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Drug Dependence Symptoms

Dr. Alan Weiner MD

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Alan Weiner, MD

March 18, 2019

Drug dependency affects millions of people across the country and is a serious physical and mental health problem. It changes the way a person behaves and can make it more difficult for them to live a happy and healthy life. If you suspect that your loved one is suffering from drug dependence, fully understanding the array of symptoms common with this health concern can help save them.

General Signs And Symptoms Of Addiction

Although the symptoms of drug dependence will vary depending on the substance used, there are a variety of symptoms that indicate a problem. Understanding these symptoms is useful if you aren’t sure what substance your loved one may be using. For example, anyone who suffers from drug dependence is likely to behave in unpredictable and uncontrollable ways, such as missing work or failing to meet important duties, like feeding children.

Drug dependence affects a person’s physical and mental states in severe ways, which will make them difficult to understand and hard to live with on a day-to-day basis. Watch for the following symptoms to get a gauge of whether or not your loved one is suffering from drug dependence:

  • Regular occurrence of dilated pupils, even during the day – Most substances will cause a person’s pupils to dilate and is a tell-tale sign that a person is currently high or recently used.
  • Repeated promises to quit using – Your loved one may have promised to quit using the substance, but continually relapses. This is especially true if he was sincere about quitting, but makes jokes about relapse later, trying to make it seem like it’s not a problem.
  • Weight gain or weight loss – Some substances will increase a person’s appetite (marijuana and alcohol) while others will suppress it (heroin and cocaine). As a result, weight gain and weight loss are both symptoms of substance abuse.
  • Mood disorders – Substance abuse will change a person’s personality and cause them to behave in ways that are not typical. Your loved one may become aggressive or even apathetic and isolate you from his or her life.
  • Increased personal risk taking – Drugs and alcohol decrease a person’s self-control and make him more susceptible to taking unnecessary personal risks. You might see him or her drinking and driving or engaging in unprotected sex, behaviors that are likely out of the ordinary.
  • Problems with money or asking for money regularly – Drug dependence is a financially difficult situation and it may cause your loved one to spend excessive amounts of money to continually use. As a result, he may be regularly short on money and constantly ask for cash.
  • Legal concerns – If your loved one has started to have troubles with the law (such as DUI or DWI convictions) or has been caught with substances, he may be struggling to hide a drug dependence that is making life more difficult.

Now that you have a better idea of generalized drug addiction symptoms, we’re going to take a look at specific substances. The following substances (alcohol, cocaine, opioids, amphetamines, and marijuana) are among the most popular and most frequently used drugs in the nation. If your loved one shows the above-mentioned symptoms, please read the information below to learn more.

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Signs Of Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol is one of the most popularly used illicit substances, due to its social acceptance and its legal status. Symptoms of alcohol dependence include drinking heavily every day, suffering from blackouts and memory loss, drinking alone or secretly, needing alcohol to feel comfortable or “relaxed,” red face and flushed skin, and difficulties with personal control.

You may also find your loved one gaining weight, becoming abusive when drinking, struggling to maintain positive relationships, requiring more alcohol to feel positive or comfortable, or a variety of physical and emotional concerns when alcohol use is ceased. These symptoms are withdrawal and include nausea, confusion, and even hallucinations in extreme cases.

The most common symptom of alcohol dependence is continual use even when the person knows they are suffering from a problem. They will make promises to quit drinking and fail to do so. This can cause personal anxiety and depression that compels a person to continue drinking.

Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms

Cocaine is a drug that works very quickly on a person’s system and leaves it in less than 30 minutes. As a result, cocaine isn’t necessarily physically addictive, but continued use will make the brain and body adapt to it and make increased doses necessary. It can also cause a sort of mental addiction when a person becomes reliant on using cocaine to feel happy and comfortable. That’s because cocaine increases the production of various chemicals in your brain to create a sense of intense happiness and joy. This state cannot be generated naturally and trying to achieve it will often compel people to continue using cocaine. In fact, it may inspire a person to binge on the substance in order to feel that joy and to avoid the crash of cocaine withdrawal. Crashing is a major part of why people continue to use cocaine, even when they know it is a problem.

Cocaine withdrawal occurs when someone who has used a lot of cocaine cuts down or quits. The quick processing of cocaine will cause a variety of symptoms, including fatigue, decreased sense of pleasure, anxiety, paranoia, intense fatigue, and strong cravings that push a person to continue using.

These withdrawal symptoms are the most common signs that your loved one is suffering from cocaine dependence. These states of listlessness may alternate with excessive energy and excitement caused by cocaine use.

The Dangers Of Opiate Addiction

Opiates come in a variety of different types, including legal prescription painkillers, like synthetic opioids, and illicit substances, like heroin. They are among the most physically addictive substances because they literally change your brain chemistry to make using them physically necessary. As a result, a person who falls victim to opiate addiction often has a difficult time beating addiction.

