Drug addiction, also called substance use disorder, is a complex but treatable condition that affects the lives of millions of Americans each year. Identifying whether someone you care about is struggling with drug use can be difficult. Recognizing the symptoms of a substance problem can ensure you support your loved one in seeking treatment at just the right time.
This blog outlines the ways that a person can show that they are abusing substances such as alcohol, prescription drugs, or illicit drugs. If you are worried about a loved one’s behavior or think that you may have an addiction, remember that help exists. With the right support, you or your loved one can leave this problem behind.
What Is Drug Addiction?
There are many myths about drug addiction. This can make it tricky to talk about. Navigating conversations about addiction may feel awkward, with fears of saying the wrong thing, or making a situation worse.
Understanding the real facts can help alleviate some of the stress surrounding conversations about addiction and mental illness. They may also help you to identify when a loved one is abusing drugs.
It is important to recognize that addiction is a mental disorder that is beyond the person’s control. This is why it is so important to seek medical support.
That drug and alcohol addiction are recognized as illnesses is demonstrated by the language we now use. Both are medically referred to as substance use disorders (SUD). The term alcohol use disorder (AUD) is also used where drinking is the problem. Addiction is also officially listed as a mental health disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). This is a book that medical professionals use to diagnose mental health disorders.
What Is Drug Dependency?
Addiction can exist without dependency, but often the two appear together. When a person engages in drug use for an extended period of time, the body adapts to functioning with the presence of drugs in the system. This can occur whether the drug abuse revolves around illegal drugs or whether the focus is prescription drug abuse.
A person can also become dependent on alcohol. In both alcoholism and drug dependence, the person experiences withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit. The type of withdrawal symptoms that a person gets depends on their health and what substances they use, how much, and for how long.
Addiction recovery centers can help a person through withdrawal symptoms by providing medication and other treatments.
Brain Chemistry and Substance Misuse
Alcohol and many other drugs affect the brain chemistry of the person taking them. There are four main classes of psychoactive drugs. They impact the mind and body in different ways.
- Opiates cause euphoric feelings, make you feel calm, and provide pain relief.
- Stimulants make a person feel more alert and energetic. They also create euphoria.
- Depressants cause feelings of relaxation and can also produce euphoric feelings.
- Hallucinogens make a person perceive things that are not there.
There are many drugs in each category, and each has its own effects on the person’s mind and body. People engaging in drug use sometimes combine drugs for these differing impacts.
The human brain produces neurotransmitters, chemicals that affect how we feel. Drugs affect these neurotransmitters. In some cases, they mimic them or prevent the brain from reabsorbing them so that levels increase artificially.
Dependency develops when the brain becomes so used to these changes that the person feels unwell when they stop taking the drug. Sometimes, this is because the person loses their ability to produce certain brain chemicals naturally.
If you notice that a loved one sometimes behaves out of character, this may be a sign that they are experiencing the impact of drugs on their brain.
Feel-Good Neurotransmitters Affected by Drug Use
Many drugs increase dopamine levels. These include marijuana, MDMA, alcohol, heroin, and cocaine. In natural situations, dopamine makes you feel good and rewards you for carrying out beneficial activities such as eating healthy food or completing a vital task.
Drugs that increase the amount of serotonin in the brain include amphetamines, cocaine, and LSD. This neurotransmitter plays an important role in our lives, helping us to feel calm and emotionally stable.
Endorphins combat pain and make you feel good after exercise. Drugs that increases levels of endorphins include morphine, alcohol, and cocaine.
Risk Factors for Substance Abuse
Each person’s risk of developing alcoholism and drug dependence or addiction is unique to them. A range of factors can contribute to your risk of developing a problem such as prescription drug abuse.
It is important not to assume that a person with these risk factors is abusing drugs. However, it is worth keeping the following points in mind because they underline that a substance use disorder is a medical condition.
If you want to start a conversation with a loved one about their use of substances, understanding the contributory factors may help you to understand the person better.
Hereditary and Family Factors
Research shows that as much as 50% of our risk of developing an addiction is based on genetics. Having family members who have experienced addiction makes you more likely to experience it also. This is not only because of shared DNA but also because seeing drug use in the home can normalize it.
