Drug & Alcohol Addiction Signs, Symptoms & Effects

Learn how to recognize the signs and symptoms of drug addiction and get help for yourself or a loved one. Seven Hills Hospital helps individuals struggling with drug addiction build a strong foundation for lasting recovery. Located near Las Vegas, Seven Hills is the leading provider of psychiatric and addiction treatment.

Understanding Substance Abuse & Addiction

Learn About Substance Abuse & Addiction

The crippling effects of a substance abuse problem can be permanent and life-threatening if left untreated. Substances, such as a drugs or alcohol, become the primary focus of the abuser and are done in excess with the goal of altering his or her mental state. Whether it is to numb the pain of a trauma, distance oneself from unpleasant emotions or situations, or to decrease one’s inhibitions, the motivation to maintain a substance abuse problem often goes beyond situational circumstances in a person’s life.

As a substance abuse problem progresses into a dependence on drugs or alcohol, a person’s ability to independently abstain from his or her drug of choice becomes increasingly difficult. Alcohol and drugs interact with the brain and it’s chemicals in different ways and can ultimately hinder a person’s brain functioning over time. Moreover, vital organs can be negatively affected and depending on the frequency and amount of alcohol or a drug(s) used, the damage can be irreversible.


Substance Abuse Statistics

Research has shown that almost 10% of Americans have used illicit drugs or abused medications. In 2012, nearly 24 million individuals over the age of 12 were believed to have used illicit drugs or to have abused some type of prescription medications in the United States, and the numbers continue to grow.

Causes & Risks

Causes and Risk Factors for Substance Abuse & Addiction

There is not any one particular cause that has been identified as directly leading to a person developing an addiction to substances. Instead, it is most commonly believed to be a combination of different factors working together. These various factors can include:

Genetic: Research has shown that there is a genetic link to the presence of addiction. People who have a first-degree relative who struggles with an addiction to substances are at a higher risk of developing an addiction themselves.

Physical: Drugs are composed of chemicals that act on the brain’s communication system and cause a disturbance in the way in which cells would normally process information. The longer that a person abuses a substance, the more likely it is that the drug will cause lasting damage on the composition of the brain’s communication system. This damage ultimately results in the development of physical dependence on the substance.

Environmental: Many researchers believe that certain environmental factors can play a role in whether or not an individual will develop an addiction to substances. People who are surrounded by high levels of stress are more susceptible to developing a drug addiction because they may be searching for something to alleviate their stress and find that relief in the use of substances. Additionally, people who have a history of being physically and/or sexually abused may turn to drug use as a means of numbing the pain that they feel as a result of the trauma they experienced.

Risk Factors:

Family history of substance abuse and addiction
Personal history of mental illness
Family history of mental illness
Exposure to violence
Low socioeconomic status
Low self-esteem
Lack of coping skills
Chaotic home environment
Stressful work environment
Having easy access to drugs
Peer pressure

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse & Addiction

The signs and symptoms of substance abuse will vary immensely depending upon the type of substance that a person is using. The frequency of use and the length of time that a person has been using the drug will also play a significant role in which symptoms are present. The following are some general examples of signs that may indicate that a person is abusing substances:

Behavioral symptoms:

Social isolation
Rapid or slowed speech
Participating in risky behaviors
No longer taking part in activities that one used to enjoy
Decline in occupational or academic performance
Criminal involvement
Physical symptoms:

Nausea and/or vomiting
Diarrhea or constipation
Dramatic changes in eating and sleeping patterns
Noticeable weight gain or weight loss
Muscle weakness
Bursts of extreme hyperactivity or being overly lethargic
Frequent headaches
Yellowed skin and eyes
Chronic coughing
Abnormal marks, bruises, or sores appearing on the skin
No longer caring about how one looks / lacking personal hygiene
Cognitive symptoms:

Difficulty concentrating
Memory impairment
Altered states of perception
Psychosocial symptoms:

Extreme mood swings
Excessive irritability and agitation

Lasting Effects

Effects of Substance Abuse & Addiction

The abuse of substances can lead to extremely detrimental long-term effects. The severity and type of effects will be greatly impacted by the type of substance that a person has been abusing, as well as how long he or she has been using it. Some common effects of drug abuse can include:

Physical and psychological dependence on the substance
Decline in mental health
Academic or occupational failure
Familial conflict
Permanent memory loss
Collapsed veins
Contraction of diseases such as HIV/AIDS or Hepatitis C
Damage to the cardiovascular system
Damage to the nervous system
Heart attack

Co-Occurring Disorders

Substance Abuse & Co-Occurring Disorders

Many people who struggle with substance abuse and addiction also suffer from some type of mental illness. The most commonly cited disorders that may occur alongside the abuse of substances can include:

Bipolar disorder
Anxiety disorders
Depressive disorders
Posttraumatic stress disorder
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
Schizoaffective disorder
Oppositional defiant disorder
Conduct disorder
Borderline personality disorder
Antisocial personality disorder
Polysubstance abuse
In addition to our acute inpatient treatment center, Seven Hills Hospital, near Las Vegas, also offers outpatient services which include partial hospitalization programs (PHP) and intensive outpatient programs (IOP). Our PHP and IOP are designed for adults and offer two separate tracks, one for mental health and one for chemical dependency. In addition to daily group sessions, both programs provide patients with weekly sessions with a psychiatrist, individual sessions on an as-needed basis, and recreational therapy twice a week. Transportation and lunch are also provided to patients daily who are enrolled in these treatment options at our hospital.

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of Withdrawal & Overdose

When someone has become physically dependent on a substance, the sudden ceasing of use can result in that person going through a period of withdrawal. Depending on the person’s drug of choice, the unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal will range in severity from mild to severe. The following are various examples of things that a person going through substance withdrawal may experience:

  • Intense cravings
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Nausea / vomiting
  • Tremors / shakes
  • Cold and hot sweats
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Depersonalization
  • Psychosis

Sadly, many individuals who chronically abuse substances, or who have become addicted to a particular substance, end up overdosing on the drug that they are using. The longer that people use a substance, the higher their tolerance becomes, resulting in their steadily increasing the amount they use at any given time. This increase has the potential of resulting in a person taking more than his or her body is capable of handling, resulting in an overdose.

As is true for withdrawal symptoms, the symptoms of overdose will vary depending on the drug that the person is abusing. Some common signs that a person is experiencing an overdose may include:

  • Erratic or shallow breathing
  • Profuse sweating
  • Acute psychotic behavior
  • Blacking out
  • Sudden heart failure
  • Extreme confusion
  • Derealization
  • Extreme chest pain or tightening
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Death
Individuals Talking in Circle

I dealt with all the stress in my life by taking a variety of drugs. This habit eventually turned into a drug addiction that completely took over my life. After getting treatment at Seven Hills, I am now celebrating my first year sober and look forward to many more.

– Chad F.