Substance Abuse Signs, Symptoms & Effects

When a person begins abusing alcohol or other drugs, he or she may soon find that his or her ability to maintain control over the use of these substances has become significantly compromised. Many drugs possess chemical properties that make them highly addictive, and despite the user’s best efforts, he or she may be unable to end his or her addictive behaviors without professional help.

Substances like opiates and similar drugs can cause a person to develop a physiological dependence on them, meaning that his or her body will be unable to function without the presence of these substances once a chemical dependence has taken hold. Other drugs such as marijuana can cause a person to develop a behavioral dependence, meaning that he or she may feel as though he or she cannot function in certain settings such as social engagements without the abuse of the drug.

Regardless of type, any type of chemical dependence that results in an individual being unable to control his or her drug use will cause a person to experience a wide range of damaging consequences. From a clinical perspective, it is likely that the person experiencing these effects has developed a substance use disorder that will require assistance from a treatment center to overcome.

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Statistics

Addiction is a widespread problem across the world, causing an uncalculatable amount of damages to all the individuals, families, and communities it touches. In fact, in the United States alone, recent reports indicate that approximate 94% of adults over the age of 18 will suffer from some type of chemical dependence in their lifetime.

Causes and Risk Factors for Substance Use Disorder

Substance use disorder, like most mental illnesses, seems more likely to affect individuals who possess certain risk factors including the following:

Genetic:  Research has shown that having a close family member such as a parent or sibling who struggles with addiction may put you at greater risk for developing similar concerns. It is thought that the propensity for chemical dependence is tied to a heritable genetic component that can be passed down in families.

Environmental: Certain traumas and stressors such as childhood abuse and neglect, witnessing violence or assault, or growing up in a home where substance abuse is present can all contribute to the likelihood that an individual may struggle with addiction.

Risk Factors:

  • Possessing close relatives who struggle with addiction
  • Witnessing or experience trauma, abuse, or neglect
  • Having an untreated mental health condition such as anxiety or depression
  • Being a person who seems to naturally seek out activities that may seem risky or cause an adrenaline rush

Signs and Symptoms of Substance Use Disorder

If you are wondering if you or someone close to you has developed a problem with chemical dependence and substance abuse, you are right to be concerned. While each person’s experience of addiction will differ slightly, the following signs and symptoms are typically associated with this condition:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Substandard performance at work or school
  • Frequent attempts to secure more of one’s drug of choice
  • Attempts to steal or borrow money

Physical symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Psychomotor agitation
  • Somatic complaints
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Unintended weight loss or weight gain
  • Sinus infections
  • Dental problems
  • Hair loss
  • Skin issues

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Trouble concentrating
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Memory problems
  • Paranoia
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Social isolation
  • Damaged interpersonal relationships
  • Disinterest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Trouble obtaining of keeping a job
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Substance Use Disorder

If you or someone you care about is grappling with the effects of substance use disorder, there is fortunately more help available than ever before. However, many individuals sadly never get the help they need to overcome this dangerous condition, leading to many of the following long-term detriments:

  • Job loss
  • Relationship discord
  • Legal problems
  • Significant health impairments
  • Financial instability
  • Isolation
  • Worsening of mental health conditions
  • Overdose
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Substance use disorder is often seen in individuals who also struggle with other mental health concerns. Known as co-occurring conditions, the following disorders, if present, will need to be addressed in substance abuse treatment for lasting healing to occur:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Self-harm
  • Polysubstance abuse
  • Personality disorders
  • Bipolar disorder

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of withdrawal: When a person abruptly attempts to cease his or her substance abuse, the following withdrawal symptoms may soon set in:

  • Shakes
  • Nausea / vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Tremors

Effects of overdose: An overdose is one of the most dangerous outcomes of substance abuse, and depending on the substance, the results can be fatal. If you or someone else begins exhibiting any of overdose effects listed below, seek immediate attention from emergency response personnel:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Vomiting
  • Shaking
  • Blue tinge to skin
  • Shallow breathing
  • Slowed heartbeat
  • Unable to respond when spoken to
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