Another risk factor is growing up in a traumatic or stressful environment. Childhood neglect or abuse can change the structure of the brain. These changes may make an individual vulnerable to substance abuse disorders.
A study of posttraumatic stress disorder and trauma in childhood found a strong link with drug abuse in adulthood. Underlying mental disorders can increase your risk of addiction and may sometimes be the root cause.
Many people begin abusing drugs as a way to self-medicate or self-soothe when they are struggling with mental illness. Addictive substances can, in turn, worsen the effects and severity of underlying mental conditions as well as be the cause of their onset.
A “dual diagnosis” is given to a person who has both a substance use disorder and an additional mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression.
Signs and Symptoms of Drug Abuse
Drug addiction signs are not always obvious, and not all drug use will be associated with every sign. If you think that friends or family members may be at increased risk of developing a drug addiction, look out for these signs.
Physical Signs of Drug Addiction
In some cases, a person struggling with drug abuse will show changes in appearance, either gradually or rapidly.
These physical signs may include:
- Sudden weight loss
- Changes to personal hygiene
- Needle marks on the body
- Bloodshot eyes
- Runny nose
- Dilated pupils
- Dull skin
Certain drugs cause alarming physical signs. For example, rubbing cocaine on your gums can make your gums and teeth decay. Snorting powders can cause inflammation inside the nose and even erode the nasal tissue.
If a person has been misusing alcohol, prescription drugs, or illicit drugs for a long period of time, they may begin to suffer severe health problems such as organ damage. Skin can become dull, and weight loss can cause fertility issues. Other longer-term common signs of drug use are a chronic cough, chest pain, and fatigue due to lung damage.
Behavioral Signs of Drug Abuse
A person with a drug addiction may behave differently when they are under the influence or because the substance abuse problem has started to damage their health. Signs to look out for include:
- Involuntary eye movements
- Poor coordination
- Impulsive behavior
- Slurred speech
- Rapid or rambling speech
- Drastic changes to mood, including unexplained mood swings when the drug wears off
- Agitation and irritability
Social Signs of Drug Abuse
The effects of taking drugs can change how a person behaves around their friends, family, co-workers, or teachers. Signs that a person may have a problem include:
- The person struggles to meet their responsibilities at work, in education, or in the home
- They begin socializing with people who are primarily interested in abusing substances.
- They lose interest in hobbies and activities that they once enjoyed.
- They stop attending family events and seem to avoid people who know them well.
- You may notice secretive behavior or that the person seems to run out of money quickly and asks for your financial help.
- The person’s behavior is unusual and they have difficulty with previously cherished relationships.
Treatment for Drug and Alcohol Abuse
When a loved one is mired in drug or alcohol abuse, the situation can seem desperate. Fortunately, addiction treatment centers and their staff have years of experience in helping people to overcome unhealthy use of prescription drugs, illicit drugs, and alcohol.
The first step in addiction recovery is detoxification, in which all traces of the substance are removed from the person’s body. During detox, it is common to experience symptoms of withdrawal. These can be uncomfortable and, in some cases, potentially dangerous.
It is always recommended to consult with a medical professional before detoxing or quitting any substance. Many rehab facilities offer medical detox, where you complete the withdrawal process under medical supervision. A mental health professional will also be present to support you through any psychological symptoms that occur.
People who struggle with drug and alcohol abuse or addiction always have an underlying reason for it. For example, they may use drugs to cope with symptoms of depression or to escape from past trauma.
An effective treatment program will address the root cause of the addiction. Rehab programs usually provide one-to-one talk therapies such as cognitive behavior therapy and group therapy sessions. Treatment options can also include couples therapy and therapy for the whole family unit.
These therapies are important because they help the person to learn coping mechanisms and create strategies to maintain their sobriety when they encounter drug use triggers.
Feinberg is here to help you get the best treatment for your loved one. We don’t want family members to go through the anxiety and anguish of figuring it all out on their own.
We can help you to organize an intervention to encourage your loved one to receive treatment. We can also assess your loved one’s needs and present you with options for treatment centers and recovery plans. Our other services include recovery coaching and family coaching.
If you have noticed behavioral, physical, or psychological signs of drug use in a loved one, get in touch today.
Our multidisciplinary team of licensed professionals and healthcare providers is equipped to help you and your loved one navigate the path to lifelong recovery and drug-free life.