemistry by directly stimulating and over-stimulating its reward pathway. When people get high, they’re triggering the release of “feel-good” chemicals called neurotransmitters. These chemicals cause feelings of euphoria, relaxation, confidence, and more. With prolonged substance abuse, certain neurotransmitters become burned out. Others begin to misfire.
More importantly, the brain gradually becomes reliant upon drugs to trigger the release of neurotransmitters artificially. This is why many addicts continue using drugs even though they no longer provide the same pleasurable sensations they once caused. For addicts, continued drug use can be essential for simply maintaining a sense of normalcy and staving withdrawal symptoms off.
Physical Signs of Drug Addiction
It’s important to distinguish between the signs and symptoms of drug abuse and the signs of drug addiction. Addiction typically develops in several distinct phases. Some people experiment with drugs and never progress any further towards addiction. Others experiment with drugs and then begin using them every day. Over time and with increasing tolerance, daily or regular use gradually becomes uncontrolled, compulsive drug use.
Physically, substance abusers are often tired, unable to focus, and they generally feel ill all of the time. Their bodies rarely have the opportunity to recover from the last bout of usage before drug use is started again.
Drug addicts or those who are addicted to drugs suffer slightly different and far more intense symptoms. Among some of the more common physical signs of drug addiction are:
- Overwhelming cravings
- Mood swings and lethargy
- Feelings of extreme anxiety, disorientation, or aggression while abstaining
- Needing more of a preferred substance to feel high or to simply feel normal
- Health problems
- Weight loss or changes in appetite
As the brain’s chemistry is increasingly changed by substance use, addicts gradually increase their doses. The number of substances that they used before is no longer enough for staving off early withdrawal symptoms or other forms of discomfort. Paired with an inability to control their substance use, this increased tolerance to substances greatly heightens their risk of overdose.
Behavioral Signs of Drug Addiction
Among the more common signs of a drug problem, are dramatic changes in personality and behavior. People who are struggling with uncontrolled drug use often spend large amounts of time in isolation. As they distance themselves from others, using drugs becomes their primary focus.
Drug addicts may lie about their drug use. They may exaggerate periods of sobriety or why their behaviors and actions have changed. They may steal money or the personal items of others to finance their drug purchases. As they increasingly lose control of their actions, they typically become less reliable and trustworthy all-around.
Common behavioral signs of drug abuse include continuing to use substances even though they’re having a negative impact on your life. Your use may also be impacting those around you. People who have substance abuse problems often continue using them even though they’ve:
- Lost their jobs or have financial distress
- Harmed their relationships with family or spouses
- Jeopardized their housing
- Suffered the consequences of high-risk sexual behaviors
Mental and Psychological Signs
Drug use and eventual drug addiction often arise from genuine efforts to self-medicate. These people turn to substances for issues that are causing a person extreme psychological distress. For instance, people who suffer from chronic anxiety or depression may turn to drugs or alcohol for relief. This is known as having co-occurring disorders. With a co-occurring disorder, a person has both substance use disorder and an underlying mental health issue. This may include depression, panic disorder, or bipolar disorder among others.
Just as addiction can be caused by an underlying mental health issue, prolonged drug use can also result in the development of co-occurring disorders. Given the way in which substances alter brain chemistry, long-time drug users can eventually develop extreme anxiety, paranoia, loss of motivation, depression, and more. Thus, dramatic changes in how people perceive and interact with the world around them are frequently signs of substance abuse.
Getting Help for Drug Addiction
Seeking help for drug addiction is important for a vast range of reasons. To start, professional addiction treatment can make weathering the effects of physical withdrawal both easier and safer. With medically supervised detox, the dangers of abstaining are minimized, and multiple interventions can be used to alleviate the related discomfort.
Substance use disorder has many possible underlying causes. Some people use and abuse drugs as a means for self-treating undiagnosed mental health disorders. Others have excessively low self-esteem or they may struggle with feelings of unresolved guilt or grief. There are even people who are more genetically predisposed to addiction. For these individuals, drug use may trigger massive releases of “feel-good” chemicals, and abstaining may cause rapid and intense withdrawal symptoms.
Mississippi Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center takes a comprehensive and needs-specific approach to help patients successfully manage their addictions. We offer multiple options in therapy and support. Recovering addicts can learn healthy coping strategies, identify harmful relationships and triggers, and develop new life habits. Although addiction cannot be cured, our treatment programs set the stage for lifelong sobriety, and healthy, sustainable living.