Substance abuse and addiction are serious issues in the United States, but are often misunderstood or otherwise not recognized as problems on a case-by-case basis. Because of the misunderstanding regarding what constitutes addiction and the detrimental effects of addiction, the vast majority of those suffering from addiction do not receive the help that they need.
More than 23 million Americans are reported to be addicted to either alcohol or drugs - but just over ten percent of that number actually receives addiction treatment. It is clear that we often do not recognize addiction for what it is, nor the need for treating addiction. As a result, addiction often runs rampant and can destroy lives, families and careers if it goes unchecked.
Addiction treatment and recovery from alcohol or drug addiction is a long process, but given the detrimental effects of addiction is absolutely the best choice anyone can make.
Addiction is a chronic disease, characterized primarily by the loss of control over the use of drugs or alcohol. Overcoming addiction requires specific behavioral and pharmacological treatment, along with a great amount of support from friends, family or mutual support groups. Addiction treatment and recovery from alcohol or drug addiction is a long process, but given the detrimental effects of addiction is absolutely the best choice anyone can make.
The very first step is recognizing addiction, realizing that you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse. This guide is designed to help in that process, describing addiction and substance abuse overall and the specific signs of addiction for each type of drug. The main questions addressed on this page are:
Substance addiction is a complex mental condition, and is often misunderstood by both those experiencing addiction or substance abuse and those who see addiction in friends and family members. Too often, people have the misconception that drug addiction or alcoholism is a result of moral failure or a lack of personal character - but this could not be further from the truth. Instead, addiction has been shown time and again to be a complex mental disease, and has actually been categorized as a mental disorder by the American Psychological Association.
People do not take drugs or drink alcohol to become addicted - addiction is instead a byproduct of using these addictive substances. Generally, people start taking drugs or drinking alcohol to feel good, to meet social expectations, to experiment, or to cope with outside life circumstances and the stress, anxiety and depression associated with those circumstances. The combination of these factors with addictive substances does not usually make for a positive outcome, and can instead lead to addiction over the course of days, weeks and months.
The impact of addiction on these functions can, in turn, affect many other areas of life, such as the ability to maintain healthy relationships, keeping up physical health and hygiene, and the willingness to continue working and keep up job performance. Addiction is therefore not simply the abuse or misuse of substances - it is a condition that, in the long-term, affects many different areas of personal and professional life.
"Drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting usually takes more than good intentions or a strong will. Drugs change the brain ways that make quitting hard, even for those who want to. Fortunately, researchers know more than ever about how drugs affect the brain and have found treatments that can help people recover from drug addiction and lead productive lives."
~ "Understanding Drug Use and Addiction", The National Institute on Drug Abuse
The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that three factors usually work together to cause addiction in some individuals and not others: biology, environment, and development. In fact, scientists agree that close to fifty percent of an individuals risk of addiction can be attributed to genetic factors, such as a history of addiction in the family.
It is not possible to predict when someone will become addicted to drugs or alcohol, but certain environmental and biological factors can make addiction more likely. As the Mayo Clinic states, "People of any age, sex or economic status can become addicted to a drug. However, certain factors can affect the likelihood and speed of developing an addiction." These risk factors include:
Given the culture of drugs and alcohol in the United States, many people have a difficult time knowing the difference between casual drug use, physical dependence, and complete substance abuse and addiction.
"Some people are able to use recreational or prescription drugs without experiencing negative consequences or addiction. For many others, though, substance use can be an attempt to escape from problems in their lives and has much more serious consequences. The abuse of drugs to cope with life's problems only makes the existing problems worse and likely causes new problems to develop, leaving feelings of isolation, helplessness, or shame."
~ "Drug Abuse and Addiction", Help Guide
If you are unsure whether you are addicted to drugs or alcohol, the prevalence of these symptoms can be a sign that you are experiencing substance abuse and addiction.
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence also offers a quiz with specific questions designed to help you understand your drug use, the potential for addiction, and the possible health issues associated with drug and alcohol abuse. The organization also lists the top ten signs of addiction for both drugs and alcohol:
These symptoms of addiction are seen in both drug and alcohol abuse. If you see any, or multiple, of these symptoms either in yourself or in someone you love, it is likely that you or they are facing an addiction. This means that it is time to get the help you need to overcome addiction and start on the road to recovery. In order to get a better picture of what addiction looks like in the case of a specific drug, you can find the signs of addiction for each drug type below.
