Signs & Symptoms of Drug & Alcohol Abuse

The excessive ingestion or chronic misuse of a substance in order to experience mood and mind-altering results is known as substance abuse.

Understanding Alcohol & Drugs

Learn More About Substance Abuse

Individuals who are struggling with a substance use disorder experience negative cognitive, behavioral, and physiological symptoms, yet do not cease their use. Some of the most commonly abused substances include alcohol, marijuana, narcotics, opiates (heroin, prescription pain killers like OxyContin), hallucinogens (ecstasy, LSD, PCP), stimulants (cocaine, prescription amphetamines like Adderall), and central nervous system depressants (tranquilizers, benzodiazepines like Klonopin or Xanax).

Becoming addicted to or dependent upon a substance is considered to be a disease due to the fact that this dependency results from chemical disturbances that occur in a person’s brain because of his or her drug use. Once someone has developed this type of dependency, it can be extremely difficult to put an end to the behavior. Professional treatment for substance abuse is strongly advised.


Statistics of Substance Abuse

Studies show that, in 2012 approximately 23.9 million individuals over the age of 12 used illicit drugs or abused prescription medications in the United States alone. This equates to 9.2% of the American population, and the numbers are continually rising.

Causes and Risks

Causes and Risk Factors of Substance Abuse

Researchers believe that the reasons why some individuals develop an addiction after using substances is the result of a combination of different factors working together, as described in the following:

Genetic: Drug addiction is believed to be largely hereditary because it is known to run in families. Studies have shown that individuals who have a first-degree relative who has struggled with an addiction to substances are at a higher risk of developing an addiction themselves.

Physical: When ingested, the chemicals that various substances are composed of negatively affect the brain’s communication system by causing disturbances in the way that brain cells process information. As the use of substances becomes more prolonged, the more pronounced the damage to this system becomes, ultimately leading to physical dependence.

Environmental: Many professionals in the field agree that the environment in which individuals spend a great deal of time can play a significant role in determining whether or not they will experiment with substances and subsequently develop an addiction. For example, people who have suffered from various forms of trauma may use drugs as a means of coping with the emotional disturbances that they experience as a result of that trauma. Additionally, people who have easy access to substances, or who are around other people who use substances, are at a higher risk of beginning to use themselves.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of substance abuse and addiction
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Chaotic living environmental
  • Poor parenting / lack of parental involvement
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Unemployment
  • Experiencing trauma
  • Exposure to violence
  • Low self-esteem
  • Peer pressure
  • Ease of access to one’s drug of choice

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse

The signs and symptoms that present themselves when individuals use substances will vary greatly depending on the specific drug or drugs that they are using. Additionally, the frequency and duration of use will have a major impact on what symptoms occur and how often they occur. Examples of various general symptoms that may indicate that an individual is abusing substances can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Periods of extreme lethargy or extreme hyperactivity
  • Social isolation
  • Sudden, unprovoked aggressive outbursts
  • Participating in reckless behaviors
  • Impaired coordination
  • No longer participating in activities once enjoyed
  • Relationship disturbances

Physical symptoms:

  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Noticeable increase or decrease in appetite
  • Noticeable weight loss or weight gain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Track marks at injection sites
  • Muscle tension
  • Chronic headaches
  • Tremors
  • Slurred speech
  • Deterioration of physical appearance
  • Bloodshot eyes

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Impaired ability to reason and use sound judgment
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Altered states of perception
  • Memory loss
  • Irreversible cognitive impairment
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Extreme fluctuations in mood that are not typical of the individual
  • Increased irritability
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Lacking the ability to experience pleasure
  • Changes in personality and/or attitude


Effects of Substance Abuse

The long-term effects of substance abuse can be extremely detrimental on an individual’s life. Depending on the person’s substance of choice, as well as the length of time that he or she has been using, the effects will vary. The most common long-term effects that can result from chronic drug or alcohol use and abuse may include:

  • Addiction and dependence
  • Intense mood swings
  • Decline in overall mental health
  • Increase in symptoms of an existing mental disorder
  • Memory loss
  • Irreversible cognitive damage
  • Malnutrition
  • Damage to nervous system
  • Damage to cardiovascular system
  • Weakening of immune system
  • Contraction of diseases like hepatitis and HIV/AIDS
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Onset of self-harming behaviors
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Coma
  • Overdose
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Alcohol & Drug Addiction & Co-Occurring Disorders

Many people who struggle with substance abuse and addiction are also suffering from some type of mental illness. In these instances, individuals may be using substances as an unconscious way of self-medicating to find relief from their symptoms. Some of the most common disorders known to occur alongside substance use disorders can include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Polysubstance abuse
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Borderline personality disorder

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

When people use substances on a consistent basis, and then suddenly stop using, they potentially will go through a withdrawal period. The type of symptoms that they will experience during the withdrawal period, as well as the severity and duration of the symptoms, will depend on the substance that they are using, but include the following:

  • Intense cravings
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Chills
  • Excessive sweating
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Seizures
  • Pale, clammy skin
  • Panic attacks
  • Paranoia
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Psychosis

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for individuals who are using substances to overdose. As the length of time that a person uses increases, so does the amount that is used at each time and the frequency of the use as the addicts try to regain the high they experienced upon first using. This continuous increase can result in the individual using more of the drug than his or her body can handle, leading to an overdose. Overdosing on a substance can be extremely dangerous and should be viewed as a medical emergency with immediate intervention occurring. Some of the signs that may indicate that a person has overdosed can include:

  • Erratic breathing
  • Chest pain / tightening
  • Acute psychotic behavior
  • Passing out / blacking out
  • Falling into a coma
  • Onset of seizures
  • Having a stroke
  • Sudden heart failure
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Disorientation
  • Death

Sonora helped me get to the root of my addiction and find the strength to live a healthy, sober life.

– Madison M.