The beginning signs of drug addiction or abuse can be hard to notice since drugs affect people differently. Drug addiction can alter a person’s thinking and their physical and mental health. Abuse of, or being addicted to, illegal drugs or prescription medications can lead to a lack of self-control. The drug user’s personality may change, turning them into someone we no longer recognize. Most outsiders do not realize there is a difference between drug addiction and drug abuse, nor do they recognize the warning signs. Most people who abuse or have an addiction to drugs try to cover up their behavior by downplaying their actions. It is easy to dismiss changes in their attitude and appearance with excuses that they “do not feel well,” or they “are tired.”

Drug Abuse vs. Drug Addiction

Drug abuse is the inappropriate use of any substance. The improper use of alcohol, over-the-counter medicine, prescription medications or illegal drugs used for pleasure, altering feelings, perceptions, or to receive a high is drug abuse. Drug addiction is the compulsive use of any drug substance regardless of the consequences.

Generally, drug addiction begins with using drugs recreationally, or in social settings, which then leads to using the drugs more often. Our body produces dopamine naturally. Dopamine gives the feeling of “reward or pleasure.” Drugs and alcohol also trigger “pleasure” or “happiness” in the brain. The more alcohol or drugs used, the less the body produces its own dopamine and expects more drugs or alcohol to do the job. By this point, your brain is programmed to seek out the “feel good” substances. Simply put, drug abuse leads to drug addiction because the substance creates a dopamine “spike” that changes the way the brain functions.

The more a drug is used, the more resistant a person’s body becomes to the drug and often leads to physical dependence. As the body builds up a tolerance, more of the drug is required to receive the “high.” Developing an addiction due to increased drug usage can make it hard for one to stop using the drug. Trying to quit can cause intense cravings and could make a person physically ill because of withdrawal symptoms. Substances that are the most addictive and could have long-term effects include, but are not limited to, alcohol, nicotine, over-the-counter medications, opiates, illicit drugs, and marijuana.

Drug addiction is treatable with professional help and determination. Those who seek treatment in rehabilitation centers can live a healthy, clean, productive, drug-free lifestyle.

Signs and Symptoms of Drug Addiction

If you think you may have a drug addiction or notice someone you love is showing the following signs, seek medical advice for treatment options.

Warning signs of drug abuse or drug-seeking behavior

  • Ignoring responsibilities at work, school, or home.
  • Consuming drugs in unsafe conditions (driving while under the influence or using or sharing dirty needles).
  • Reoccuring legal or financial issues.
  • Relationship issues.

Warning signs of drug addiction or physical dependence

  • Noticing that you have built up a tolerance to a substance.
  • Choosing to use drugs to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
  • Planning or building a life around the drug of choice.
  • Giving up interests in life that you used to enjoy.
  • Using drugs even after knowing the consequences.

Common tell-tale signs of physical dependence, behavioral, and psychological addiction or abuse

  • Bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils.
  • Change in sleeping or eating habits.
  • Weight loss or gain.
  • The decline in personal appearance or grooming habits.
  • Unfamiliar body, clothing, or breath odors.
  • Absences from work or school.
  • Unusual money issues.
  • Suspicious or secretive behaviors.
  • Change in friends or hobbies.
  • Getting into legal trouble.
  • Change in attitude or personality.
  • Mood swings, irritability, angry outbursts.
  • Uncommon agitation, hyperactivity or euphoria.
  • Not having as much motivation, seeming “spaced out.”
  • Fearful, anxious, or paranoid.

What You Can Do if a Loved One Has a Substance Abuse or Drug Problem

If you believe a loved one has a drug addiction or is abusing drugs, you can get them help. First things first, keep yourself safe. Do not put yourself in situations where you could be in danger. When a loved one is under the influence, they are unpredictable. They are not thinking clearly and may even seem like an entirely different person.

Do not wait for your loved one to hit “rock bottom” before speaking up. The earlier the addiction is treated, the better the chances of sobriety. Let your loved one know your concerns and fears and let them know you are there to give them positive, non-judgmental support. Keep in mind you can be there for your loved one to explore and suggest treatment options. You cannot control your loved one’s actions or behaviors. You must let them accept responsibility for their own actions to ensure an effective recovery.

It is essential not to be openly resentful regarding your loved one’s drug abuse problem. Remember this is an emotional time for both of you. Often, they know they have a problem but may not know how to fix it or think they cannot do it alone. When speaking to a loved one regarding their substance abuse problem, remember the following:

  • Do not threaten, bribe, or preach.
  • Do not become a victim or scapegoat. Do not use emotional pleas as this often makes the loved one have the compulsion to use more.
  • Do not make excuses or cover up their actions to protect them from the consequences.
  • Do not hide or throw away drugs.
  • Do not attempt to argue with a person who is under the influence.
  • Do not give into their lifestyle and consume drugs with them.
  • Do not feel guilty for their behavior or actions. You are not responsible for their choices.