While addiction has much of the same detrimental results across all types of drugs, including alcohol, the symptoms of addiction may vary slightly across different types of drugs. Because many drugs can be used recreationally, it is important to recognize the difference between the effects of the drug and the symptoms of addiction to the drug.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), substance abuse disorders "occur when the recurrent use of alcohol and/or drugs causes clinically and functionally significant impairment, such as health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school, or home." More specifically, SAMHSA goes on to state that a diagnosis of substance use disorder (also known as addiction) is appropriate when there is evidence of "impaired control, social impairment, risky use, and pharmacological criteria."
Substance use disorders include alcohol use disorder, tobacco use disorder, cannabis use disorder, stimulant use disorder, hallucinogen use disorder, and opioid use disorder. The guide below builds on this categorization of substance abuse, adding depressants, inhalants, prescription drugs, steroids, and over-the-counter drugs to the list.
It is important to realize that meeting some of these criteria does not necessarily constitute a diagnosis of addiction. Some people may abuse substances without being technically addicted, and will therefore see some of the consequences highlighted in the list of signs of addiction. Instead of a diagnostic manual, consider this guide to be an overview of what constitutes signs of addiction and use your own judgment in determining the severity of the symptoms. If you think you may be addicted, do not hesitate to reach out and get the help you need to recover.
Depressants, otherwise known as sedatives, tranquilizers, or simply downers are a type of drug that are designed to either reduce the symptoms of anxiety and other psychotic symptoms, or else help patients sleep and calm down. Depressants include both alcohol and prescription drugs designed to manage anxiety or other mental issues. As a type of prescription drug, depressants can be just as addictive as any other form of drug if not properly managed.
"A depressant (also called a central depressant) is a chemical compound that manipulates neurotransmission levels, thereby reducing arousal or stimulation in various parts of the brain. Depressants are also occasionally referred to as downers because they lower the level of arousal in the brain when taken."
~ Boundless: How Psychoactive Drugs Impact the Brain
The short-term effects of depressants, some of which are by design and some of which are side effects, include the following:
Clearly not all of the effects of depressants are desired, and some can actually lead to addiction. But what medications are considered depressants? Knowing the contents of your drug is crucial for understanding the signs of addiction. Prescription depressants include the following brand names:
Since depressants (or sedatives) are usually used to either relieve anxiety or assist in better sleep, becoming addicted to the substance can occur slowly, over the course of time without the individual even noticing. Some of the signs of depressant abuse include the following:
"A person abusing sedatives...will look sedated or drowsy. They will talk slowly and may slur their speech. They will not be able to concentrate and their coordination and memory are likely to be off. They may feel dizzy. They are likely to have poor concentration. Along with slow breathing and heart rate, their blood pressure will be lower. As sedatives also lower inhibitions, they may exhibit poor control of their actions and may take risks they would not normally take."
~ Narconon: Signs & Symptoms of Sedative Abuse
Stimulants are a type of drug that include amphetamines, methamphetamine, cocaine and the prescription drug Ritalin (methylphenidate). As the name implies, stimulants are designed with a high in mind - they increase energy rapidly, are supposed to improve performance at school row or, and even supposedly lead to weight loss and control of appetite.
"As with other drugs of abuse, it is possible for individuals to become dependent upon or addicted to stimulants. Withdrawal symptoms associated with discontinuing stimulant use include fatigue, depression, and disturbance of sleep patterns. Repeated abuse of some stimulants can lead to feelings of hostility or paranoia, even psychosis. Further, taking high doses of a stimulant may result in dangerously high body temperature and an irregular heartbeat. There is also the potential for cardiovascular failure or seizures."
~ The National Institute on Drug Abuse, Misuse of Prescription Drugs
These addictive and detrimental properties are present despite the fact that many stimulants actually take the form of prescribed medication. The most common application of stimulants for prescription medication is the use of amphetamines and methylphendiate, which are designed to treat those diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Prescription stimulants do promote wakefulness as designed, but they do not increase learning or cognitive abilities in those who do not actually need the medication for ADHD. The common brand and street names for stimulants include:
There are a great many dangers and detrimental effects associated with the use and abuse of stimulants. According to the Mayo Clinic, the signs and symptoms of recent stimulant use include:
Inhalants can be a relatively misleading term for drugs, since many different types of drugs can be taken through inhalation. However, the term is usually reserved for "the wide variety of substances - including solvents, aerosols, gases, and nitrites - that are rarely, if ever, taken via any other route of administration." This includes spray paints, lighter fluid, glue and hairsprays - all of which are readily available as household products.
