Substance Use

Signs & Symptoms Of Addiction

A drug addicted man sitting alone

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Addiction causes changes in the way a person feels and behaves. At the start of an addiction, you might feel unusually elated, stand-offish, or easily agitated. But as the addiction progresses, worrying signs such as unusual weight loss, excessive drowsiness, and increased legal troubles, often occur.

Although these signs are similar to those of mental health or physical health problems, an addiction may be to blame if a substance is involved. In this article, we have a look at addiction, including what signs and symptoms to look out for. 

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What is Addiction?

Addiction is a term that means a compulsive physiological need for and use of a habit-forming substance (like heroin or nicotine), characterized by tolerance and well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal; it has also been used more broadly to refer to compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be physically, psychologically, or socially harmful. (1)

It includes various forms of substance abuse, including drug abuse and alcohol use disorder. Individuals struggling with addiction – whether drug or alcohol addiction – often experience intense cravings and a loss of control over their substance use.

Addiction can involve a range of substances, including:

  • Stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine
  • Potent opioids like fentanyl
  • Benzodiazepines like Xanax or Klonopin

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

Addiction can manifest in various ways, and it is essential to recognize the signs and symptoms early on.

Some common signs of addiction include:

  • Increased tolerance to a substance
  • Withdrawal symptoms when not using the substance
  • Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable
  • Neglecting responsibilities

Physical signs may also be present, such as:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Sleep patterns
  • Mood swings

Let’s delve into more.

Behavioral Signs and Symptoms

The first noticeable signs of addiction are behavioral changes. Repeated substance use rewires the brain and deregulates emotions, decision-making, judgment, and motivation. (10)

This often results in drug-seeking behavior or an increase in impulsivity. Behavior changes will vary depending on the substance used and the severity of addiction.

The following are some behavioral changes associated with drug addiction: (11)

  • Drop in attendance and performance at work or school
  • Frequently getting into trouble (fights, accidents, illegal activities)
  • Engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Unexplained change in personality or attitude
  • Sudden mood swings, irritability, or angry outbursts
  • Periods of unusual hyperactivity, agitation, or giddiness
  • Lack of motivation
  • Appearing fearful, anxious, or paranoid, with no reason
  • Possible legal problems and financial problems

Noticing these signs in yourself can make you feel helpless. You might feel angry or betrayed if you notice them in a loved one. You might feel helpless or betrayed when discovering they have an addiction.

You may want to confront them, but according to the University of Rochester Medical Center, coming from a place of concern rather than anger can help. (12)

Instead, contact a professional for advice on how to help your loved one in the most supportive way.

Physical Signs and Symptoms

Repeated drug use causes large amounts of dopamine to flood the reward system in your brain. (13) In turn, the brain creates a motivation to seek out more drugs. This motivation leads to intense cravings that supersede the need to eat or drink regularly.

Over time, dopamine decreases, and the high becomes less pronounced. However, the urge to seek it continues.

When casual substance use reaches the level of addiction, you’ll notice the following warning signs: (14)

  • Puffy face
  • Insomnia or inability to stay awake
  • Cold, clammy hands
  • Red eyes (bloodshot eyes)
  • No energy or unexplained hyperactivity
  • Nose bleeds and/or runny nose
  • New or worsening depression or anxiety
  • Slurred speech
  • Deterioration of personal appearance
  • Bad smell
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Needle marks or sores on the arms, legs, or feet
  • Heart and blood pressure problems

What Causes Addiction?

Understanding the roots of addiction is crucial in addressing its complexities. Addiction arises from a combination of factors encompassing biological, psychological, and environmental influences. 

  • Biologically, genetic predispositions can play a significant role, as individuals with a family history of addiction may be more vulnerable to developing addictive behaviors themselves. Additionally, alterations in brain chemistry, particularly in regions responsible for reward, motivation, and impulse control, contribute to the compulsive nature of addiction. 
  • Psychologically, factors such as underlying mental health disorders, trauma, stress, and low self-esteem can fuel the desire to seek solace or escape through substance use.
  • Environmental factors, including exposure to substance use at an early age, peer pressure, socioeconomic status, and availability of drugs, also shape the risk of addiction.

While genetic and environmental factors may contribute to the development of addiction, it can also co-occur with other health conditions.

Two strong predictors of the risk of drug abuse include:

  • A genetic risk index, including biological parental or sibling history of drug abuse, criminal activity, and psychiatric or alcohol problems)
  • An environmental risk index (including the adoptive parental history of divorce, death, criminal activity, and alcohol problems, as well as an adoptive sibling’s history of drug abuse and psychiatric or alcohol problems) (2

There’s a strong link between addiction and mental health conditions. Studies found that people with a mental disorder, such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), may use drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication. (3)

Effective addiction treatment typically involves a combination of therapies aimed at addressing the underlying causes of substance abuse, managing withdrawal symptoms, and promoting long-term recovery. Recognizing the signs and risk factors associated with addiction is crucial for early intervention and support.

