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Addiction is a complex disease of the risk and reward system in the brain, involving a person’s genes, family history, and environment, among other factors.
There are many substances that a person struggling with addiction could abuse, with different symptoms of intoxication, different paraphernalia, and different long-term consequences. That being said, there are several symptoms of addiction that are the same over many substances.
- Increasing difficulty at school or work
- Avoiding others or spending more time alone to focus on intoxication
- Physical health issues, including infections, increased exhaustion, or pain
- Neglecting hygiene
- Changes in behavior, including increased aggression, mood swings, and depression
- Signs the person is covering up drug use, including hidden paraphernalia, bottles, etc.
- Missing items, indicating the person is stealing
- Financial problems from spending too much money on the drug
- Appearing intoxicated more often
- Chemical, alcohol, or other smells on the breath or clothing
- Side effects like red eyes, changes in the teeth or skin, or changes in pupil size
- Withdrawal symptoms if the person attempts to stop taking the substance
- Overdose from the drug
While these are general signs that a person may struggle with addiction, each drug has specific signs of intoxication, side effects, overdose symptoms, related paraphernalia, and changes in behavior that may indicate abuse of the substance.
Specific Substances and Symptoms of Abuse Alcohol:
In the US, it is legal for adults ages 21 and older to consume alcoholic beverages. Alcohol is one of the most commonly abused substances in the country, and its use leads to about 88,000 deaths annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Signs of intoxication: Signs of alcohol intoxication include the smell of alcohol on the breath, skin, or clothing; slowed reaction times and poor reflexes; slurred speech; vision problems; lowered inhibitions; memory and cognitive problems, including blacking out; heavy sweating; changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing; dehydration; and alcohol poisoning, leading to coma or death.
- Paraphernalia: Many adults keep drinking glasses designed for wine, beer, or liquor in their homes, bottles of alcohol for recreational consumption, bottle openers, and other items associated with alcohol consumption; however, these do not inherently indicate a problem with drinking too much. However, if there are dozens of new bottles always available, financial issues due to purchasing alcohol over other necessary items, and little food in the house, this could indicate alcohol use disorder. It is very rare for a person to attempt to get drunk using methods other than oral consumption.
- Long-term abuse: Alcohol abuse causes cirrhosis, liver cancer, and other kinds of liver damage; excessive weight gain and changes in glucose levels, which could trigger diabetes; brain damage that could lead to dementia or Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (wet brain); kidney damage and failure; ulcers, chronic acid reflux, and esophageal or mouth cancer; cardiovascular damage and high blood pressure; damage to the eyes; and behavioral and emotional changes like depression.
- Signs of intoxication: A person may be intoxicated on cocaine or crack cocaine if they are speaking rapidly; acting excited or agitated; experiencing delusions or paranoia; shaking or trembling; experiencing constricted blood vessels, dilated pupils, rapid heartbeat, or high blood pressure; breathing rapidly; or having extreme difficulty sleeping. Someone on cocaine may not feel the need to sleep or eat, even for several days.
- Paraphernalia: Items associated with cocaine or crack cocaine use may include:
- Pipes to smoke the rocks, often glass or water pipes
- Razors to cut lines of powder
- Straws or rolled paper or bills to snort the powder
- Needles to inject the drug
- Rolling papers to smoke it with tobacco or marijuana
- Long-term abuse: A person who abuses cocaine for a long time will experience serious, chronic health consequences. These may include chronic headaches; seizures or convulsions; cardiovascular damage, leading to heart attack or stroke; lung damage and respiratory disease; mood disturbances, including irritability, anxiety, or depression; sexual and reproductive dysfunction; damage to the tissues of the nose, palate, throat, and upper respiratory system; psychosis or delirium; and death.
- Signs of intoxication: Intoxication from heroin sets in quickly, although the exact speed depends on how it is ingested. The most common method, intravenous injection, makes the drug take effect within seconds. The euphoria typically lasts less than an hour, although other side effects last for a couple hours. Symptoms of intoxication include flushing of the skin, dry mouth, a heavy feeling in the limbs, and “nodding,” when a person cycles through consciousness and unconsciousness. Mental alertness and cognitive ability decrease, and the person may have memory trouble. Their breathing will slow or become shallow or irregular. They may experience itching and nausea.
- Paraphernalia: Items associated with heroin ingestion vary depending on how it is used but may include:
- Hypodermic needles
- Rubber hose or string to tie off a vein
- Cotton balls to filter the liquefied drug
- A spoon and a lighter to melt the powder or rock
- Razorblades to cut powdered heroin for snorting
- Pipes for smoking
- Baggies that contained the drug
- Rolled bills or straws used for snorting
- Long-term abuse: Heroin is associated with rapid addiction because the drug’s euphoria comes on fast and is very potent. A person struggling with heroin addiction is likely to increase their dose over a short time because they want to experience the original high, and this can lead to overdose very quickly. Other chronic health issues include collapsed veins; infections in the skin, heart, lungs, and other organs; liver disease; acquiring hepatitis or HIV due to sharing needles; blood clots; and malnutrition from extreme weight loss.
