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Signs Of Addictive Behavior

Joseph Sitarik, DO

Medically reviewed by

Joseph Sitarik, DO

March 12, 2019

Many times, a person addicted to drugs or alcohol will either be in denial or strive to hide the signs of their substance abuse from family or friends. Either way, this is a very harmful approach to addiction, as it prevents them from receiving the help that they need. It is important to know the signs of addiction so you can help save someone’s life.

What Are The Signs Of Addictive Behavior?

An addiction manifests itself in many ways: mentally, physically, physiologically, emotionally, behaviorally, and even spiritually. Many of these symptoms may be obvious to someone from the outside, whereas some may not. If you believe you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction, it is exceedingly important that you seek professional help.

If substance abuse or addiction is present, there are certain telltale signs that point to an underlying problem. These include, but are not limited to: a physical dependence on the drug, withdrawal symptoms upon decreased or discontinued use, and an increase in the amount of drug that is required to achieve the desired feeling. Additionally, as the substance exerts itself on the person and their life, other, more specific symptoms may arise. Here are the most prevalent signs of an addiction:

  • Experiencing intense urges or cravings to use the drug
  • Encountering the need to use the drug on a regular basis; may be daily, or several times within a day
  • Finding that you need to use more of the substance to obtain the same effect or euphoric feeling
  • Lying about the amount or frequency of use, evasive behavior or conversations
  • Spending money to obtain the drug, even to the point that you may spend what you can’t afford
  • Focusing time and energy on maintaining your supply or access to the drug, even to the extent that it jeopardizes or alters your quality of life
  • Finding your job, relationships, or educational responsibilities impaired; losing interest in these things
  • Decreased concern with your appearance or personal grooming
  • Engaging in atypical behaviors to get the drug, such as stealing or sexual favors
  • Involvement in risky or dangerous behaviors while under the influence, such as impaired driving, sharing needles, or unsafe sexual practices
  • Failing to discontinue your use, even if you desire to do so
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms if you cease or decrease your use
  • Aggravation of psychological problems or the appearance of new ones, including depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts

If you or someone you are close to is exhibiting any of these signs or symptoms concurrent to drug or alcohol use, you should consider the possibility of severe substance abuse or addiction.

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Drug Classifications And Their General Symptoms

Here are some of the most prevalent abused drugs and their symptoms.

Depressants: These are drugs that inhibit the central nervous system (CNS), and decrease levels of awareness within the brain. They include alcohol, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and prescription sleep medications. Many have the potential to be addictive, some exceptionally so. They may cause:

  • Reduction in inhibition
  • Drowsiness or sleep
  • Slurred speech
  • Relaxation
  • Disorientation
  • Impaired coordination
  • Decreased respiratory function marked by shallow breathing
  • Coma or death in extreme instances.

Hallucinogens: The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) classifies these as “a diverse group of drugs that alter perception (awareness of surrounding objects and conditions), thoughts, and feelings. They cause hallucinations or sensations and images that seem real though they are not.”

Hallucinogens include: Dextromethorphan, Ketamine, PCP, salvia, ayahuasca, DMT, LSD, peyote mescaline, and psilocybins– a chemical which is derived from specific mushrooms. Research suggests that certain hallucinogens may be addictive and that some may hold potential for tolerance. Symptoms of this may include:

  • Speech difficulties
  • Memory loss
  • Weight loss
  • Seizure
  • Flashbacks
  • Anxiety
  • Depression and suicidal thoughts
  • Persistent psychosis, which is, according to NIDA, “a series of continuing mental problems” marked by “visual disturbances, disorganized thinking, paranoia, and mood changes.”

Opiates: According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services “opioids are natural or synthetic chemicals that bind to receptors in your brain or body.” They include the illegal drug heroin and prescription pain relievers such as codeine, morphine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone; these can have serious negative health effects, while all having potential for strong addiction.

  • Euphoria
  • Drowsiness or sedation
  • Respiratory depression
  • Constricted pupils
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Persistent dry mouth
  • Flushed and itching skin
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Feeling no pain (analgesia)

Stimulants: This class of psychoactive drugs increases and stimulates activity within the brain. Carries a high potential for addiction. Includes caffeine, nicotine, cocaine, methamphetamine; and prescription stimulants, including amphetamines and methylphenidate.

  • Headache
  • Flushed skin or excessive sweating
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Dizziness, may occur with vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Chest pain, often accompanied by palpitations
  • Reduced appetite
  • Extended wakefulness
  • Excessive amounts of energy
  • Hostility, aggression or agitation
  • Panic or paranoia
  • In the worst cases, suicidal or homicidal tendencies.
  • Hallucinations, either audio or visual

Additionally, certain factors influence how a drug or alcohol effects a person, and their subsequent addiction.

Do Some People React Differently To Drugs Or Alcohol?

Yes, though there are many symptoms that are common across the board, each person may exhibit a unique reaction or symptom to their substance abuse or addiction. Gender, age, genetic makeup, physical condition; preexisting illness or disease, concurrent use of other drugs; either illicit or prescribed, current level of dependence, and the length and amount of substance use all affect the perimeters of substance abuse and addiction. If you suspect any of these, it is very important that you get information that is more specific to the person, the substance they use, and their situation.

When To Seek Help

The observation and involvement of a trained medical or addiction professional can be the difference in obtaining proper treatment and beating a drug addiction. They can draw upon their expertise and determine the exact nature of an individual’s problem, while also determining the best route of treatment.

In order for this to be the most effective and beneficial to the person suffering the addiction, they must be as honest and detailed as they can about not only their medical history, but the drug use itself.

If you find that you may be experiencing the symptoms of withdrawal, you can’t stop using, or that your use is negatively impacting your life, such as driving you to engage in unsafe behaviors–you should seek help. The sooner you reach out, the greater your chance towards a recovery that is successful and long-lasting.

If you, or someone you love exhibits the signs of overdose, you should seek emergency medical help immediately. Depending on the substance, these can be very dangerous situations, to the extent they could become life-threatening. Seek help if you experience or witness these signs in someone that has taken a drug or alcohol:

  • Change in consciousness
  • Impaired breathing
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Symptoms of heart-trouble or attack, including pressure or pain of the chest
  • Any other worrisome physical or psychological reactions

An overdose is not a matter to take lightly or to deal with outside of an emergency facility; proper medical attention is necessary. Seeking help in an expeditious manner can be the difference of life and death.

Benefits Of Engaging Behavioral Health Within Recovery

Speaking to a behavioral health professional may also be very helpful at this point, as they can help a person examine their life to determine what issues may have precipitated drug use.

Many times, a person’s substance abuse rises out of their attempt to self-medicate. As they continue to do so, abuse may spiral out of control and become an addiction.

A trained mental health practitioner can help you accept these situations and balance the emotions that are accompanied by them. They can also help you to determine what your potential triggers are and the best venues by which to contend with them. This partnership can help you find the skills, mindfulness, and balance that are essential for a successful recovery.

This treatment can occur in an outpatient capacity or within a residential treatment facility. It is crucial not only as an individual begins to deal with their addiction, but throughout the entirety of their journey towards sobriety.

Start Looking Towards Recovery

If you are fearful that yourself or someone dear to you is currently contending with an addiction, please don’t hesitate to make the right choice and reach out today. Remember, the sooner you begin the process of treatment, the sooner you can begin traveling towards the health, wellness, and recovery that you deserve. Contact us at and get your life back on track today.

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