Common Signs & Symptoms for Substance Abuse

Get in front of an drug addiction by learning the signs and symptoms. Read what causes cocaine addiction, what signs to look out for, and potential long-term effects. Understanding your symptoms is the first step to successful healing.

Understanding Addiction

Understanding drug addiction

When a person abuses alcohol or other drugs, they expose themselves to considerable harm, including the development of addiction.  

Addiction, which is referred to by clinicians as substance use disorder, is a progressive disease that robs you of your ability to control your behavior.  

When you become addicted to a drug, you will find it difficult, if not impossible, to control how much of the drug you use, or how often you use it. When you try to stop using the substance, you may experience considerable mental and physical stress. 

The nature and severity of addiction can vary depending upon a number of personal factors. An individual’s age, gender, and history of substance abuse can impact their addiction symptoms. The type of drug they have been abusing, the frequency and duration of their substance abuse, and the presence of any co-occurring mental health disorders can also have a strong influence. 

The good news about addiction is that it is a treatable condition. When you receive effective professional treatment, your life can become much better. In treatment, you can learn to manage your symptoms and make the lifestyle changes that will empower you to achieve long-term recovery. 


Drug addiction statistics 

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) have reported the following statistics about substance abuse and addiction in the United States: 

Causes & Risks

Causes and risk factors for addiction  

Your risk for addiction can be influenced by a variety of internal and external factors, including the following: 

  • Family history of substance abuse, addiction, or mental illness 
  • Having a parent or sibling who struggles with addiction 
  • Personal history of mental illness 
  • Prior substance abuse 
  • Personal history of abuse, neglect, or other form of trauma 
  • Having a novelty-seeking or impulsive personality 
  • Living in poverty 
  • Early exposure to substance abuse 
  • Experiencing excessive stress or pressure 
  • Associating with peers who engage in substance abuse 


Signs and symptoms of addiction 

A person who is struggling with addiction may experience a wide range of signs and symptoms, including the following: 

Behavioral symptoms: 

  • Prioritizing substance use over personal and professional responsibilities  
  • Using the substance when it is clearly dangerous to do so 
  • Continuing to use the substance even after experiencing negative repercussions from prior use 
  • Trying but failing to stop using the substance 
  • Trying to borrow or steal medications that have been prescribed to someone else 
  • Withdrawing from family or friends 
  • Needing to use the substance in order to experience joy, or to deal with stress 
  • Losing interest in significant activities 

Physical symptoms: 

  • Changes in energy levels 
  • Increased or decreased heart rate 
  • Changes in sleep patterns  
  • Changes in appetite 
  • Changes in weight 
  • Red or watery eyes 

Mental symptoms: 

  • Drastic mood swings 
  • Anger and agitation 
  • Inability to concentrate or focus 
  • Poor judgment 
  • Memory problems 
  • Confusion or disorientation 
  • Hallucinations and delusions 
  • Depression 


Effects of addiction and substance abuse

Failing to get effective addiction treatment can put you at risk for a wide range of negative outcomes, including the following: 

  • Damage to liver, kidneys, heart, brain, and other organs 
  • Exposure to HIV/AIDS and other blood-borne diseases 
  • Increased likelihood of developing certain types of cancer 
  • Physical injury due to behaviors while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs 
  • Family discord 
  • Ruined friendships and other relationships 
  • Divorce, separation, and loss of child custody 
  • Substandard performance in school or at work 
  • Academic failure 
  • Job loss and chronic unemployment 
  • Financial distress 
  • Legal problems, including fines, arrest, and incarceration 
  • Social withdrawal and isolation 
  • Onset or worsening of mental illness 
  • Pervasive sense of hopelessness and helplessness 
  • Suicidal thoughts and actions 

However, the moment you enter treatment, you begin the healing process. While in treatment, you will be protected from further harm, and can begin to remedy past damage. When you choose to enter treatment for addiction, your life can get much better. 

Co-Occurring Disorders

Drug addiction and co-occurring disorders

People who struggle with addiction may also have an increased risk of developing the following mental health disorders: 

  • Anxiety disorders 
  • Depression 
  • Bipolar disorder 
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) 
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 
  • Schizophrenia 
  • Schizoaffective disorder 
  • Antisocial personality disorder 

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of drug withdrawal and overdose

Effects of withdrawal: Depending upon which drug you have been using, trying to stop once you’ve become addicted can trigger several distressing symptoms. This experience is known as withdrawal. The following are common withdrawal symptoms: 

  • Intense cravings for the drug you have been using 
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea 
  • Excessing sweating 
  • Watery eyes and runny nose 
  • Abdominal cramping 
  • Muscle and bone pain 
  • Tics and tremors 
  • Agitation 
  • Depression 
  • Hallucinations 
  • Delusions 

Effects of overdose: Anyone who demonstrates the following signs after using an addictive substance may have overdosed: 

  • Extreme confusion 
  • Loss of consciousness 
  • Inability to be awakened 
  • Faint or racing pulse 
  • Significant increase or decrease in body temperature 
  • Slow, shallow, or labored breathing 
  • Bluish tint near lips or fingertips 

Overdose can be extremely dangerous, and even fatal. Anyone who may have overdosed needs immediate medical attention.