- Signs of intoxication: Signs that a person is high on pot include red eyes; changes in mood, including giddiness or depression; altered sensory perception; difficulties with memory and cognition; dry mouth; loss of coordination; muscle twitches; and developing “the munchies.”
- Paraphernalia: There are several ways to ingest marijuana, including:
- Smoking hand-rolled cigarettes called “joints” or “blunts”
- Smoking it from a pipe or bong
- Vaporizing it with a vaporizer pen, bong, or special vaporizing machine
- Eating it after cooking it into food, typically brownies, lollipops, cookies, or another application involving butter or oil, which absorbs THC
- Drinking it after brewing it as a tea
Items that may be associated with marijuana abuse include glass pipes or bongs, lighters, leftover seeds or stems, rolling papers, and a residual herbal smell.
- Long-term abuse: Ingesting marijuana consistently for several years can lead to long-term health problems, including memory loss, ongoing problems with cognition, increased aggression, high blood pressure, decreased sexual function, a weakened immune system, heart damage, increased risk of cancer, delinquent behaviors, and lethargy. People who smoke marijuana increase their risk of lung infections, chronic cough, emphysema, and lung cancer.
- Signs of intoxication: A high from meth begins with a surge of energy, leading to brief euphoria. This increases the person’s voluntary and involuntary physical activity, so they may pace, speak rapidly, or twitch. Meth increases a person’s heart rate and blood pressure, and their pupils dilate. If they take a large dose of meth, or ingest the drug over several hours, they may not sleep or eat for several days; this is called “tweaking,” and a person may not sleep for 3-15 days at a time due to the amount of meth in their body. This leads to severe cognitive problems, paranoia, and delusions.
Other signs of intoxication include heavy sweating, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, unpredictable behaviors, mood swings, performing repetitive and meaningless tasks, elevated body temperature, bad breath, headache, jaw clenching or teeth grinding, seizures, and sudden death, often from a heart attack, intense fever, or stroke. The person may suffer hallucinations of insects crawling on the skin, called “formication,” which leads to excessive scratching, damaged skin, and small sores all over the body.
- Paraphernalia: Items associated with meth use vary, depending on how the person abuses the drug. Some items include:
- Needles for injection
- Rubber hose or string to tie off a vein
- Pipes to smoke the drug
- Baggies that contained the drug
- Razors to cut lines of the powder
- Long-term abuse: Meth is extremely harmful to the body, and long-term abuse leads to serious, chronic side effects. The most recognizable side effects are weight loss, leading to malnutrition and a skeletal appearance, and “meth mouth,” a set of dental problems from tooth rot and gum disease. A person who struggles with meth abuse for a long time will also develop psychological problems, including anxiety, paranoia, and aggression. They will likely suffer from chronic insomnia and may have flashback hallucinations. Their immune system will be damaged, so they will likely experience consistent, chronic infections. They will also have high blood pressure, heart damage, and a high risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Signs of intoxication: Signs of intoxication may look similar to signs of heroin or meth abuse, depending on whether the drug is a stimulant or depressant. Other signs include missing pill bottles, rapidly refilling prescriptions, financial problems from buying drugs on the black market, stealing others’ prescriptions, and doctor shopping in order to receive multiple prescriptions.
- Paraphernalia: Most prescription drugs come in the form of pills and capsules, although some are liquid or sublingual tablets. Overwhelmingly, prescription medicines are designed to be taken orally, and for many people, substance abuse begins when they take a larger dose than prescribed because they feel like they need it for pain relief or for nonmedical reasons. Injecting and snorting crushed pills or tablets are also common methods of abusing prescription drugs because these methods increase the bioavailability of the substance. Paraphernalia associated with prescription drug abuse may include:
- A large number of empty pill bottles or boxes
- Razors to cut lines of crushed drugs
- Straws or rolled bills to snort the drugs
- Hypodermic needles to inject drugs
- Long-term abuse: If a person struggles with prescription drug abuse over many years, they are likely to suffer impaired memory and cognition; behavioral and emotional changes, including increased depression and anxiety; liver failure; kidney failure; lung damage; cardiovascular damage; increased risk of heart attack and stroke; and increased risk of several cancers.
Get Help to End Drug or Alcohol AbuseIf a person displays the above signs of intoxication on a regular basis, the beginnings of long-term health problems, or has any paraphernalia around their home or workplace, they may be struggling with an addiction and need immediate help. Many of these drugs require medical supervision during the detox process, in order to avoid uncomfortable or dangerous withdrawal symptoms; however, with the help of medical professionals, withdrawal can be successful. Then, the person should enter a rehabilitation program geared toward their particular situation. Rehab gives clients access to group, individual, and complementary therapies, so they can learn healthier methods to cope with life’s stresses that don’t involve substance abuse.
It is very possible to overcome addiction and lead a healthy, sober life. It simply requires help, social support, and acknowledgement that the problem exists.