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signs of drug use

Drug Addiction: Signs of Substance Abuse

Drug addiction occurs when repeated use of a substance changes how your brain works. These changes take place in the reward system of the brain. Drugs and alcohol create pleasurable feelings by acting on this reward system. And this teaches the brain to seek out these pleasurable behaviors again. When repeated enough, drug use can turn into an addiction, resulting in uncontrollable urges and withdrawals. But even without developing a full-blown addiction, some signs of drug use may indicate a substance abuse problem. Here are some warning signs of substance abuse.

Drug Addiction vs. Abuse

Consuming a substance changes the chemical balance in your brain. Addictive drugs create a surge of dopamine in its reward system. Sex and food do this too. The pleasurable feelings from sex and food motivate many people to seek out more of each. This makes evolutionary sense. Unfortunately, repeated use of harmful drugs and alcohol doesn’t benefit your survival.

Given that drugs create feelings of pleasure and euphoria, many people become attracted to them. Drug use can turn into either drug abuse or drug addiction. If you’re wondering what the differences are between drug abuse and addiction, here are some important distinctions. If you’re abusing drugs, you have experienced one or more of the following issues in the past month:

  • A pattern of excessive drug consumption
  • Physical harm caused to yourself or others as a result of drug use
  • Legal problems as a result of behavior under the influence of drugs
  • Inability to carry out your responsibilities at work, school or in the home
  • Ongoing drug use despite problems caused by it

The continued abuse of substances over time changes how your brain operates. This is a sign of addiction. An addict’s brain views being “high” as normal. Without the drug, the brain has to work overtime to produce natural pain relieving chemicals that were substituted by the drug. During the process, the withdrawal pain experienced may lead to continued use of the drug to suppress the pain. In contrast to drug abuse, a person who is addicted has experienced three or more of the following problems in a 12-month period:

  • Having to take drugs or alcohol to feel normal or okay
  • Using larger amounts of a drug (and using it more frequently) to achieve the same effects
  • An inability to stop using
  • Decreased interest in hobbies, interests, career or school
  • Social isolation
  • Mental and/or physical dependence
  • Tolerance
  • Withdrawal symptoms (physical or psychological) when you stop drug use

Treatment can benefit anyone showing signs of drug use because drug use can easily turn into something much worse.

Signs of Substance Abuse

Signs of drug abuse include both physical and behavioral symptoms. If you’re worried that you or a loved one has a problem with drugs, ask yourself if you show any of the following signs of drug use.

Physical Signs of Drug Abuse

  • Dilated pupils or bloodshot eyes
  • Runny nose or nosebleeds
  • Sweatiness
  • Increased illness
  • Unsteady walk
  • Excitable or slurred speech
  • Change in sleeping patterns, such as not sleeping until very late or sleeping in
  • Abrupt weight changes
  • Looking unkempt
  • Declining personal hygiene
  • Unusual body odors
  • Unexplained bruises, scratches or injuries
  • Physical signs of drug use, such as track marks (the scars that remain after injecting drugs) on the arms or fingertip burns

Behavioral Signs of Drug Abuse

  • Unusual moodiness, increased irritability, aggression or depression
  • Lethargy
  • Changes in personality
  • Social isolation
  • Unusual involvement in risky behaviors (e.g., speeding or unprotected sex)
  • Declining levels of motivation
  • Unexplained absence
  • Lies, secrecy and excuses
  • Continued use of a substance that puts the individual or others in harm’s way
  • Relying on substances to have fun
  • Absences from work or job loss that’s related to substance use
  • Repeated intake of substances
  • Hiding substance use from others
  • Substance use causing relationship problems
  • Anger or defensiveness in reaction to concerns from others about substance use
  • Substance use resulting in financial and legal issues
  • Unexplained or sudden requests for money
  • Unusual avoidance of eye contact
  • Unusual attempts to hide phone calls
  • Abnormal tendency to stay out late at night
  • Unusual locking of bedroom or bathroom doors

Other Signs of Drug Use

  • Unexplained disappearance of prescription drugs or alcohol
  • The mysterious disappearance of cash or expensive items
  • Odd smells in someone’s room or vehicle
  • The discovery of drug paraphernalia (e.g., lighters, pipes, needles or syringes)

Treatment for Substance Abuse

Whether you or a loved one are showing any of the above signs of drug use, effective treatment is available. At a Promises treatment facility, a drug rehab team will assess your signs of drug use and recommend the best course of action. The following treatment programs are available.

Inpatient Rehab Program

Inpatient rehab, where clients stay on the premises of a rehab facility, can help with all kinds of addictions. During a residential program, you stay on the premises of one of our treatment centers. Our facilities are peaceful, comfortable and well-equipped, ensuring that your recovery is as smooth as possible. You’ll also take part in various therapies and activities to help you recover from your problematic drug use. These may include:

  • Therapy and counseling – Often, mental health issues underlie substance abuse. By addressing issues such as depression, anxiety and trauma, you can find healthy ways to manage emotional pain.
  • Drug education
  • Mental health education
  • Workshops
  • Fitness classes
  • Alternative therapies, such as yoga and meditation
  • Support groups

Promises also offers treatment programs for people with specific needs. These treatment options include:

  • Men’s mental health treatment
  • Women’s mental health treatment
  • Drug rehab for professionals and executives

The path to recovery starts with knowing the signs of drug use. It’s not always easy to see how drug use can turn into substance abuse. But if you can spot the relevant signs and symptoms, then you can get help when you need it. Ignoring the signs of substance abuse, on the other hand, can be disastrous. Before you know it, repeated drug use can turn into an addiction. So, if you have any worries about your drug use or that of a loved one, be sure to get in touch with Promises. A caring, highly experienced drug rehab team will be able to discuss your issues with you and help you regain sobriety and a sense of well-being.

Posted on September 22, 2016 and modified on June 3, 2019

Krisi Herron

Medically Reviewed by

Krisi Herron, LCDC

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