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Signs and Symptoms of Addiction



Substance abuse disorders, or drug and alcohol addiction, wreak havoc on the United States. In fact, in 2020 there was a record high of 93,980 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. To put that in perspective, the Firefly Music Festival is limiting the capacity for its 2021 edition to 50,000 per day.

Opioids have been the leading cause of overdose deaths in the U.S. in recent years. Additionally to drug overdose fatalities, thousands of Americans are killed each year by alcohol misuse. The CDC estimates that 95,000 Americans die every year from excessive alcohol consumption.

Most concerning, however, synthetic opioid-related fatalities have increased by 55% during the 12 months ending in September 2020.

"We've seen a very significant rise in mortality," said Dr. Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, who spoke Thursday as part of an online gathering of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

Fentanyl is commonly consumed "unbeknownst to them," causing a spike in overdose deaths, Volkow said. Methamphetamine-related deaths also increased by roughly 46%, Volkow said, an increase she blamed on fentanyl contamination.

"It's rare to find people who only overdose on cocaine or who only overdose on methamphetamines," she said. "Fentanyl is being used to lace the illicit drug market because it's very profitable."

Despite the prevalence of substance use disorders, many people fail to recognize the signs of addiction in their spouse, family member, close friend, or colleagues. But, if you’re aware of the signs and symptoms of addiction, you may be able to help them seek the right treatment.

The 3 C’s of Addiction


A person with chronic addiction develops a higher tolerance over time, engages more frequently in the behavior, and experiences intense cravings and withdrawal symptoms. However, these are three common signs they may exhibit.


  • Loss of control over the amount and frequency of use

  • Craving and compulsive using

  • Continued use in the face of adverse consequences


Behavioral Signs of Addiction


A person's behavioral signs pertain to how they relate to the world, whereas physical signs represent the effects of drugs on their bodies. The following behaviors can be observed without limitation:


  • Obsessive thoughts and actions

  • Missing school, work, or special events

  • Disregard of harm

  • Isolation

  • Disrupted sleep patterns

  • Legal or financial problems

  • Strained relationships

  • Denial of addiction or hiding drug use


Physical Signs of Addiction


The physical symptoms of addiction can manifest as negative side effects of use, as an overdose, or as withdrawal. A person may have difficulty determining the cause of the physical symptoms. But, anyone experiencing severe consequences should seek medical attention immediately. Furthermore, it’s important to understand that withdrawal symptoms occur when the body adjusts to the absence of familiar quantities of a drug. Although withdrawal is a natural process, it can be dangerous.

There are a number of general physical signs of addiction, including, but not limited to:

  • Over-active or under-active (depending on the drug)

  • Enlarged or small pupils

  • Bloodshot eyes

  • Repetitive speech patterns

  • Slurred speech

  • Sudden weight loss or gain

  • Excessive sniffing and runny nose (not attributable to a cold)

  • Insomnia

  • Looking pale or undernourished

  • Unusual body odors

  • Looking unkempt

  • Change in eating habits


A typical overdose will typically present with one or more of the following signs:

  • Drowsiness or trouble walking

  • Agitation

  • Aggression or violent behavior

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Hallucinations

  • Delusions

  • Loss of consciousness

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence lists the following withdrawal symptoms among withdrawal symptoms:

  • Shakiness, trembling, and jumpiness

  • Loss of appetite

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Depression

  • Insomnia and fatigue

  • Headaches and fever

  • Confusion and hallucinations

  • Seizures

Psychological Signs of Addiction

A person's psychological state can also be affected by drug abuse. Addicts might not realize these changes because they're engulfed in their addiction. Aside from the following, drug addiction may also present psychological signs such as:

  • Irritability/Argumentative

  • Anxiousness

  • Defensiveness

  • Inattentiveness

  • Inability to deal with stress

  • Lack of motivation

  • Loss of interest in activities/people that used to be part of their lives

  • Changes in personality or attitude

  • Obnoxious

  • Silly

  • Emotional and mental withdrawing from people

  • Sudden mood swings

  • Attributing blame to another person or an event

  • Avoiding a discussion by changing the topic

  • A superficial acknowledgment of the problem, but not admitting the severity or seriousness of the problem or its effects

  • Providing alibis, excuses, or justifications for using behavior

How to Help

A person cannot be forced to stop using alcohol or drugs. People won't get sober with heartfelt talks, carrots, or sticks. The disease of substance abuse is progressive and potentially fatal.

Fortunately, there are still ways to help them:

  • Begin a dialogue. It’s important to express your concerns, without passing judgment, with someone who displays any signs and symptoms of addiction.

  • Provide useful information. Present factual information about alcohol or drug-related problems, as well as effective treatments. For example, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers a list of resources and a helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

  • Offer to help. If you can, offer to help. It can be as simple as finding a health care professional, setting up an appointment, listening to what the person has to say, or taking them to a 12-step meeting.

  • Be supportive and encouraging. The possibility of becoming sober and living a fulfilling and normal life often seems hopeless for many people who struggle with addiction. As such, reassure them that there is hope with the right help.

Don't Wait. Get Help Today.

Get help right away if you or anyone you know has a problem. The sooner an addict receives help, the better. For 24/7 support;

  • Kent & Sussex: 1-800-345-6785

  • New Castle: 1-800-652-2929

Or, make an appointment with us at 302-703-6332


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