Substance Abuse Disorder (Drug Addiction): Drug Types & Symptoms

Substance Abuse Disorder

Substance abuse disorder, also known as drug addiction, is a disease that affects a person’s behavior and brain, resulting in an inability to control the use of a drug or medicine. Substances such as nicotine, marijuana and alcohol also are considered drugs. Drug addiction may cause you to continue using the drug despite the dangers it poses.

Some people become addicted to drugs after experimenting with them in social situations, and, for them, drug use becomes more frequent. Some people become addicted to drugs through exposure to prescribed medications or through receiving them from close friends or relatives.

There is a difference between how fast you become addicted to different drugs and the risk of becoming addicted. Substance abuse disorder occurs more quickly for some drugs, including opioid painkillers.

Getting high on a drug may become more difficult as time passes. It may be necessary to take the medication soon just to feel better. It might become increasingly difficult for you to quit using the drug as your substance abuse disorder increases. When you try to stop drug use, withdrawal symptoms may occur (intense cravings).

To overcome your drug addiction, you may need to get the assistance of your doctor, family, friends, a support group, or a treatment program.

Symptoms of substance abuse

These are some of the behaviors or symptoms of drug addiction:

  • Regularly taking the drug – daily or several times a day
  • Being unable to focus on anything but the drug
  • The drug becomes more effective over time while requiring more doses
  • Overdosing on a drug for a longer time than you intended
  • Keeping a stock of the medication
  • Inability to afford a drug, but still spending money on it
  • Drug use causes people to miss work or social commitments, or to cut back on a variety of activities
  • The continued use of drugs, although it is causing problems or harm in your life
  • Doing things you wouldn’t normally do to obtain the drug, such as stealing
  • When you’re impaired by drugs, driving or engaging in other risky activities can be dangerous
  • It takes a lot of time to obtain and use the drug, or to recover from the effects
  • Inability to stop using drugs
  • If you stop taking a drug, you may experience withdrawal symptoms

Recognizing unhealthy drug use in family members

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between normal teenage moodiness and substance abuse. You may notice the following signs that your teen or other family member is abusing drugs:

  • Work or school problems – An infrequent attendance at school or work, a sudden decline in grades, or work performance.
  • Health issuesMood swings, fatigue, or weight gain or loss.
  • Neglected appearance – Dressing, grooming and looking indifferent.
  • Behavior changes – When a family member of a friend becomes exaggerated about their communication, or secretive about where they go with friends; or when a friend’s behavior drastically changes and their relationships are drastically altered.
  • Money issues – If you find money missing or your property has disappeared, it might be a sign that drugs are being sold to support them.

Related: Substance/Medication-Induced Psychotic Disorder

Identifying signs of drugs or intoxication

Depending on the type of drug consumed, the signs and symptoms of intoxication might vary. Several examples are provided below.

Hashish, marijuana and other cannabis-containing substances

Cannabis is consumed in various forms, including eating, smoking, and vaping. Cannabis is commonly used in conjunction with alcohol or illegal drugs, such as marijuana, and is often the first drug tried.

You might experience the following symptoms if you have recently used:

  • Feeling euphoric or “high”
  • Enhanced visual, auditory, and gustatory awareness
  • Hypertension and increased heart rate
  • Red eyes
  • Dry mouth
  • Decreased coordination
  • Concentration or memory problems
  • Slow reaction time
  • Thinking or feeling anxious or paranoid
  • Yellow fingertips or odor of marijuana on clothes
  • An unusual craving for certain foods

Use over a long period of time (chronic) is often associated with:

  • Decreased mental sharpness
  • An inability to perform well at school or work
  • Friendships and interests are dwindling

K2, spice and bath salts

Most states prohibit two types of synthetic drugs – synthetic cannabinoids and cathinone substitutes. These drugs can cause danger and uncertainty due to a lack of quality control and unknown ingredients.

Smoking synthetic cannabinoids, called K2, or Spice, is another option, but they can also be prepared as herbal teas. Manufacturers claim these products are “natural” or harmless, but they are chemical compounds. It is a popular but dangerous alternative to marijuana that can produce a similar “high”.

Recent use can cause the following symptoms:

  • “High” or a feeling of euphoria
  • Elevated mood
  • Perceptions of taste, smell, and sight are altered
  • Irritability or agitation
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Hypertension or heart attack
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion

Altering the senses (psychoactive) substances called “bath salts,” are similar to amphetamines such as ecstasy (MDMA) and cocaine. A package is sometimes labeled as a different product to avoid detection.