The full list of examples of inhalants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse is as follows:
Even if they are not meant to be used as mind-altering drugs, inhalants are nevertheless physically and psychologically addictive. Even after the first use of inhalants, users generally report a very strong urge to continue use of the substance. Given the toxic nature of the supposed drug, long-term use can result in extreme withdrawal symptoms, including nausea, muscle cramps, shaking and even hallucinations.
"Many products readily found in the home or workplace - such as spray paints, markers, glues, and cleaning fluids - contain volatile substances that have psychoactive (mind-altering_ properties when inhaled. People do not typically think of these products as drugs because they were never intended for that purpose. However, these products are sometimes abused in that way. They are especially (but not exclusively) abused by young children and adolescents, and are the only class of substance abused more by younger than by older teens."
~ DrugFacts: Inhalants, from the National institute on Drug Abuse
Because of the strength of inhalants and the impact it has on the body, it does not take long for addictive behaviors - including withdrawal symptoms - to manifest from the use of the substance. The major signs of addiction to these forms of inhalants include:
Opioids are one of the most common forms of drugs, and take the form of both prescription painkillers and heroin. Also called opiates and narcotics, opioids are essentially pain relievers made from the naturally occurring opium from poppy plants. Abuse of opioids represents a significant problem in drug and substance abuse; as Dr. Nora D. Volkow states, "The abuse of and addiction to opioids such as heroin, morphine, and prescription pain relievers is a serious global problem that affects the health, social, and economic welfare of all societies."
As of 2014, close to half a million people used heroin while more than four million people used narcotic pain relievers without a prescription. Prescription narcotic pain relievers include:
While heroin is usually dealt on the street, the most common way of becoming addicted to opioids is by starting to take the medication outlined above. For some, it is very difficult to discontinue the use of these medications even after the prescription has run out. As a result, many people become addicted to prescription opioids and become nonmedical users of the drug later on.
"Opioids can cause a person to feel relaxed and euphoric by affecting areas of the brain that deal with what we perceive as pleasure. These feelings can be intensified when opioids are abused using routes of administration other than what is recommended. Repeated abuse of opioids can lead to addiction - compulsive drug seeking and abuse despite its known harmful consequences."
Regardless of how one becomes addicted to opioids (whether in prescription medication form or in heroin), the signs and symptoms of addiction to this drug are largely the same. The symptoms of addiction to opioid pain relievers include the following:
There are three major types of prescription drugs with addictive properties - opioids, central nervous system depressants, and stimulants. First, and as mentioned above, opioids are a type of prescription drug most commonly used either as a painkiller or a sleep aid. Second, depressants are used to treat preexisting mental conditions such as anxiety and sleep disorders. Finally, stimulants are most commonly prescribed as a treatment of ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder).
All three of these prescription drugs are commonly abused, and have become more readily available in the last several decades; since 1991, the number of prescriptions for opioids have nearly tripled while the number of prescriptions for stimulants have increased ten-fold. The availability of these prescription drugs makes addiction much more likely, as it can be difficult to quit the drugs even after their medically prescribed use or time period has ended.
"Physical dependence occurs because of normal adaptations to chronic exposure to a drug and is not the same as addiction. Addiction, which can include physical dependence, is distinguished by compulsive drug seeking and use despite sometimes devastating consequences."
~ NIDA Research Report Series
If it is your doctor prescribing the medication, how can you avoid addiction? It is important to realize that these prescription drugs do not automatically lead to addiction, but knowing which prescription drugs have the most addictive properties is a good start toward being aware of their effects. The most commonly abused prescription drugs (for depressants, stimulants, and opioids) include the following:
Addiction to prescribed depressants, stimulants, or opioids usually begins with prescribed and legitimate use of the drug. However, once people realize they are unable to give up the effects of the drug they may begin to self-medicate with diverted prescription drugs - it is at this stage when abuse, addiction and even overdose become more likely.
