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Page medically reviewed by Dr William Shanahan, Medical Director (Private) and Clinical Director of Addictions (BAO, BCh, DCH, D'OBS, FRCPsych, MB), Priory Hospital Roehampton, in August 2022.

Recognising and accepting you or a loved one may have a drug problem is a significant step towards overcoming addiction and regaining control of your life.

That is why it is so important that you understand the signs of drug addiction. Symptoms will vary for everyone, but there are consistent signs that appear across different types of drugs. Broken down into the physical, behavioural and psychological, this page details some of the most common signs of a drug addiction. If some of these symptoms are a part of your life, it might be time to reach out for help and support for drug addiction.

Do I have a Drug Addiction?

Defined by Addiction Therapist, Dee Johnson, addiction is:

A chronic, relapsing mental health disorder that creates a psychological, physical and emotional dependency on a substance or behaviour. A person with addiction will continue to use in spite and despite any risky, adverse or harmful consequences. The person will be unable to successfully stop or reduce their use, even if there have been attempts to.

You might also see terms like ‘dependence’ used interchangeably with addiction. A drug dependence would mean your body ‘needs’ a drug in order to function. If you don’t take the drug, you’ll experience drug withdrawal symptoms. A drug dependence is also a huge cause for concern. It might not mean you are addicted right now, but an addiction is often just around the corner.

What are the Signs of Drug Addiction?

symptoms of drug addiction

Psychological

  • Mental health issues like anxiety or depression
  • Increased temper, irritability, agitation or defensiveness
  • Paranoia, feeling nervous and ‘on edge’ – small things like red lights or flashes can be misinterpreted as proof that you are being followed and photographed or recorded.
  • Hallucinations that may be visual. Items can appear  to fly around the room
  • Inability to focus or concentrate at work, home, or finding you can only function when using the drug
  • Feeling tearful and emotionally tired
  • Memory problems
  • Diminished self-esteem and self-worth
  • Using drugs to self-medicate against stress or anxiety
  • Intense cravings for the drug

Physical

  • Increased tolerance of the drug, meaning you need to take more in order to feel the effects
  • Headaches
  • Excessive sweating in the absence of physical exertion
  • Fluctuations in weight and changes in your appetite
  • Lack of concern over physical appearance/personal hygiene
  • Disrupted sleep patterns, including insomnia
  • Lethargy
  • Bloodshot eyes, or dilated/constricted pupils: “Pinpoint” pupils classically.
  • Appearance of drug withdrawal symptoms like feeling shaky or nauseous, excessive yawning, the hairs on the arms standing on end, feeling “sick” and stomach cramps.

Behavioural

  • Secretive or dishonest behaviour in relation to drugs
  • Withdrawing from responsibility and avoiding contact with loved ones
  • Finding that you only tend to socialise with people who take drugs
  • Devoting an excessive amount of time to obtaining and using drugs
  • Prioritising drugs over other activities, or losing interest in things that were once important to you
  • Continuing to take drugs despite the negative effects that this has had on your work, home or social life
  • Poor performance and/or attendance at work
  • Stealing from your family and friends
  • Shoplifting to fund your habit
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Long-term Symptoms of Drug Addiction

Physical health

The impact that long-term drug use can have on your physical health can be devastating. These effects will vary depending on the drug used, how much you consume and over what period of time. However, all of the most commonly abused drugs can leave lasting damage to your physical health.

For example, cocaine’s effects on the body can be wide-ranging. Chronic use can increase the risk of blood clots, increasing your risk of heart attacks and strokes. It also causes your blood vessels to constrict, reducing oxygen to the brain and increasing the possibility of aneurysms.

Heroin can lead to infections on your skin, like abscesses and cellulitis. It can also lead to higher chances of contracting conditions like HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C, as well as causing liver and kidney damage.

If you smoke drugs like cannabis or cocaine, this can lead to complications with your breathing and can damage your lungs. Many drugs can also result in an increase in your heart rate. Over time, this can cause cardiovascular issues and increases blood pressure. Cocaine can lead to the cardiac muscle becoming fibrous and inactive leading to heart failure. The coronary arteries that supply the heart and keep us alive can be made to “spasm” by cocaine leading to a potentially fatal heart attack. Cocaine’s effects on the kidneys may cause pain in the sides.

Mental health

Substance use disorders, or drug addictions, are categorised as a mental health disorder by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Drugs change your brain in fundamental ways, which can lead to someone experiencing an uncontrollable compulsion to use the drug, no matter the consequences. Many of the most abused drugs have common symptoms related to mental health, such as feelings of sadness or anxiety.

It leads to many people being diagnosed with both a drug addiction and a mental health disorder at the same time. In fact, research by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) shows that over 40% of people with a drug use disorder will also have a mood disorder such as depression or anxiety.

Drug use can also lead to damaging life events that can bring further damage to your mental health. A breakdown in your relationships with family or friends, loss of a job, and social isolation are common with people struggling with addiction. 

Drug Addiction Help

If you are experiencing some of these symptoms and signs of addiction, it might be time for you to seek for professional help and support. There are many effective treatments available and it’s possible for those struggling with addiction to make a full recovery and regain control of their life. Treatments include:

  • Detox – under medical supervision, detox allows you to stop using the drug while your withdrawal symptoms are safely managed by professionals like us
  • Therapy – therapeutic treatments get to the root cause of your addiction, helping you to better understand the reasons for your drug use. Therapy helps you to develop a new mindset, building a long-term strategy for abstinence
  • Residential care – inpatient care in a residential environment can allow you to recover without having to deal with the everyday stresses of home and working life. Treated by the very best medical professionals, your treatment plan might include detox, therapy and other forms of support  
  • Aftercare – recovery is a lifelong pursuit. Aftercare groups offer continued support for those in recovery, helping you to stay healthy and thrive without the influence of drugs

World class treatment for addiction at Priory

Priory offers leading treatment for addiction, using our network of hospital sites and wellbeing centres to help people onto the road to recovery. Our world class team of consultant psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and other medical professionals deliver the very best treatment to those struggling with addiction every day.

Treatment programmes at Priory can be on a residential, inpatient basis at one of our leading hospital sites across the UK, allowing you to receive round-the-clock expert treatment. We also have some outpatient and day care treatment options, allowing you to recover from addiction whilst fulfilling some of your other responsibilities.

As a first step, we can provide you with a free addiction assessment, which can help us understand the difficulties you’ve been experiencing and talk you through a treatment plan that’s designed to help you make a safe and lasting recovery.

You don’t have to suffer with addiction alone - use the information below to book your free assessment and start your journey to recovery today.

Get in Touch Today

For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding drug addiction treatment and rehabilitation, please call 0800 144 8969 or click here to book a FREE ADDICTION ASSESSMENT. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

Free Addiction Assessment

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