What Are the Types of Addiction?

Addiction takes place in many forms, which include:

  • Addictions related to substances
  • Behavioral addictions

The former involves the misuse of substances like nicotine, alcohol, prescription medications, and illegal drugs. On the other hand, behavioral addictions involve compulsive engagement in activities that provide pleasure or relief, despite adverse consequences. 

While the substances or behaviors involved may differ, the underlying mechanisms of addiction share similarities, including changes in brain chemistry and neural circuitry associated with reward and reinforcement.

Substance Addictions

Substance addictions are a huge part of what makes up addictive behaviors. They include a wide range of substances that differ in terms of potency and risk. Alcohol addiction is one of the most common forms of substance addiction all over the world.

According to the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 28.8 million adults ages 18 and older (11.2% in this age group) had AUD in 2021.1,2 Among youth, an estimated 753,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17 (2.9% of this age group) had AUD during this time frame. (4)

Similarly, there has also been a major outbreak of opioid addiction in many parts of the world. There was a significant increase in 2020 with 68,630 reported deaths and again in 2021 with 80,411 reported overdose deaths. (5)

This addiction includes dependence on prescription painkillers such as oxycodone or illegal drugs like heroin.

Stimulant addiction looks at the misuse of substances like cocaine and methamphetamine; while sedative addiction addresses addiction to substances like benzodiazepines and barbiturates. 

People who use these substances report feeling strong emotions, such as:

  • Intense happiness
  • Connectedness to fear
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion (6)

Non-substance Addictions

Non-substance addictions, also known as behavioral addictions, cover a wide range of compulsive behaviors that can have significant negative impacts on your life. 

  • Gambling addiction is one of the common forms, which is the uncontrollable urge to gamble despite unfavorable consequences. As an “addiction without the drug”, pathological gambling can provide insight into the pathophysiology of addiction without the potentially confounding influence of drug-on-brain-substrate. (7)
  • Gaming addiction, which is an issue, especially among adolescents and young adults, is excessive and compulsive gaming behavior. It often leads to neglect of responsibilities, social isolation, and physical health problems.
  • Internet addiction is another form of non-substance addiction. It is defined as the excessive use of online activities such as social media, gaming, or browsing. It can disrupt lives by causing neurological complications, psychological disturbances, and social problems. (8)
  • Shopping addiction, or compulsive buying disorder, explains extreme and impulsive shopping behavior. It results in financial distress, cluttered living spaces, and feelings of guilt or shame.
  • Food addiction is another addiction belonging to this category. Studies proposed that food addiction symptoms more closely resembled those of a substance use disorder due to the necessary consumption of a substance (food) and the inapplicability of certain behavioral criteria. (9

While these non-substance addictions may not involve consuming drugs, they all share common features with substance addictions, including the development of tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, and a loss of control over the behavior.

Treatment Options for Substance Use Disorder

Treatment options for substance use disorder encompass a variety of approaches aimed at addressing the complex nature of addiction and promoting recovery. Healthcare professionals play a central role in providing comprehensive addiction treatment, which may include both medical and behavioral interventions tailored to individual needs.

Treatment programs range from outpatient services, which allow individuals to attend therapy sessions while maintaining their daily routines, to inpatient programs that provide intensive support and monitoring in a residential setting. Most of these programs are connected to a hospital or clinic. (15)

Behavioral therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational interviewing, help individuals understand the underlying causes of their addiction and develop coping strategies to prevent relapse.

Support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), offer peer support and encouragement throughout the recovery process. (16)

By addressing the negative consequences of substance use and providing access to effective treatment and support, individuals can embark on a journey toward lasting sobriety and improved overall well-being.

Let’s look at each treatment option in depth.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

MAT combines medications with behavioral therapy to provide a comprehensive approach to SUD treatment. Medications are used to manage withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, and prevent relapse.

Examples of medications used in MAT include methadone, buprenorphine, naltrexone (oral or extended-release injectable), and acamprosate for alcohol use disorder. MAT is particularly effective for opioid use disorder and alcohol use disorder.

