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Signs, Symptoms, & Effects of Addiction

Elizabeth Michael
Last updated:
Erin L. George, MFT
Erin L. George, MFT
Medical editor

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Signs of Drug Addiction

Specific signs of addiction can vary depending on the type of substance an individual is taking. However, one of the most common indicators of addiction to drugs of all types is an inability to stop using, no matter how severe the consequences become. For example, an individual who's addicted to prescription pain medication may continue to take the drug even if it causes uncomfortable physical symptoms, such as nausea or a loss of appetite.

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Someone who's addicted to a nonprescription drug, such as cocaine, might not be able to stop using even if they suffer from constant nosebleeds or severe weight loss. A person who struggles with heroin addiction may lose interest in their personal hygiene, or they may steal and write bad checks to obtain money to continue purchasing drugs.

Consistent drug use can also take a toll on a person's physical health. When the grip of addiction becomes more important than eating regular meals, getting enough sleep, and maintaining healthy dental hygiene habits, individuals may become more susceptible to illness. (1)

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Some common physical signs of drug addiction include: 

  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Sleeping difficulties 
  • Shakiness
  • Constant headaches
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Excessive sweating
  • Depression

Individuals struggling with substance use often find themselves hyper-focused on finding drugs and planning their next "high." They may hide their drug use and lie to friends and family members about their whereabouts, and they might stop socializing with their peer groups. Drug addiction can cause individuals to miss work and appointments if they stay up too late (or don't sleep at all). Drug use can also cause people to build up tolerances in which more drugs must be consumed to achieve the sensations they felt when using the drug the first few times. 

Signs of Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction, sometimes referred to as alcohol use disorder, is a condition that causes individuals to drink alcohol in excess. Diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder include a feeling of powerlessness over how much alcohol one consumes, use of alcohol in high-risk situations, and cravings for alcohol when not drinking.

While alcohol is legal, and many people enjoy a glass of wine with dinner or a drink at happy hour, individuals with alcohol addiction can't stop at just a single drink. Sometimes this leads to binge drinking, where significant amounts of alcohol are consumed in a short period of time. Binge drinking can also cause people to suffer from "blackouts," which are essentially periods of time that the individual can't recall after a day or night of drinking. (2)

Common behaviors linked to alcohol addiction include:

  • Engaging in risk-taking behavior, such as drinking and driving
  • Memory problems
  • Drinking alcohol before work or school
  • Excessive alcohol consumption at social functions or when out to dinner or at a bar/club
  • Moodiness when hung over after an episode of binge drinking
  • Shakiness and anxiety when withdrawing from alcohol
  • Taking steps to hide alcohol use
  • Lying to friends and family members about the extent of alcohol use

Signs of Marijuana Addiction

While a common belief is that marijuana isn't addictive, research indicates that this simply isn't true. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), research has shown that 3 in 10 individuals who use marijuana are at risk for developing a dependence on the drug—also referred to as marijuana or cannabis use disorder. An individual may be addicted to marijuana if they can't stop using it regularly, even if their use is causing problems in their daily lives. While anybody can become addicted to marijuana, those who started using it as a child or teen appear to be at higher risk of developing cannabis use disorder. (3)

The most common methods of marijuana use are smoking or ingesting it through foods and candies, also known as "edibles." Signs that someone may have a marijuana addiction include:

  • Constant cravings for marijuana
  • Using marijuana before work or school
  • Developing a tolerance that results in the need to use more marijuana to feel its effects
  • Inability to abstain from marijuana use
  • Lying to cover up excessive marijuana use
  • Using marijuana while operating a vehicle
  • Using marijuana in conjunction with alcohol or other drugs
  • Inability to go to work or attend school regularly

Signs of Opioid Addiction

Opioids are drugs that contain natural opium derived from poppy plants or synthetic forms of opium. Opium has been used for centuries as a way to treat pain, and it's present in many prescription narcotic medications. Prescription and nonprescription drugs that contain opium include heroin, oxycodone (oxy), morphine, hydrocodone, and codeine.