Bath products such as Epsom salts are not what these products are called. It is possible to eat, snort, inhale or inject substituted cathinones, and they are very addictive. Severe intoxication from these drugs can result in dangerous health effects or even death.

You might experience the following symptoms if you have recently used:

  • Euphoria
  • Increased sociability
  • Increased energy and agitation
  • Increased drive
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Problems thinking clearly
  • Loss of muscle control
  • Paranoia
  • Panic attacks
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium
  • Violent behavior and psychotic

Barbiturate, benzodiazepine and hypnotic drugs

The central nervous system is depressed by barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and hypnotics prescribed by doctors. It is not uncommon for people to use and abuse these drugs in the hope of finding a new sense of relaxation or a desire to “turn off” or forget stress-related thoughts or feelings.

  • Barbiturates: Secobarbital (Seconal) is an example of phenobarbital.
  • Benzodiazepines: Examples include sedatives, such as diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan), clonazepam (Klonopin), and chlordiazepoxide (Librium).
  • Hypnotics: You can take prescription sleeping medications like zolpidem (Ambien, Intermezzo, etc.) and zaleplon (Sonata) to cope with insomnia, for example.

Recent use can lead to symptoms such as:

  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Lack of coordination
  • Irritability or changes in mood
  • Concentration or clarity problems
  • Memory problems
  • Uncontrollable eye movements
  • Lack of inhibition
  • Low blood pressure and slowed breathing
  • Accidents or falls
  • Dizziness

Meth, cocaine and other stimulants

Stimulants include meth (methamphetamine), amphetamines, cocaine, methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta, others), and amphetamine-dextroamphetamine (Adderall, Adderall XR, others). It is common to misuse them to get a “high,” to gain energy, to become more productive at work or school, or to control appetite or lose weight.

Recent use of drugs can be characterized by the following signs and symptoms:

  • An exhilarating feeling of confidence and excitement
  • Increased alertness
  • Feeling more energetic and restless
  • Changes in behavior or aggression
  • Rambling or rapid-fire speech
  • Dilated pupils
  • Confusion, hallucinations and delusions
  • Feeling irritable, anxious or paranoid
  • Temperature, blood pressure and heart rate changes
  • Weight loss and nausea
  • Judgment impairment
  • Congestion of the nose and damage to the mucous membranes of your nose (because you snort drugs)
  • Smoking drugs cause mouth sores, gum disease and tooth decay (also known as meth mouth)
  • Insomnia
  • Wearing off of the drug leads to depression

Club drugs

The use of club drugs is common at concerts, clubs, and parties. These include MDMA (ecstasy), gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB), flunitrazepam (Rohypnol, also known as roofie), and ketamine. There are some similarities between these drugs, even though they are not all in the same category. Each drug has both short- and long-term effects.

These drugs can be used to induce sedation, muscle relaxation, confusion, or memory loss, and thereby increase the chances of Intimacy misconduct or assault.

A club drug user may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Dilated pupils
  • Chills and sweating
  • Uncontrollable shaking (tremors)
  • Behavior changes
  • Clenching of the teeth and muscle cramps
  • Having trouble moving or not being able to relax your muscles
  • Reduced inhibitions
  • Sensation of taste, sound, and sight heightened or altered
  • Poor judgment
  • Loss of memory or problems with memory
  • Consciousness reduced
  • Hypertensive or hypotensive states


The effects of hallucinogenic drugs can vary depending on the type of drug being used. A common hallucinogen is lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) followed by phencyclidine (PCP).

The use of LSD may result in:

  • Hallucinations
  • Creating an illusion of reality, for example, hearing color as hearing a sound, for example, by misinterpreting your senses
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Rapid shifts in emotions
  • Persistent changes in perception
  • High blood pressure and rapid heart rate
  • Tremors
  • Even years later, hallucinations recur even as flashbacks

PCP use can lead to:

  • Feeling disconnected from everything around you and your body
  • Having hallucinations
  • Coordinating and moving problems
  • Violent behavior, possibly aggressive
  • An involuntary movement of the eyes
  • Sensation of no pain
  • Hypertension and heart rate increase
  • Memory and thinking problems
  • Speaking problems
  • Impairment of judgment
  • Noisy intolerance
  • Sometimes coma or seizures


Inhalant use is characterized by different signs and symptoms depending on the substance. glue, paint thinners, correction fluids, felt tip marker fluid, gasoline, cleaning products, and aerosol household products are some of the products that are commonly inhaled.