Research shows that when treating addictions to opioids (prescription pain relievers or drugs like heroin or fentanyl), medication should be the first line of treatment, usually combined with some form of behavioral therapy or counseling. Medications are also available to help treat addiction to alcohol and nicotine. (16)

Common medications used to treat drug addiction and withdrawal

  • Opioid
    • Methadone
    • Buprenorphine
    • Extended-release naltrexone
    • Lofexidine
  • Nicotine
    • Nicotine replacement therapies (available as a patch, inhaler, or gum)
    • Bupropion
    • Varenicline
  • Alcohol
    • Naltrexone
    • Disulfiram
    • Acamprosate (16)

Behavioral Therapies

Various behavioral therapies are integral components of SUD treatment. These therapies aim to modify attitudes and behaviors related to drug use, enhance coping skills, and promote healthier lifestyles.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy aimed at helping people learn how to cope with difficult situations by challenging irrational thoughts and changing behaviors. (3)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) uses concepts of mindfulness and acceptance or being aware of and attentive to the current situation and emotional state. DBT also teaches skills that can help control intense emotions, reduce self-destructive behaviors (such as suicide attempts, thoughts, or urges; self-harm; and drug use), and improve relationships. (3)
  • Assertive community treatment (ACT) is a form of community-based mental health care that emphasizes outreach to the community and an individualized treatment approach. (3)
  • Contingency management (CM) principles encourage healthy behaviors by offering vouchers or rewards for desired behaviors. (3)
  • Therapeutic communities (TC)  are a common form of long-term residential treatment that focuses on helping people develop new and healthier values, attitudes, and behaviors. (3) (17)

These therapies can be delivered individually, in group settings, or through family therapy, depending on the needs of the individual.

Support Groups

Support groups provide a valuable source of peer support, encouragement, and accountability for individuals in recovery. They offer a safe space for sharing experiences, insights, and coping strategies.

Programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and SMART Recovery are widely available and can complement formal treatment programs.

Residential or Inpatient Treatment

Residential or inpatient treatment involves round-the-clock care in a structured environment. It is recommended for individuals with severe SUD or those who have experienced multiple relapses.

Inpatient programs typically offer detoxification, medical monitoring, individual and group therapy sessions, educational programs, and aftercare planning.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment programs provide flexibility to receive treatment while maintaining daily routines. They vary in intensity and may include individual counseling, group therapy, medication management, and educational sessions.

Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) offer more frequent sessions and structured programming, suitable for individuals requiring a higher level of support than traditional outpatient care.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Many individuals with SUD also have co-occurring mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD. Dual diagnosis treatment addresses both substance use and mental health issues concurrently.

Epidemiological studies find that psychiatric disorders, including mental disorders and substance use disorders, are common among adults and highly co-exist. With integrated treatment, the focus of treatment is on two or more conditions and uses multiple treatments such as the combination of psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy.

Integrated treatment for comorbidity is consistently superior compared to treatment of individual disorders with separate treatment plans. (18)

Integrated treatment approaches combine interventions for SUD and mental health disorders to provide comprehensive care and improve treatment outcomes.

Holistic and Alternative Therapies

Some individuals may benefit from holistic or alternative therapies as adjuncts to traditional treatment approaches.

These may include:

  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Yoga
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage therapy
  • Art or music therapy

While not typically standalone treatments for SUD, these approaches can enhance overall well-being and support recovery efforts.

Aftercare and Relapse Prevention

Successful long-term recovery often requires ongoing support and maintenance. Aftercare planning involves developing strategies to prevent relapse and addressing any ongoing needs or challenges.

Aftercare may include continued participation in therapy or support groups, ongoing medication management, vocational or educational support, and assistance with housing or legal issues.

Is Addiction a Disease?

The question of whether addiction is a disease has been a topic of debate within the scientific and medical communities. However, growing evidence suggests that addiction meets the criteria of a chronic, relapsing brain disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite harmful consequences.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), addiction is considered a complex condition resulting from changes in the brain’s structure and function, including alterations in neurotransmitter systems and circuitry involved in reward, motivation, and self-control. (19

Viewing addiction as a disease underscores the need for comprehensive treatment approaches that address the biological, psychological, and social aspects of the condition, offering hope for recovery through evidence-based interventions and support systems.

Getting Help for Drug Addiction

If you or one of your family members experience symptoms of addiction after prolonged drug or alcohol use, you are not alone. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 20 million Americans suffer from a substance use disorder, often leading to addiction. (20)

Even if you tried to stop using and were unsuccessful, there are many ways to kick drug addiction for good.

Inpatient detox, medication-assisted detox, residential care, and outpatient care are all viable options for reaching sobriety. 

If you or someone you know is dependent on opioids, benzodiazepines, or another substance, quitting abruptly could trigger withdrawal symptoms. Our health professionals at Zinnia Health provide addiction medicine like methadone to minimize this risk. To learn more about our medically supervised detox program, call us at (855) 430-9439.


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Ready to get help?
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