What are the Signs & Symptoms of Substance Abuse

When looking for signs of substance abuse in someone you love or even yourself, there are different aspects to take into account. While some people may begin abusing substances in adolescence, others may be prescribed opiates for chronic pain and end up abusing the prescription. Long-term, chronic substance abuse typically leads to addiction.

Addiction is a chronic illnesses, similar to other illnesses such as, diabetes and cancer. It’s crucial that you understand the risk in recreational drug or alcohol use. Using substances with any addictive tendencies, leaves a person vulnerable to undergo a complete brain chemical change, resulting in addiction. When addiction begins to take over, the neurological system is rewired and an individual will lose his or her ability of choosing whether to use the substances or not.

This re-wiring process, plays a large role in a person’s lack of willpower, due to the brain communicating the need to use substances in order to remain alive and well. This may sound a bit alarming: but the fact of the matter is that substance abuse can ultimately take over and becomes an addiction that heavily impacts your life or your loved one’s life. When substance abuse graduates to an addiction, it’s imperative to find a good treatment program in a treatment center.

Substance abuse and addiction are serious and should be addressed with urgency. There are many symptoms to be aware of when attempting to diagnose a substance abuse or addiction problem. It is important that you do your best to pay close attention to all aspects internally and externally. The symptoms of substance abuse are different for each person as no two individuals are exactly the same.


Are You Seeing Signs of Substance Abuse?

Substance abuse will often go unnoticed for a considerable length of time, typically until an individual is then suffering from an addiction. In contrast, when referring to the substance abuse, family and friends often recognize the symptoms before the abuser or anyone else does. Depending on what kind of substances are being abused, the symptoms will vary. Symptoms of substance abuse range from different physical symptoms or signs to psychological and behavioral changes.

In short, an overview of physical symptoms often includes changes in appearance such as, hygiene, drastic changes in weight, skin pigment, unusual marks on body, red eyes, and small dilated pupils, etc. Psychological and behavioral issues are often times, extreme emotional instability, lack of coordination, inconsistency of sleeping schedule, lack of motivation, neglecting responsibilities, speech impairment, social changes, unreliable in commitments, and isolation.

Substance abuse compromises a person’s memory and ability to process thoughts appropriately. It affects an individual’s ability to make sound decisions or sound judgments. The ability to learn and regulating emotions is compromised. The symptoms of substance abuse are quite extensive and these symptoms depend on an individual and the depth of the addiction.

Why do People Abuse Substances?

Many people who abuse substances do so for a number of reasons. Addictive drugs are known for producing feelings of euphoria. Other reasons people abuse substances are to cope with chronic pain or to cope with mental disorders. For example, many people with mental health related disorders such as anxiety, depression, and stress disorders can find relief from certain substances, often referred to as self-medicating. People with a mental disorder who turn to substance abuse have what is called a co-occurring disorder of mental illness and addiction.

Feeling pressured about performance in athletics, extracurricular activities and education can often lead people to people abusing substances to improve and enhance their abilities. Common substances that are abused for these reasons include steroids and prescription stimulants. Adolescence and peer pressure are a common factor in substance abuse. Younger people are a lot more vulnerable to engaging in behaviors involving substance abuse as a means to fit in. This is especially dangerous because being in such a vulnerable state will often lead to someone to developing an addiction.

Addiction will lead to tragedy in life. Initially, when someone decides to use a substance of any kind, it is voluntary. However, when they continue to abuse substances, they weaken their ability to maintain self-control and manage their substance abuse. Eventually, if not immediately their substance abuse evolves into an addiction.


What Should I Watch For?

Keeping an eye out for specific signs and symptoms associated with addiction can give you a foot in the door for early recognition to address the issue. More specific symptoms and signs commonly associated with addiction include; low attention to hobbies and activities, reduced ability to concentrate, little to no concern regarding school and grades, dishonest behavior -especially about substance abuse, unusual use of incense or room deodorizers and irregular sleeping patterns.

Additional behaviors to note when suspecting substance abuse are; short temperament, irritability or aggressiveness, depressed mood -often feeling hopeless and even suicidal, selfish and self-centered attitude, forgetful, valuables or money disappear, isolation from friends and family, encounters with the law, job loss, school suspension, and finding any paraphernalia such as, rolling papers, small box containers or random baggies.

If you are looking for behaviors and signs within yourself to make sure you are not having an issue with substance abuse, there are a few questions you may want to ask yourself, such as:

    • Am I having to consume more of the substance to produce the same effect?
    • Do I experience frequent blackouts – where I can’t remember what happened for an extended block of time?
    • Am I constantly talking about using the substance?
    • Do I need to use a substance to have a good time?
    • Do I find myself planning substance use around responsibilities, such as, work or school?

If you were able to identify with any of these questions, you might want to consider looking into seeking support to end the destructive path from substance abuse to addiction. Being able to recognize substance abuse, can save someone from the painful impact substances can have on every aspect of life. Stop substance abuse before it turns into an addiction and becomes more challenging to treat.

What are the Causes of Substance Abuse

The abuse of substances including; alcohol, prescription drugs, and illegal drugs often begins in a person’s adolescence or young adulthood. There are certain risk factors that contribute to the likelihood of one to abuse substances. Some of the main factors of influence derive from a family environment. An unstable family environment can negatively impact one’s ability to develop progressively in early childhood.

This alone will leave someone vulnerable, seeking out alternative ways to cope with situations. Some negative family factors that can lead to substance abuse are; frequent chaotic situations, divorce/separation, physical abuse, neglect, and emotional abuse.  Contributing factors outside of family and home include; social issues, learning disabilities, poor coping skills, low school performance, and peer pressures.


