Drug Addiction – Signs & Symptoms
Addiction is a dangerous and debilitating illness that can impact all aspects of a person’s life including their relationships, job, finances and even their criminal record. Between April 2019 and March 2020, 270,705 people sought out treatment for drug addiction in England (1).
When factoring in the number of people that have not reached out for help and those who have fallen under the radar, the number of people suffering from a substance use disorder is disturbingly high.
If you suspect that someone you know may be struggling with a substance use disorder, it is helpful to know what signs and symptoms to look out for before approaching them about seeking treatment.
Signs and symptoms of drug addiction
Symptoms of substance abuse vary from person to person and can also change depending on the substance that has been abused. However, there are some common symptoms associated with addiction.
Some of the physical symptoms of drug addiction include:
- Persistent cold and flu-like symptoms
- Abrupt weight loss or weight gain
- Sleep disturbances
- Chronic fatigue
- Digestive problems
- Skin lesions, scabs, and sores
- Rotting teeth and tooth loss
- Respiratory issues and recurrent chest infections
- Constant intense itching
- Watery eyes
- Loss of appetite
- Bloodshot eyes
- Dilated or constricted pupils
- Image changes such as looking untidy or unclean
- Unpleasant body odour due to lack of self-care
- Contraction of other illnesses such as Hepatitis C or HIV/AIDS
Some of the psychological symptoms of drug addiction include:
- Constant feelings of shame or guilt
- Lack of self-worth
- Suicidal thoughts
- Intense mood swings
- Poor judgement leading to bad decisions such as driving under the influence or sharing needles
- Inability to focus
- Lack of concentration
- Frequent disorientation
- Increased temper
- Memory problems
Social or behavioural symptoms of drug addiction include:
- Withdrawing from friends or family
- Lack of interest in hobbies they once enjoyed
- Associating more with other drug users
- Issues at work or school due to poor performance and frequently not showing up
- Wearing long sleeves or full-length trousers to cover track marks
- Using drugs when it is dangerous to do so, for example, when driving
- Feeling unable to stop using drugs no matter how hard they try
- Secretive behaviour to cover up the fact that they are using, or are in search of, more drugs
Long-term effects of drug addiction
If left untreated, drug addiction can have a negative impact on every aspect of a user’s life. Not only does addiction impact the user, but it also impacts the people around the person struggling with addiction as people often don’t know the best way to help their loved one.
Additionally, a person who habitually abuses substances won’t always admit that they have a problem, which can lead to even more problems.
Long-term social or behavioural effects of drug addiction include:
- Family breakdowns
- Destruction of relationships and friendships
- Financial problems and poor credit
- Legal troubles that could result in a prison sentence
- Job loss or expulsion from school
- Suicidal tendencies
How long-term drug addiction impacts your health
In addition to the multitude of social and behavioural long-term effects of a substance use disorder, drug addiction also has long-term and often irreversible effects on your health.
Long-term effects of drug addiction include:
- Liver damage that can lead to liver failure
- Kidney damage that can lead to kidney failure
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Sexual dysfunction
- Loss of memory
- Altered brain function
- Brain injury
The list of negative side-effects might be enough to put a person off ever taking drugs, and it may make it difficult to understand why a person continues to abuse substances despite knowing the damage their addiction is doing to themselves and their loved ones.
However, it is important to understand that substance use disorder is an illness that requires treatment just as any other illness would.
How does drug addiction start?
There are many different factors that can lead a person towards a road of addiction. For some, addiction begins when they start experimenting with substances. They enjoy the feeling their substance of choice brings them and as they continue to search for that “buzz”, they take higher doses more frequently.
For others, addiction begins after an injury or after surgery in which they have been prescribed strong medication. They become addicted to prescription medication and feel that they need to take more to keep the pain away.
Unfortunately, they may find it difficult to access the prescription medication after a certain time and might seek out harder, street drugs such as heroin to feel fulfilled.
Alternatively, a person might become addicted to certain substances after a stressful or traumatic event such as sexual abuse or the loss of a loved one.
There is no way to know in advance if a person is going to develop a substance use disorder. However, there are some risk factors to keep in mind if you are worried about someone you know developing an addiction.
Risk factors for drug addiction
This list is not exhaustive, and it is important to know that any person from any background can develop a drug addiction. However, some of the main risk factors for addiction are:
- Family history of drug abuse
- Domestic abuse
- Mental health issues
- Lack of support from family or friends
- Traumatic or stressful life events
- Negative social relationships
- Peer pressure and bullying (2)
What is the next step?
If you are worried that someone you know has an addiction, it is important to get help as soon as possible. The longer an addiction continues, the more difficult it will be to overcome. However, no matter what stage the addiction is at, help is available.
If you are going to approach a loved one about their addiction, there are steps you can take to have the best chances at getting through to them:
- Always remember that addiction is an illness that needs to be treated
- Remember that the addiction is likely out of their control
- Do not judge them – be understanding
- Let them know that you are there for them no matter what
- Try not to be critical – make sure you are presenting treatment options as an opportunity for them to get better and not as a punishment for bad behaviour.
- Be firm. If you threaten consequences that you do not follow through with, they are less likely to take you seriously. Always follow through with the consequences you impose
Treatment for drug addiction
Treatment will vary from person to person and will depend on the substance that has been abused, and the level of drug use. Many people will be able to undergo treatment as an outpatient.
This means that they will stay at home and have regular visits to an outpatient facility to check their progress and general health and well-being. They may be prescribed drugs to counteract withdrawal symptoms and the use of these will be closely monitored.
If the addiction is, further along, a residential rehabilitation facility is the best option. In a residential facility, they will have 24-hour access to medical professionals who can be on hand in case of severe withdrawal symptoms and sickness.
In addition to that, they offer other services such as art therapy, yoga, and counselling to make sure you are in a good state of mental and physical health before you are discharged.
There is also a range of community and peer support groups that you can avail of even after you have finished detoxing or have been discharged from a residential rehab facility.
12-step programs and other peer support groups will be available within your community and can provide a network of people who can help to keep you on track in your journey to sobriety. These groups are full of people who have been on the same journey and will have a range of helpful advice and support for you.