Symptoms that your loved one is suffering from opioid addiction include increased use of painkillers, severe nausea when no longer using, breathing problems, weight loss, increased heart rate, secretive behaviors, and a relaxed or lethargic physical and mental state.

Overdoses of opiates are common because of the way dependence makes increased dosages necessary. This may be the first sign that your loved one has developed a dependency. It causes decreased heart and breathing rates, unconsciousness, and even death. This serious problem requires immediate treatment from medical experts, including a dose of drugs like naloxone that reverse an overdose.

Addiction To Meth Is A Major Problem

Amphetamine (like meth or speed) is a powerful drug category that increases the functioning of the body by speeding up heart rate and mental processes. It is highly addictive and difficult to manage. It is often used by people who need to be awake for extended periods of time.

If you suspect that your loved one is addicted to amphetamine, watch for the following symptoms:

  • Increase in energy to the state of near mania
  • Difficulty sleeping and staying awake for extended periods
  • Talkativeness that is unique to their personality
  • Picking at skin obsessively, which can often create open sores
  • Complaints about “crawling skin”
  • Loss of hair and teeth
  • Paranoia and hallucinations
  • Memory loss
  • Weight loss
  • Increase in mental health disorder symptoms

The potency of amphetamine makes it important for your loved one to get into rehab as soon as possible. Its ability to increase the functioning of the body and the way it compels users to take higher doses makes it one of the most dangerous and addictive substances.

Even Marijuana Is Addictive

People who use marijuana often believe that it is not addictive, and while it is generally not physically addictive, it can cause emotional and mental dependence. It’s common for people who use marijuana to fall into withdrawal symptoms when they quit using, such as feeling irritable, experiencing difficulties sleeping, having a decreased appetite, cravings for use, and having serious physical discomfort.

What causes a person to become mentally dependent on marijuana? Heavy usage of marijuana will cause the brain to stop producing its own endocannabinoid neurotransmitters. This will make it and the body dependent on marijuana. While it won’t cause physical dependence, such as the types of withdrawal symptoms common with opiate and alcohol addiction, it can still create uncomfortable sensations when a person quits using after heavy usage.

Dependence to marijuana has also become increasingly common due to the increased potency or various cannabis strains. If you suspect your loved one has become dependent on marijuana, watch for symptoms such as dilated pupils, a sweet sickly smell, decreased energy and ambition, increased appetite, and decreased cognitive abilities, including memory loss and language difficulties.

Addiction Treatment Methods

Specific addictions will require different treatment methods, including specialized detoxification. For example, baclofen is often used as a way to treat alcohol addiction by eliminating negative withdrawal symptoms. Methadone and Suboxone are used to help people with opiate addictions slowly and comfortably ease away from reliance on them.

Detoxification is a crucial first step in recovery, but it isn’t the only one. Once the body is cleansed of these substances, it’s necessary to go through a variety of counseling sessions to identify the emotional and mental health problems that may be contributing to an addiction. For example, people who suffer from depression and anxiety often turn to illicit substances as a way to decrease the severity of these mental health concerns.

Specific counseling methods, such as personal, group, and family therapies are utilized to assess mental health and find ways of curing any concerns. For example, depression and anxiety may be treated by prescriptions to medications that alleviate emotional pain. People with behavioral concerns, such as paranoia or borderline personality disorder, will go through behavior-modification techniques (like cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy) to learn new ways of coping.

Other treatment methods, such as yoga, meditation, and adventure therapy may also be used to create a full-body or holistic treatment. The trick is to treat every aspect of addiction to help a person emerge out of the darkness and into the light of full physical and emotional health. Aftercare services, such as a visit to or stay in a halfway house or a sober group may also be used to promote lifelong sobriety.

Beating Addiction In A Healthy Way

Going through the rigors of drug addiction treatment is the most important decision that a person can make. Whether you are making the decision for yourself or a loved one, the healing comfort of drug rehabilitation will create a life that is happy, healthy, and free of the negative influence of dependence.

Please contact us at RehabCenter.net if you need help finding a recovery center near you. There are a variety of helpful specialists that will give you the focused and nuanced treatment you need to beat addiction for good. Don’t hesitate to contact us today.

National Council On Alcoholism And Drug Dependence - Signs And Symptoms

Medline Plus - Cocaine Withdrawal

Medscape - Opioid Abuse Treatment And Management

WebMD - Painkillers, Narcotic Misuse, and Addiction

National Institute On Drug Abuse - Is Marijuana Addictive?

Medical News Today - Signs And Symptoms Of Addiction

National Institute On Drug Abuse - What Are The Long-Term Effects Of Methamphetamine?

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