Opiate Abuse

Opiates fall under the drug classification of narcotic painkillers. Although most opiates are prescription narcotics, there are many opiates that are illicit substances. One example of an illicit opiate is Heroin, concentrated from Opium. Opiate abuse is an epidemic that is steadily increasing with the amount of overdose related deaths. Opiate abuse requires treatment as they are extremely addictive, not just psychological, but physical as well.

The symptoms associated with opiate abuse are; constant sedative state or sleepiness, frequent bouts of nodding off, restlessness, confusion, lack of ability to make decisions, anxiety, poor judgement, euphoria, lack of pain or feeling numb, depression of respiratory system, constipation, small pupils, and slurred speech.

If you are having issues with opiate abuse, please seek help immediately. Individuals that use opiates chronically are more likely to build up a tolerance to opiates and should they find themselves unable to get more opiates in their system, they begin to suffer opiate withdrawals.

The Neurological Impact

Substances, when taken, send signals to the brain that produce a euphoric state. However, there are a great amount of negative consequences that come from abusing such substances. Some of the negative impacts that substance abuse have on the brain are; damage, seizures, memory loss, and stroke.

These consequences ultimately affect every aspect of day to day living. Substance abuse also affects one’s ability to process information appropriately. When substances are abused for a long period of time, the changes that occur within an individual’s neurological chemistry, if not permanent, can last several years. Other neurological effects of long-term substance abuse are major depression, paranoia, psychosis, hallucinations, and aggression. The neurological effects of substance abuse disrupt productivity and positive progression in living.

Medical Consequences

Those who abuse substances are more susceptible to underlying medical issues. Some of these medical issues include lung disease or cardiovascular disease, cancers, and stroke. The impact of substance abuse and addiction are often times beyond comprehensible. Most substances cause changes in one’s body, including a dramatic incline of temperature and change in appetite.

Health conditions of those who abuse substances are compromised causing heart function abnormalities and heart attacks. Those who abuse substances risk being infected with diseases like hepatitis, HIV and AIDS. Their gastrointestinal system is compromised resulting in stomach issues and damage to the liver. Some substances cause damages to the kidneys which can lead to kidney failure.

The health consequences of chronic substance abuse are life-altering. They are a reality for many people who have found recovery from addiction. You are not alone. Get help with substance abuse or addiction before your wellness declines and negative health conditions rise.

The Difference Between Dependence and Addiction

So, you may be thinking what is the difference of dependence from substance abuse and addiction. Well to provide some clarity, addiction is linked to the inability to stop using, regardless of circumstances or consequences. Addiction is overall separated from dependence because of the neurological connection. Dependence includes only a physical need, however with addiction one has a neurological need as well as a physical need.

When someone is dependent on a substance they are able to ween off of that substance and resume living life in a positive and productive manner. People who struggle with addiction undergo brain chemical changes through a re-wiring process. This re-wiring links using the substance to surviving. Addiction ultimately takes complete control over one’s ability to make sound decisions for themselves. Addiction is when a casual want turns to obsession for the substance of choice, compromising their will power and self-control.


Club Drug Abuse

Club drugs, such as Methamphetamines, Ecstasy, MDMA, GHB, LSD, Ketamine, Rohypnol and other dissociative drugs are popular among young adults, college students and teenagers. Club drugs are used to induce euphoria commonly used at nightclubs, parties, bars and concerts. Young adults who frequent these, partaking in the use of club drugs become vulnerable to chronic substance abuse and addiction.

Symptoms of chronic club drug abuse and addiction vary quite a bit, due to the differences in effects produced by each type of drug. Methamphetamine drug abuse often leads to symptoms of; an increased state of wakefulness for long periods of time, even days, increased physical activity, decreased appetite, clenching of teeth, irregular heartbeat, inclined heart rate, high body temperature and high blood pressure.

MDMA symptoms appear include; low inhibition, confusion, problems with sleeping, tense muscles, enhanced senses, depression, fainting, nausea, chills, and elevated body temperature which is linked to liver, kidney, heart failure or death.

Dissociative club drugs like LSD, produce symptoms such as; rapid emotional stages, distorted reality, inability to rationalize, struggles with interpersonal communication, high body temperate, elevated heart rate, insomnia, numbness, enlarged pupils and tremors.

What to do when Symptoms are Present?

If you feel you are recognizing substance abuse symptoms in a loved one or yourself, reach out and get support. Getting help with substance abuse is easier if addiction has not yet set in. Getting help is imperative regardless of whether or not substance abuse has evolved into an addiction. Managing substance abuse without help has a very low success rate.


Tackling Symptoms by Getting Help

If you are reading this, it is likely that you understand the difficult battle. Success may seem impossible at the moment, but it is not. There is help and support available in so many ways and in so many places. Please, do not be discouraged, there is help available in virtually every city, of every state. There is hope for a life without substance abuse. Recovery from substance abuse and addiction is possible and so many that have achieved it are here waiting to help you.

If someone dear to you is abusing substances and you just are not sure of what to do, contact an interventionist. Having an intervention for a substance abuse problem is a very effective method to getting help for someone who may be in denial. It is definitely possible for anyone to overcome a life of substance abuse, but only with the right support and care. Though, putting your foot down against a loved one’s addiction that is causing them tremendous pain may not be easy for you, it is highly important that you do not give up and stay hopeful for their life.

  1. I find it alarming that substance abuse could affect your daily routines and cause other health illnesses. I first learned about this in a movie I binged with my girlfriend last weekend. I think it should be a priority to get this addiction treated before the substance takes control of the person.

  2. I had no idea that stressed individuals could use substances to relieve their negative feelings without knowing about their risks. I like how you pointed out that prolonged abuse could lead to withdrawals that will affect a person’s psychological self. I think these people should consider getting treatment by trying out counseling.

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