Users can suffer brain damage or death from these substances due to their toxic nature.

These are some of the signs and symptoms of use:

  • Lacking an explanation for possessing an inhalant
  • Intoxication or euphoria
  • Decreased inhibition
  • Cooperation vs. belligerence
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Uncontrollable eye movements
  • Poor coordination, slurred speech, and slurred speech when intoxicated
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Tremors
  • Inhalant material lingering in the air
  • Nasal and oral rash

Opioid painkillers

Opioids are narcotics, painkilling drugs derived from opium or created synthetically. There are many drugs in this class including heroin, morphine, codeine, methadone, and oxycodone among others.

The U.S. has been hit with an alarming rate of opioid addiction, sometimes known as the “opioid epidemic.” During treatment, some people who have taken opioids for a long time may need drug substitution prescribed by their physicians.

These are some of the signs and symptoms of drug use and dependency:

  • Pain reduced
  • Sedation, agitation, or drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Memory and attention problems
  • Constricted pupils
  • Inattention to our lack of awareness of surroundings
  • Problems with coordination
  • Depression
  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Nasal congestion or sores (if you snort drugs)
  • Marks left by needles (if injecting drugs)

Staging an intervention

The majority of people with addiction deny they have a problem and hesitate to seek treatment. A structured intervention gives the loved one a chance to make changes before the situation worsens. That is how they can seek and accept help before it is too late.

The intervention must be planned carefully and can be conducted by family and friends with the help of a doctor or a professional such as an alcohol and drug counselor. The intervention can also be conducted by an intervention professional. Addiction often affects the whole family, friends, colleagues, and clergy members, as well as anyone who cares about them.

In an intervention, these people gather together to express their direct, heartfelt concern about the effects of addiction to the individual and ask them to consider getting treatment.

Substance abuse causes

Drug addiction may be caused by a range of factors, as with most mental health disorders. These factors are the most important:

  • Environment: An initial drug-using behavior may be influenced by the beliefs and attitudes of your family and the peer group you are exposed to.
  • Genetics: Occasionally, inherited (genetic) traits may influence the development of addiction once you have started using a drug, which may slow or accelerate disease progression.

Changes in the brain

Substance abuse can cause physical dependence when it alters the way the brain perceives pleasure. In your brain, certain nerve cells (neurons) are physically altered by the addicting drug.

Communication is carried out by chemicals called neurotransmitters. These changes can persist for a long time after you stop taking the drug.

Risk factors of substance abuse

Any person, regardless of age, gender, or economic status, can become addicted to drugs. Substance abuse can be influenced by many factors:

  • Family history of addiction: Genetic predisposition likely plays a role in drug addiction in some families. You are more at risk of developing a drug addiction if you have a parent or sibling with addiction.
  • Mental health disorder: You are more likely to become addicted to drugs if you suffer from a mental health disorder like depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or post-traumatic stress disorder. A drug use problem can make anxiety, depression, and loneliness worse because drugs are viewed as a way of dealing with painful feelings.
  • Peer pressure: Young people are influenced by peer pressure when they start to use and misuse drugs, especially when they are in their teens.
  • Lack of family involvement: Addiction risks can increase in situations of difficulty within the family or when there is no connection between parents or siblings, as well as when there is not enough parental supervision.
  • Early use: Early exposure to drugs can induce brain changes and increase a person’s risk of becoming addicted substance abuse.
  • Taking a highly addictive drug: Many drugs, particularly stimulants, cocaine, or opioid painkillers, can lead to addiction more quickly than others. It is possible to become addicted to drugs by smoking or injecting. It’s possible to get addicted to drugs even if they’re considered less addictive – so-called “light drugs.”


The effects of drug use are often severe and damaging both in the short- and long term. If you combine drugs with alcohol or take high doses, some drugs can be especially dangerous. Examples are given below.

