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Recognizing the Warning Signs of Drug Abuse and Addiction

How to Detect Behavioral and Physical Signs of Addiction

Drug use continues to rise in the United States, with an estimated 23.5 million Americans addicted to drugs or alcohol. This represents one out of every 10 Americans over the age of 12. It makes sense that the earlier addiction is identified in an individual, the sooner loved ones can intervene and enable them to get the help they need. Early intervention is one way to try to combat the troubling statistics around the use and abuse of drugs. The purpose of this guide is to educate readers, even those who may be struggling themselves, about the signs of drug addiction.


Defining Drug Addiction

Drug addiction, or substance abuse disorder, is considered by most medical professionals to be a disease. This disease is a physical dependency on a substance that affects both the person’s brain and behavior. The physical dependency causes an inability to control the use of the substance, regardless of whatever harmful effects it may cause in the person’s life.

Drug use is not the same as drug abuse or addiction. A person may use drugs recreationally on occasion or as prescribed by their doctor and not be considered a substance abuser or addict. Substance abuse, however, is a compulsion to use drugs even when they cause harmful effects, except it doesn’t involve a physical dependence. Addiction, on the other hand, includes a physical dependence that leads to withdrawal symptoms when the drug leaves the person’s system.

The six characteristics of addiction are:

    • Loss of control
    • Ignoring harmful effects of drug abuse
    • Preoccupation with using
    • Physical, behavioral, and psychological changes
    • Increased tolerance
    • Withdrawal symptoms

Addiction may start with casual or recreational drug use in social settings or with opiates prescribed for pain. As a person uses the drug more often, tolerance to the drug builds, and they need larger doses to experience the same effect. Over time, the body becomes physically dependent on high levels of the drug just to feel in equilibrium.

The five warning signs of addiction are:

    • Behavioral changes
    • Physical changes
    • Psychological changes
    • Financial and legal consequences
    • Relationship and family impacts


Regardless of the type of drug used, addiction can lead to many common behavioral changes. The types of behaviors listed below could be signs of addiction.


Addiction can cause interruptions in normal sleeping patterns, cause a person to neglect responsibilities at work or school, or cause them to lose interest in hobbies and activities. A lack of motivation, a drop in grades, or trouble staying employed might signal addiction.


Addicts usually attempt to hide their drug use and may come up with implausible stories or frequently be caught lying about their whereabouts.


Substance abusers may become increasingly isolated from friends and family and, instead, join new social circles that include drug-using peers.


Risky behaviors can range from driving while under the influence or having unprotected sex all the way to engaging in illegal activities to obtain drugs. Stealing money and frequent encounters with law enforcement are often signs of addiction.


Physical Signs of Drug Addiction

While substance abusers may make attempts to hide their drug use, there are many physical signs of drug addiction that are difficult to hide as the addiction progresses.

Changes in Appearance and Grooming

Addicts often begin to neglect their personal appearance, including having poor hygiene, rarely grooming, and wearing clothing that is dirty or in need of repair. Some may smell unusual odors or have black soot on their face or fingertips.


A change in appetite, irregular eating habits, or a sudden weight loss or gain can sometimes indicate an addiction.


Drug addiction can be the cause of many physical symptoms and health problems, including the following:

    • Frequent illnesses
    • Infections
    • Unexplained injuries
    • Slurred speech
    • Dilated or constricted pupils
    • Bloodshot eyes
    • Decreased energy
    • Shakes or tremors

Psychological Signs of Drug Addiction

Even without any behavioral or physical changes, a person may still exhibit psychological signs of addiction. These signs are more easily overlooked because they can also have other causes.

Mood Swings and Emotional Instability

A person who is addicted to drugs may suddenly seem irritable or argumentative and may have constant strife with loved ones. An addict may act childish, obnoxious, or inappropriate and may become defensive and resort to blame-shifting, projection, and diversion when confronted. In some cases, the person may even become violent.


Chronic drug use can also cause confusion, difficulty concentrating, and memory problems.


An obvious sign of addiction is when a person spends much of their time getting, using, and recovering from the use of drugs. Constant thoughts about obtaining and using drugs and the inability to control drug-seeking impulses are also clear signs of addiction.


Financial and Legal Consequences

Drug abuse has a wide range of financial and legal consequences that often indicate addiction. A substance abuser may constantly need to borrow money and may seem to go through a paycheck or other monetary resources quickly.

Increased debt and loss of employment or educational opportunities can cause both short- and long-term financial instability. Drug use can even lead to criminal charges, legal problems, and a criminal record that complicates employment and makes financial problems even worse.

Relationship and Family Impacts

Addiction often starts to affect relationships with family and other loved ones. When a person neglects responsibilities, friends and family may respond with impatience and frustration, which can trigger arguments, especially if the person using drugs is defensive and combative. Losing a job, borrowing money, and having other financial problems can put even more strain on these relationships.

When drug abuse leads to violence or criminal charges, loved ones may even choose to cut off all contact with the user. When drug addiction makes the person lose everything that was once important to them, that’s when they may finally get to the point where they want to break free from addiction and get their life back.


Seeking Help and Treatment

Addiction is powerful, and recognizing that fact may be the first step toward a successful recovery. Both loved ones and addicts should understand addiction is not a personal failing; it’s a physical dependency that can be overcome with the proper support and resources.

Professional help is available through both outpatient and inpatient services. While inpatient treatment is often the most effective, it’s not always the most feasible option. For those with school, work, or family obligations, outpatient services are a solution that can fit a person’s complicated schedule.

Resources for families and loved ones include:


Contact Our Inpatient Drug Rehab in West Palm Beach Today

Help is available to successfully combat addiction if you just reach out. Beachway Therapy Center in West Palm Beach has been helping people overcome addiction and go on to lead a meaningful life since 2008. The center uses evidence-based and innovative holistic approaches in personalized treatment plans to help ensure a successful recovery. We’re confident that anyone can do this with the right encouragement and support. If you or a loved one are ready to take the first step in the journey to a new life in addiction recovery, contact us today.