Addiction to prescription painkillers is becoming increasingly common. Many people start off by using these medications to treat pain caused by acute injuries. If the pain becomes chronic, their dependence on the drugs can increase, leading to addiction. (4) Some common physical and behavioral signs of addiction to prescription and nonprescription opioids include:

  • Scabs and puncture wounds on the skin from using needles to inject drugs
  • Loss of appetite
  • Digestive issues, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Slow thinking and poor motor skills
  • A lack of personal hygiene

When people attempt to stop using opioids "cold turkey" without medical intervention, they may experience symptoms as their body withdraws from the chemicals. An individual going through withdrawal may exhibit signs such as:

  • Sweating
  • Sleeping for many hours at a time
  • Anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • Digestive issues
  • Headaches

Effects of Drug Use

The effects of addiction to drugs range from feeling high and euphoric to experiencing severe detox symptoms and drastic changes in appearance and personality. While the "high" that comes along with using drugs such as cocaine and opioids is what drives individuals with addictions to keep using, over time, that feeling goes away. As people move further and further down the road of drug use and addiction, they often keep using to simply "balance out" or avoid feeling sick due to drug withdrawal. (5)

Some common physical effects of consistent drug use include:

  • Memory problems and difficulties with focus and concentration
  • Physical damage to the liver, which can lead to liver disease
  • Brain damage
  • Heart problems and increased risk for heart attack
  • Stomach pain and nausea when taking drugs and withdrawing from opioids and/or alcohol
  • Increased anxiety when taking amphetamines, such as cocaine or crystal meth
  • Lung problems
  • Increased risk for stroke and seizures

Continued use of drugs and alcohol can also cause emotional and behavioral symptoms, including:

  • Increased paranoia when using drugs
  • Depression when "coming down" from a high or withdrawing from drugs or alcohol
  • Mood swings 
  • Increased anger and irritability 
  • Impaired judgment when using drugs or alcohol
  • Loss of inhibitions when using drugs or alcohol that can result in risky behaviors
  • Aggressive behavior

How to Cope With Addiction

The first step in coping with addiction is for the individual to recognize that they need help and support. Attending 12-step meetings or checking into inpatient treatment programs can help them find the root causes of their addictions and work toward healing in a positive way. Inpatient rehab programs provide services such as medically supervised detox, counseling, and group therapy in a private, safe setting. The programs range from 30 to 90 days, and they're overseen by medical professionals and addiction specialists. (5)

Twelve-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) also allow newcomers to find "sponsors" within the program to provide guidance and support. Sponsors are individuals who have been in the AA or NA programs for at least a year. (7)

It's also important for individuals going through addiction and recovery to be patient with themselves. Committing to staying sober can be challenging, especially if the individual has struggled with addiction for many years. One of the most well-known phrases in AA and NA is "one day at a time." This simply means only focusing on the moment at hand instead of worrying about what may happen in the future. Taking life one day, or even one moment, at a time allows individuals dealing with addiction to stay present and focused, and this can aid greatly in the recovery process. 

How to Help Someone With Addiction

Helping someone with addiction issues takes patience and understanding. It's important for family members and loved ones of those struggling with substance use or alcohol addiction to understand that recovery is a life-long process. This means that setbacks may occur, which can be frustrating for the individual undergoing the addiction/recovery process and their loved ones. Being patient and supportive during this period helps the person with the addiction or substance use issue feel less alone, and it can also encourage them to keep moving forward in their recovery journeys. 

Some more ways to help an individual struggling with substance use or addiction include providing rides to and from 12-step meetings, cooking healthy meals, and checking in daily via text, phone, or email. Encouraging the individual to participate in sober activities, such as yoga classes or volunteering, can give them something to look forward to while creating positive outlets for relieving stress.

People who have loved ones going through the addiction/recovery process can also help themselves by attending support groups, such as Al-Anon and Narc-Anon. These groups are specifically designed to provide support to family members, spouses, friends, and domestic partners of individuals dealing with addiction and/or addiction recovery. (8)

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