Drug Addiction Treatment Options

Treatment for addiction can differ depending on the situation and type of substance. In general, successful treatment includes:

  • Comprehensive psychological and physical evaluations to recognize all problem areas including depression and anxiety.
  • Withdrawal management (detox) is often used in both inpatient or outpatient facilities.
  • Targeted addiction therapy to help find the reasoning behind the substance abuse, help with coping skills, and learning relapse-prevention.
  • Treatment and diagnosis of any psychological, physical or psychiatric issues simultaneously with substance abuse with medications.
  • Treatment medications can be administered by a medical physician or psychiatrist that specializes in addiction to help with behavioral therapeutic methods.
  • Support from family members, friends, and other individuals in the recovery process (even with family therapy sessions) including
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA).
  • Skills training that helps the individual learn coping and living skills, sometimes in the form of work and housing programs.
  • Planning a long-term goal with continued rehabilitation, to create a lifestyle to prevent future relapse.

When fighting addiction, it can take many treatment plan options to reach recovery. It is vital to find the right treatment for the substance use disorder that is unique to your current situation. Serenity Acres has professionals dedicated to finding the treatment that is right for you or your loved one.

Myths about Drug Addiction and Abuse
  • Myth: Defeating addiction is all in your mind. It is up to you to quit.
  • Fact: Extended contact with drugs changes the way the brain reacts to cravings and compulsions to use. The changes make it harder to quit drug use by willpower alone.
  • Myth: Using prescription drugs such as prescription painkillers are safer because doctors prescribe them.
  • Fact: Using prescription painkillers for a short period to help reduce or manage pain after an injury or surgery can be safe. However, continuing to use pain medicine longer than prescribed can often lead to addiction.
  • Myth: It is not my fault; addiction is a disease.
  • Fact: Many experts agree addiction is a disease that can affect your brain. (This mental disorder is classified by the American Psychiatric Association as substance use disorder.) However, this diagnosis does not mean that drug abusers are powerless. The effects on the brain from drug use are related to addiction, and can be reversed through treatments such as exercise, therapy, and medication.
  • Myth: You must hit “rock bottom” before getting better.
  • Fact: The road to recovery can begin at any point during the addiction. However, it is better to start treatment sooner rather than later. The longer you abuse drugs, the greater the likelihood addiction will develop, making it harder to quit.
  • Myth: You cannot force help on someone. They must want to help themselves first.
  • Fact: Treatment does not always need to be voluntary to be successful. When someone is forced to seek medical help, it can be just as successful as when someone chooses to seek help on their own. As a drug user begins to sober up, their thinking becomes more clear and they can take the appropriate steps to change their lifestyle.
  • Myth: If the treatment did not work before, it will not work now.
  • Fact: Recovering from drug addiction can be a long and hard road. This can include a few obstacles along the way. A drug relapse does not mean the treatment has failed or that you or your loved one is beyond help. The treatment may require adjustments or need to be entirely changed to achieve desired outcomes.

Myths about Drug Addiction and Abuse

  • Myth: Defeating addiction is all in your mind. It is up to you to quit.
  • Fact: Extended contact with drugs changes the way the brain reacts to cravings and compulsions to use. The changes make it harder to quit drug use by willpower alone.
  • Myth: Using prescription drugs such as prescription painkillers are safer because doctors prescribe them.
  • Fact: Using prescription painkillers for a short period to help reduce or manage pain after an injury or surgery can be safe. However, continuing to use pain medicine longer than prescribed can often lead to addiction.
  • Myth: It is not my fault; addiction is a disease.
  • Fact: Many experts agree addiction is a disease that can affect your brain. (This mental disorder is classified by the American Psychiatric Association as substance use disorder.) However, this diagnosis does not mean that drug abusers are powerless. The effects on the brain from drug use are related to addiction, and can be reversed through treatments such as exercise, therapy, and medication.
  • Myth: You must hit “rock bottom” before getting better.
  • Fact: The road to recovery can begin at any point during the addiction. However, it is better to start treatment sooner rather than later. The longer you abuse drugs, the greater the likelihood addiction will develop, making it harder to quit.
  • Myth: You cannot force help on someone. They must want to help themselves first.
  • Fact: Treatment does not always need to be voluntary to be successful. When someone is forced to seek medical help, it can be just as successful as when someone chooses to seek help on their own. As a drug user begins to sober up, their thinking becomes more clear and they can take the appropriate steps to change their lifestyle.
  • Myth: If the treatment did not work before, it will not work now.
  • Fact: Recovering from drug addiction can be a long and hard road. This can include a few obstacles along the way. A drug relapse does not mean the treatment has failed or that you or your loved one is beyond help. The treatment may require adjustments or need to be entirely changed to achieve desired outcomes.