Drug Addiction Signs, Symptoms & Effects

Understanding the signs, symptoms, and possible effects of addiction can be an important first step on the path toward successful long-term recovery. Sierra by the Sea in Newport Beach, California, is proud to be a source of accurate and relevant information about the impact of addiction.

Understanding Addiction

Learn about addiction

Addiction or substance use disorder involves the overuse of both illegal and legal substances. Substance use disorder is classified based on substance, including the following: alcohol, cannabis or marijuana, caffeine, hallucinogens, inhalants, opioids, sedatives/hypnotics/anxiolytics, stimulants, tobacco, and unknown substances.

When someone takes any of these substances in large amounts, the brain releases chemicals that cause feelings of happiness and reward. On a cellular level, this reward helps individuals form certain behaviors. While the brain typically releases some of these chemicals, the use of substances produces an excessive amount of them. A large amount of substances will then cause a large amount of chemicals, leading to an overly happy and elated feeling. This is what is known as the “high” that many individuals experience after substance use.

As a result of this good feeling, the brain’s reward system forms a habit, which encourages individuals to continue using the substance. The formation of this habit also causes the brain’s desire for increasing amounts of the substance to produce the same feelings of reward and happiness. This is known as dependence and causes individuals to take more and more of the substance in order to feel the same level of elation.

When an individual does not use a substance that their body is dependent on, they enter a state of withdrawal, which causes changes in mood and vital functions. Substance use disorder develops once an individual becomes dependent on a substance and experiences withdrawal in its absence.


Statistics about substance use and addiction

According to information collected in 2014 by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), addiction is a growing concern. Their data revealed the following:

  • Substance use disorder affected 20.2 million adults in the United States.
  • Of the 20.2 million adults with substance use disorder, 7.9 million were diagnosed with both substance use disorder and a co-occurring mental health condition.
  • Of those 7.9 million adults with substance use disorder and a co-occurring mental health condition, 4.1 million were men.
  • Tobacco addiction is more common in adults with a mental health condition than the rest of the population.
  • About 44% of all tobacco in the United States is purchased and used by individuals with a mental health condition.

Causes and Risk Factors for Addiction

Potential causes of addiction

There are several factors that play a role in an individual developing substance use disorder. Some risk factors for substance use disorder include:

  • A family history of substance use disorder
  • Personality traits such as impulsivity and risk-taking behaviors
  • Currently having a co-occurring mental health condition such as a depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, or psychotic disorder
  • Exposure to any form of abuse
  • Being in an environment with frequent substance use (home, school, or community)
  • Use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs in early adolescence
  • High stress levels
  • Consuming drugs by the most addictive methods of substance use: smoking, injecting, or intranasally (snorting)

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

Symptoms of addiction

Substance use disorder has an impact on many aspects of the body. These symptoms may vary between individuals and also may differ depending on the type of substance an individual is using.

Behavioral symptoms:

  • A large amount of time spent obtaining, using, or recovering from the substance
  • Continual use of the substance, with no efforts or failed efforts to stop substance use
  • Inability to fulfill family, work, educational, social, or other obligations and responsibilities
  • Use of substance during dangerous situations (for example, when driving or operating machinery)

Physical symptoms:

  • Taking larger amounts of the substance over a long period of time
  • A physical need for an increased amount of the substance (for example, too little of the substance has a minimal effect on the body and mind, which forms a tolerance to the substance)

Mental symptoms:

  • Cravings for the substance after a short period of time spent not using
  • Substance is taken to avoid symptoms of withdrawal, which are experienced when the substance is not used

Effects of Addiction

The negative impact of addiction

Substance use disorder has the potential to impact many aspects of a person’s life, especially if this condition exists in an individual with a co-occurring mental health condition. This condition can be difficult to treat, especially since substance use disorder may cause moderate to severe physical, mental, and behavioral symptoms.

If substance use disorder is left untreated, an individual is at risk for experiencing many negative effects, including:

  • Poor work attendance and/or performance, demotion, or loss of employment
  • Homelessness or inability to maintain home environment
  • Legal concerns, such as driving under the influence or public intoxication
  • Behavioral issues such as violence, theft, reckless and risk-taking behaviors, and impulsivity
  • Suicidal thoughts and ideation
  • An increased risk for medical conditions such as electrolyte imbalances, liver disease, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke
  • Damaged social and familial relationships
  • Increased risk of being unable to control actions and behaviors

While these effects of substance use disorder are serious and have the potential to negatively impact the life of you or a loved one, these outcomes are not guaranteed. If you seek care for an addiction and remain consistent with a substance use disorder program, it’s possible to successfully manage addiction. Individuals who are able to resist urges for substances and maintain a sober lifestyle have the potential to live a happy, healthy life.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Common co-occurring disorders among people who have substance use disorder

The presence of substance use disorder may be accompanied by other mental health conditions due to its effect on chemicals in the brain that impact mood and behaviors. Some co-occurring disorders commonly seen with substance use disorder include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Antisocial personality disorder

Effects of Substance Withdrawal and Overdose

Withdrawing from substances and the risk of overdose

Effects of withdrawal: An individual who is experiencing withdrawal from a substance may experience some of the following physical and mental symptoms:

  • Sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Anxiety
  • Tremors in hand or other body parts
  • Inability to sleep (insomnia)
  • Nausea, stomach pain
  • Vomiting
  • Seeing, hearing, or feeling sensations that are not real
  • Seizures

Effects of overdose: An individual who has consumed dangerous quantities of a substance is at risk for an overdose. Overdoses are extremely dangerous and may lead to death if an individual does not receive emergency medical care. Any individuals demonstrating the signs or symptoms of an overdose require immediate medical attention. Common symptoms of an overdose include:

  • Slowed breathing, which may cause someone to stop breathing
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Very low levels of oxygen in the blood
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Entering a coma
  • Electrolyte imbalances

Recovering from substance use disorders is a challenging journey that feels more doable in an environment that tends to each individual’s complex needs and strengths. Our goal is to foster a treatment experience that is built on compassion, hope, and caring, and fueled by excellence in the provision of evidence-based and trauma-informed care.

– - Anonymous