  • Cocaine, methamphetamine, and opiates are highly addictive and have several harmful effects, including psychotic behavior, seizures and death due to overdose.
  • GHB and flunitrazepam can cause sedation, confusion and memory loss. According to research, these drugs cause impaired resistance to unwanted contact and impaired recollection of the incident. These drugs can cause seizures, comas and even death if consumed at high doses. Combining these drugs with alcohol increases the danger.
  • It is possible to experience dehydration or electrolyte imbalance while taking molly (MDMA) and potential complications including seizures. The effects of MDMA on the brain can be severe over the long term.
  • Among the dangers associated with club drugs are the fact that they are often available on the street in liquid, pill, or powder form that may include ingredients that are unknown and can be harmful, including other illegally manufactured or pharmaceutical drugs.
  • Users of inhalants may suffer different types of brain damage as a result of their toxic nature.

Other life-changing complications

The effects of drug dependence are numerous and can be harmful.

  • An infectious disease: If you are addicted to a drug, you have a greater chance of contracting an infectious disease, including HIV, either through unsafe sex or by sharing needles.
  • Other health problems: Addiction to drugs can lead to both short- and long-term health issues, both mental and physical. It depends on the drug taken.
  • Accidents: When drugs are abused, drug addicts are more likely to drive or engage in other dangerous activities.
  • Suicide: The death rate of drug addicts is higher than that of non-addicts.
  • Family problems: Marriage and family conflict may result from behavioral changes.
  • Work issues: When a person uses substances, their performance at work may decline, they may become absenteeism and eventually lose their jobs.
  • Problems at school:. Student motivation and academic performance can be negatively affected by drug use.
  • Legal issues: Drug users commonly encounter legal problems. They may have legal problems resulting from the purchase or possession of illegal drugs, theft to cover their drug addiction, driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol or a conflict over child custody.
  • Financial problems: When people spend money on drugs, they may take it away from their family and friends, end up in debt, or engage in illegal or unethical behavior.


Substance Abuse Treatment

An addict can be prevented from becoming addicted to substance abuse by not taking the drugs. Be careful when taking drugs with the potential to cause addiction and follow your doctor’s instructions.

Medications should be prescribed at safe doses and amounts, and their use should be monitored so that you don’t take too much or for too long. Discuss your concerns with your doctor if you believe you should take more of a medication than what is prescribed.

Preventing drug misuse in children and teenagers

These steps will help you prevent children and teenagers from becoming drug users:

  • Communicate: Make sure your children know how drugs can cause harm.
  • Listen: Be a good listener in the face of peer pressure, and show your support for the decisions your children make regarding peer pressure.
  • Set a good example: Don’t abuse alcohol or addictive drugs. The risk of drug addiction is higher for children whose parents misuse drugs.
  • Strengthen the bond: Get to know your children better. Your children will be less likely to misuse drugs when your relationship with them is strong and stable.

Preventing a relapse

The risk of re-addiction is very high for someone who has been addicted to substance abuse. You may lose control over the drug’s use again if you relapse after stopping it for a while after your treatment.

  • Follow your treatment plan: Keep an eye on your cravings. Some people believe that they have recovered from substance abuse and don’t have to continue taking drug-free measures. If you continue to see your therapist or counselor, attend support groups, and take your prescribed medication, you will have a much higher likelihood of remaining drug-free.
  • Avoid high-risk situations: Keep away from your old drug haunts. Don’t hang out with your old drug friends.
  • If you use the drug again, seek help immediately: If you find that you are beginning to use the drug again, contact your doctor or another member of your medical team.

When to visit the doctor

If you are using drugs out of control, get help. To achieve long-term recovery, you need to seek help as soon as possible. If you are experiencing symptoms of addiction, speak with your primary doctor or see a mental health professional like a specialist in addiction medicine or addiction psychiatry.

Consult a doctor if:

  • It is impossible to stop using drugs
  • Despite the harm the drug causes, you continue to use it
  • If you use drugs, you may display unsafe behaviors, such as sharing needles or sex without protection
  • Your withdrawal symptoms seem to have worsened since you stopped taking drugs

Getting treatment information through helplines and hotlines is a good option if you aren’t ready to see a doctor. You can find these numbers in the phone book or on the internet.

When to seek emergency assistance

If you or another person have taken drugs, seek emergency help and perform these steps:

  • Possibly overdosed
  • Consciousness changes
  • Breathing problems
  • Affects the brain in a convulsive way
  • If suffers from chest pressure or pain that could signal a heart attack
  • Is experiencing any other unwanted physical or psychological effects after using the drug

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