The symptoms of prescription drug abuse and addiction vary depending on the type of medication being used:
For all types of prescription medication, other signs of addiction take the form of changed social and personal behaviors:
Besides marijuana, over-the-counter drugs are some of the most common drugs of choice among adolescents and young people. Medications that have treatment purposes, such as cold medication and pain relievers, also tend to have addictive properties. This complicates the use of medication for those who are already at risk of addiction.
It is especially critical to watch for signs of addiction to over-the-counter medications in adolescence, since these are some of the most readily available (and cheapest) drugs available to that age group. Nine out of ten Americans with a substance abuse problem started smoking, drinking or using other drugs before the age of eighteen.
Some of the most common over-the-counter drugs with potentially addictive properties include:
"Over the counter drugs are easily purchases, are difficult to detect on routine drug testing, and can be used as an alternative drug of choice when the addicted persons primary drug has been removed."
~ Abuse of Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications, by Dr. James E. Lessenger & Dr. Steven D. Feinberg
People generally start to abuse these medications as an easy way to get high and experience hallucinations, but taking more than the recommended dosage can have a detrimental impact on physical health and mental processing. The signs of abuse of over-the-counter drugs include:
In addition to these short-term effects of drug abuse, there are several warning signs that abuse of over-the-counter medication has turned into an addiction. These include:
Anabolic steroids, otherwise just known as steroids, are synthetic substances designed to increase testosterone. The effect of the drug, and the increased testosterone, is rapid growth of muscle in the one taking it. The drug also usually results in androgenic effects, which means increased male sexual characteristics in both men and women.
Some of the more commonly abused steroids include:
The reasoning behind the use of steroids is clear: people want to become stronger, faster or more physically fit. For instance, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has found that poor body image in both men and women is a risk factor for the abuse and subsequent addiction to steroids. As with other drugs, dependence on or abuse of steroids transitions to addiction when an individual continues to abuse the drug, despite the negative physical, social and even psychological impact.
"Steroid abusers typically spend large amounts of time and money obtaining the drugs, which is another indicator that they may be addicted. Individuals who abuse steroids can experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking steroids, such as mood swings, fatigue, restlessness, loss of appetite, insomnia, reduced sex drive, and steroid cravings. The most dangerous of the withdrawal symptoms is depression, because it sometimes leads to suicide attempts. If left untreated, some depressive symptoms associated with anabolic steroid withdrawal have been known to persist for a year or more after the abuser stops taking the drugs."
~ Anabolic Steroid Abuse: The National Institute on Drug Abuse
Just as with other prescription and street drugs, addiction may result as a result of the use of steroids. The use of anabolic steroids is associated with multiple physical side effects, such as erectile dysfunction, baldness, stomach pain, and severe acne. While these signs may be of abuse of the drug, they do not necessarily mean addiction.
The main signs of addiction to steroids include the following, particularly if the use of steroids is not discontinued after seeing these symptoms:
Hallucinogens, as a drug category, include many different drugs that are designed to change ones perception, thoughts and even feelings. As the name implies, the hallmark of hallucinogens are hallucinations - that is, images, sounds, or other sensations that are not real.
"Hallucinogens can be found in some plants and mushrooms (or their extracts) or can be man-made, and they are commonly divided into two broad categories: classic hallucinogens (such as LSD) and dissociative drugs (such as PCP). When under the influence of either type of drug, people often report rapid, intense emotional swings and seeing images, hearing sounds, and feeling sensations that seem real but are not."
~ "What are hallucinogens and dissociative drugs?", The Institute on Drug Abuse
The most common hallucinogens and dissociative drugs include:
As with other drugs, it is important to distinguish between the effects of hallucinogens and actual symptoms of abuse and addiction. Some of the most prevalent signs that hallucinogens are being abused and that the user may be addicted include:
Cannabinoids include both natural cannabis, also just known as marijuana, and synthetic cannabinoids, which are manmade alternatives to the drug. The names for different forms of cannabinoids include dabs, wax, hashish, K2, and simply marijuana. Synthetic cannabinoids in particular can be addictive.
Addiction from marijuana and synthetic cannabinoids can be recognized when someone experiences withdrawal symptoms after the use of the drug. These withdrawal symptoms include:
As with other forms of drugs, addiction to marijuana (or other cannabinoids) is likely when the use of the drug interferes with other aspects of the users personal and professional life.
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