Signs, Effects & Symptoms of Drug Addiction

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Cross Creek Hospital helps children, adolescents, and adults who are struggling with drug addiction through an unmatched quality of care and support. Located in Austin, TX, Cross Creek is the leading provider of drug addiction treatment.

Understanding Drug Addiction

Learn about drug addiction and substance abuse

Individuals who continue to use drugs and/or alcohol, despite the adverse effects that result from that use, are likely battling a substance abuse problem. Known to be a precursor to addiction and dependence, substance abuse is a serious problem that can cause a great deal of harm to a person’s physical and mental health, as well as other areas of life. In many cases, people with chemical dependency concerns require treatment in order to discontinue their substance abuse, as treatment can instill the skills and tools needed to achieve sobriety and recovery.

Common substances that could be abused by a person include alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, synthetic marijuana, prescription medications, inhalants, and methamphetamine. Regular abuse of these substances can impact how an individual performs in school, at work, when interacting with peers or loved ones, and a person’s likelihood for having interaction with the legal system if his or her use contributes to illegal behaviors. What is important to know, however, is that there are options for care available that can help substance abusers learn how to abstain from continued usage and go on to live happy and sober lives, free from the cycle of addiction.


Drug addiction statistics

In the United States, substance abuse remains a prevalent problem. It has been estimated that 9% of Americas, which accounts for twenty-four million people, have used and/or abused drugs and/or alcohol at some point in life. This approximation includes people of all ages and, according to those who research substance abuse rates, this estimate is expected to increase.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for drug addiction

When trying to understand why and how a person comes to develop a chemical dependency problem, it is necessary to consider certain variables that can influence an individual’s vulnerability to substance abuse. Among other risk factors, genetics and certain environmental influences can determine a person’s susceptibility and explain how an individual comes to abuse drugs and/or alcohol. Consider the following explanations:

Genetic: Research has concluded that it is possible for an individual to have a genetic predisposition to addiction. Individuals with a family history of substance abuse have an increased likelihood for the use and/or abuse of substances and researchers believe this is due to the presence of a gene that can be passed down from one generation to the next, a gene that ultimately makes a person more vulnerable to becoming addicted to drugs and/or alcohol.

Environmental: There are many environmental influences that can trigger the onset of a substance abuse problem. Many addiction experts and mental health professionals agree that chronic stress, exposure to substance use, and an inadequate support system can cause a person to use drugs and/or alcohol. Furthermore, individuals with a history of victimization, whether it is because of crime, abuse, and/or neglect, have an increased risk for using substances as well.

Risk Factors:

  • Difficulty achieving academically
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Exposure to violence
  • Being the victim of a crime / abuse/ neglect
  • Exposure to trauma
  • Lack of caregiver involvement
  • Poor parenting during formative years
  • Lack of effective, appropriate coping skills
  • Low self-esteem
  • Low self-worth
  • Peer pressure
  • Exposure to chaos
  • Easy access to substances
  • Lack of employment
  • Family history of chemical dependency or mental illness
  • Personal history of mental illness

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of drug addiction

An individual’s behavior, physical appearance and health, cognition, and emotions are known to be adversely affected when substance abuse is a factor in a person’s life. The following symptoms are those that infer a person is using drugs and/or alcohol, symptoms that could be observed by closed friends, family members, or other people in a substance abuser’s life:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Missing school or work
  • Not fulfilling roles or responsibilities
  • Hyperactivity
  • Lethargy
  • Declined participation in things that were once enjoyed
  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Poor coordination
  • Increased conflict with others
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Change in peer group
  • Unwarranted outbursts of varying emotions

Physical symptoms:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Headaches
  • Lack of hygiene
  • Presence of injection sites
  • Shakiness or tremors
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Psychosis
  • Delayed thinking
  • Confusion
  • Poor concentration
  • Impaired memory
  • Detachment from reality
  • Hindered decision-making
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Inability to reason

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Inability to experience pleasure
  • Changes in temperament
  • Drastic shifts in mood
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Depressed mood
  • Increased anxiety


Effects of drug addiction

A great deal of harm can be caused by a chemical dependency problem. Both physical and mental health concerns are known to arise when a person abuses drugs and/or alcohol. Additionally, there are other areas of a person’s life that can be adversely affected if treatment is not sought to help an individual recover from an addiction. Below are some negative effects that can occur if a person fails to receive care for a substance abuse problem:

  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Suicide attempts
  • Elevated risk for certain cancers
  • Addiction
  • Dependence
  • Discord among friends and loved ones
  • Academic failure
  • Onset of a mental health condition
  • Exacerbation of symptoms associated with a mental health condition
  • Compromised immune system
  • Possibility of exposure to viruses, such as hepatitis or HIV/AIDS
  • Damage to the heart
  • Heart failure
  • Hinder lung functioning
  • Stroke
  • Coma
  • Inability to acquire or maintain employment
  • Financial strife
  • Homelessness
  • Interaction with aw enforcement
  • Malnutrition
  • Memory loss
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Damage to the central nervous system
  • Overdose
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Drug addiction and co-occurring disorders

The abuse of substances, as it has been stated, can cause the onset of symptoms synonomous with another mental health condition. Additionally, if a person is already struggling with a mental illness, symptoms of that disorder can become worse should a person continue to use drugs and/or alcohol to cope with said symptoms. Because of these aspects, the following mental health disorders are known to occur alongside a substance abuse problem:

  • Another substance use disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of drug withdrawal and overdose

Should a person chronically abuse substances, it is likely that that person will become not only addicted to the substance he or she is using, but physical dependent as well. When this happens and a person abruptly stops using the substance(s) causing presence of the substance(s) to exit the body, withdrawal symptoms can manifest. For some substances, withdrawal symptoms can be painful and unpleasant and warrant medical intervention. The following are symptoms of such symptoms and if they become more severe, emergency medical attention should be sought immediately:

  • Elevated levels of anxiety
  • Depressed mood
  • Profuse sweating
  • Seizures
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Intense cravings to use drugs and/or alcohol
  • Chills
  • Tremors
  • Panic
  • Paranoia
  • Muscle pain
  • Bone pain
  • Psychosis
  • Suicidal ideation

When an individual abuses drugs and/or alcohol, there is always a risk for overdose. In the event a person presents with the listed symptoms, it is imperative that medical attention is sought in order to reduce the potential for death as a result of overdose:

  • Labored / slow breathing
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Blacking out
  • Dizziness
  • Disorientation
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Presence of psychotic symptoms
  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Chest pains

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Past Clients Say

I have been in and out of treatment for years and could not remain sober for more than a couple years sometimes no more than 60 days. I finally found Cross Creek Hospital and they saved my life -- please go here if you want the best care and the most amazing staff!

– Former Patient