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Signs of Addiction

Recognizing the signs of addiction is the first step to getting help for yourself or guiding someone you care about to rehab. For this reason, it is critical to have an understanding of the signs of addiction. There are behavioral, physical, and psychological signs of addiction.

Behavioral Signs

Behavioral signs involve the drug abuser’s outward relations with the world whereas physical signs relate to the body’s manifestation of side effects due to the presence of drugs in the system. Behavioral signs include but are not limited to:

Obsessive thoughts and actions:

Acquiring and using the drug become the main priorities of life while all or most other obligations including work, family, or school are sidelined.

Disregard of harm caused:

Although the drug abuse is causing physical and mental distress to the user and loved ones, the substance abuser continues this behavior.

Loss of control:

Even in the face of wanting to stop or reduce the drug abuse, the substance abuser cannot do so.

Denial and/or hiding abuse:

When confronted, the substance abuser will deny or downplay the use; to avoid having to explain, he will do drugs in secret.

Drug abuse cannot remain hidden for long; its impact is too dramatic, and the abuser can spiral out of control in very pronounced ways. Changes in behavior toward neglecting responsibilities, exhausting financial resources, and engaging in criminal conduct are some of the most obvious signals of a drug problem. Family members, loved ones, and coworkers are usually in the best position to realize that there’s a drug problem because they know the suspected user’s patterns of behavior and habits.

Physical Signs

Physical signs of addiction can manifest in the form of side effects of use, during an overdose, or as a result of withdrawal. It may be very difficult for a layperson to pinpoint the cause of the physical signs, but severe effects will require immediate medical treatment. Also, it is important to understand that withdrawal symptoms arise when the body adjusts to the absence of familiar quantities of a drug. It is a natural process, but withdrawal can be dangerous.

General physical signs of addiction include but are not limited to:

  • Enlarged or small pupils
  • Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Insomnia
  • Unusual breath or body odors
  • Poor physical coordination
  • Looking unkempt/poor grooming
  • Slurred speech

Typical signs of an overdose may include but are not limited to:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Agitation
  • Aggression/violent behavior
  • Drowsiness or trouble walking
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, withdrawal symptoms may include but are not limited to:

  • Shakiness, trembling, and jumpiness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Depression
  • Insomnia and fatigue
  • Headaches and fever
  • Confusion and hallucinations
  • Seizures

Drug abuse also impacts the abuser’s psychological state. The changes may not be apparent to the substance abuser herself, as she is in the grip of the addiction, but they will likely be recognizable to those in her environment. The psychological signs of drug addiction may include but are not limited to:

  • Sudden mood swings
  • Unexplained paranoia
  • Irritability or angry outbursts
  • Inattentiveness
  • Lack of motivation
  • Changes in personality or attiude
  • Emotional and mental withdrawal
  • Anxiousness

Family members and loved ones are often key players in getting a substance abuser into rehab. Although there may be hindrances to lending help, such as denying the existence of the problem as a coping mechanism, witnessing the signs and symptoms of drug abuse will often motivate a concerned person to action. Also, when a person knows of, or suspects, a particular drug of abuse, they can deepen their understanding of that drug and learn additional ways to help their loved one.

Signs of Heroin Abuse

Many people who suspect heroin abuse in a loved one or colleague may not even know what this substance or its related paraphernalia look like. As the Foundation for a Drug-Free World explains, heroin is white in its pure form, but other substances are often cut into it and turn it rose gray, brown, or black.

Heroin paraphernalia includes the containers used to transport it and instruments used to consume it. Examples of paraphernalia include but are not limited to:

  • Small pieces of foil with burn marks
  • Small tubes
  • Needles
  • Small colorful balloons (a container)
  • Spoons with burn marks
  • Shoelaces or rubber bands (for arms)
  • Lots of lighters
  • Cut-up straws

Finding this substance, its residue, or heroin paraphernalia is a solid tip-off that heroin abuse is occurring. In addition, money and items of value may go missing, new people may hang around, and the substance abuser may all of a sudden have a portable lock box or other guarded container where the drugs and paraphernalia are kept.

In addition to the general behavioral, physical, and psychological signs discussed above, heroin abusers may experience the following symptoms:

  • Constricted pupils for 4-5 hours
  • Disorientation
  • Shallow breathing
  • Unkempt, dirty appearences
  • Track marks on arms or other body parts
  • Weight loss
  • Stomach and muscle cramps or diarrhea
  • Tremors

The use of drug lingo can also be a sign of abuse. For this reason, it is important to know heroin street names, which include:

  • Dope
  • Brown sugar
  • Big H
  • Junk
  • China white
  • Horse
  • Black tar
  • Smack

Heroin is a highly addictive drug and an overdose can prove fatal. For this reason, signs of heroin addiction should be taken seriously, and measures should be taken to stage an intervention or otherwise convince the abuser to join a rehab program.

Signs of Cocaine Abuse

Cocaine is best known in its white powder form. Most often, this drug is snorted, smoked, or injected. As cocaine is a stimulant, one of its hallmarks is that its main effects wear off around 30 minutes to 2 hours after last use. In addition to the general signs of drug abuse discussed above, cocaine has some specific side effects, including:

  • Increased energy
  • Restlessness
  • Paranoia
  • Elevated mood
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling invincible or superior
  • Excited speech
  • Dilated pupils

Cocaine users are apt to use street names for this drug, which can help to put concerned persons on notice of abuse. There are many slang names for cocaine, but some common ones include:

  • Aspirin
  • Flave
  • Snow
  • Soft
  • Blow
  • Uptown
  • Fast white lady
  • Yao

As Medical News Today discusses, cocaine is highly addictive and the strongest natural occurring stimulant in existence. Cocaine addiction is associated with dramatic personal losses; there are reports of professionals spending $20,000 to $50,000 on cocaine binges, parents selling their children, and users becoming unemployed, having to file bankruptcy, and ending up homeless. It is clear that a cocaine abuser can spiral out of control. For this reason, the earlier the abuse is intercepted, the better.

Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Unfortunately, public perception of alcohol may be that since it is legal, it is not a drug – but it is, and a lethal one at that. The history of alcohol and Prohibition (1919 – 1933) lay bare that this drug is legal mainly because of its popularity and commercial profitability and not because of its widespread acceptance. Even today, some Americans would support Prohibition, especially those who have firsthand experience with the ravages of this illness.

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are associated with physical symptoms such as weight loss, redness of the cheeks and nose, and gastritis (upset stomach). This illness also gives rise to many of the behavioral changes discussed earlier. However, there are additional negative experiences associated with alcohol abuse, including:


After drinking heavily, some people do not recall the events that took place while they were intoxicated.

Legal trouble:

Drunk driving and fighting are common negative behaviors associated with drinking and can lead to a criminal arrest.

Troubling drinking patterns:

This may involve drinking alone, in the morning time, or for many hours.

Panic regarding access:

An alcoholic may be anxious and concerned that there will be limitations placed on how much alcohol is available in any given situation or period of time.

The high prevalence of alcohol abuse ensures that both the alcohol abuser and concerned individuals are not alone in dealing with this illness. In addition to rehab for the abuser, there is exceptional support available for those affected by alcoholism, including individual counseling and Al-Anon meetings.

Signs of Benzodiazepine Abuse

Benzodiazepines are a prescription medication used to treat anxiety, insomnia, seizures, alcohol withdrawal, and other conditions. These drugs are among the most prescribed in America. Benzodiazepines are mainly available in tablet or capsule form, though some are manufactured as injectable liquids and syrups. Short-term use is generally safe, but abuse can cause numerous complications.

As benzodiazepines are sedatives, some of their side effects overlap with the general signs of addiction discussed above. Persons using benzodiazepines may manifest the following side effects, including:

  • Impaired coordination
  • Dizziness
  • Grogginess or drowsiness
  • Trembling
  • Depression
  • Vision problems
  • Confusion
  • Heahache

There are many well-known brands of benzodiazepines, including Xanax, Diazepam, Valium, and Klonopin. These pharmaceuticals can be acquired in numerous ways; some abusers have legitimate prescriptions but may have used deceptive means to get them from more than one doctor. Currently, doctors do not have the benefit of a national database that stores information on a patient’s active prescriptions. The illegal circulation of benzodiazepine does not only happen on the street; it also happens when legitimate users (who may not have an abuse problem) share these drugs with others.

It is important to understand that even though benzodiazepines are legal, they may be used in a way that makes the use illegal. If a person is a showing the signs of abuse, it is critical to get them help.

Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse

There are three main categories of prescription medications – depressants, stimulants, and pain relievers. As the Mayo Clinicdiscusses, the signs of abuse of prescription drugs vary depending on the specific medication or drug category. While the general signs of addiction described above provide some guidance, the following is a breakdown by drug category of signs of prescription drug abuse:

Depressants have some characteristic physical side effects. As benzodiazepines are included in this category and have been discussed above, the following are some physical signs of depressant drug use that have not been mentioned previously: poor judgment, unsteady walking, and rapid involuntary eye movements.

Prescription stimulants include amphetamines and methylphenidate (such as Ritalin) and are the most commonly abused drugs in this category. In addition to the behavioral and psychological signs of addiction described above, physical signs of prescription stimulant abuse include:

  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Irritability
  • High blood pressure
  • Weight loss
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Restlessness

Prescription painkiller abuse has reached the magnitude of an epidemic in America. These drugs are usually opioids, a synthetic or partially synthetic drug that resembles opium in its compound structure. Common pharmaceutical painkillers of abuse include Opana, OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin.

As CBS News reports, signs of prescription painkiller abuse include:


This sign goes beyond simply being tired; the abuser may have droopy eyes and appear drowsy or fall asleep at all hours of the day.

Inability to concentrate

This drug can impair thinking, and the constant focus on taking the drug can make it hard to meet usual obligations related to work, school, or family.

Drug-seeking behavior

This can include getting prescriptions from different doctors, filling prescriptions at different pharmacies, asking people with legitimate prescriptions to share or offering to buy pills from them, and buying on the street at a high price markup.

Unhealthy appearance

Some telltale signs include pinpoint pupils (even when the light is dim), flushed face and neck, head nodding, unnatural calmness, slurred speech, and sudden itching of the arms, legs, and stomach.

Being secretive

Using slang terms or code names for drugs can help keep the use hidden, as does keeping distance between the people in one’s drug-using world and family and friends.

Recognizing the signs of prescription drug abuse is not only for trained professionals. Family and friends are the first line of attack against an advancing drug problem. One of the best responses to witnessing the signs is to talk to a qualified counselor about how to get help.

Advanced Recovery Solutions has over 30 years of treatment and referral experience. We have proven instrumental in the successful placement of our clients in expert rehab programs across our extensive network. We are here to help you or your loved one navigate the rehab process and get on track to a drug-free life.

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