Addiction, as defined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine, is a chronic disease that changes the reward centers in the brain. While this can involve behaviors like gambling, shopping, or sex, addiction is most understood in terms of substance abuse that fundamentally changes how dopamine and other neurotransmitters associated with the reward system are managed in the brain. Behavioral characteristics of addiction involve an inability to control behaviors, cravings and withdrawal symptoms, and physical side effects, including damage to major organ systems.
Signs of drug addiction include frequent intoxication, hangover or illness, and paraphernalia related to substance abuse. Behavioral changes may also indicate drug or alcohol addiction, and these include:
Different drugs have different signs of intoxication, different side effects, and different withdrawal symptoms. The signs and symptoms of abuse for specific substances are outlined below.
Alcohol is a legal intoxicating substance in the United States if the person is at least 21 years old. Despite its legal status, about 17 million adults, ages 18 and older, struggle with alcohol use disorder, or alcoholism.
Signs that a person is struggling with alcohol use disorder include:
This category mostly includes prescription painkillers that are derived from morphine, a synthetic form of the chemical found in the opium poppy. Common opioids include hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab, Norco, Zohydro), oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet, Oxycocet, Tylox), fentanyl, methadone, codeine, and tramadol. Opioid addiction is an epidemic in the United States, with many people who can no longer obtain prescription opiates turning to heroin, fentanyl, or other, more potent substances. Recently, this has led to thousands of deaths across the country.
Signs of opioid addiction and abuse include:
Heroin is an opioid drug, so addiction to this substance has many manifestations that are similar to those of prescription opioid abuse. Heroin is a Schedule I drug, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, because it offers no medical benefit.
Heroin is typically injected into a vein – although it can be snorted – and it has a very rapid onset, usually taking effect within 5-15 minutes. The pleasurable effects do not last long, and side effects begin within an hour after the drug is injected.
Signs of heroin abuse include:
Addiction to benzodiazepines is sometimes referred to as a shadow epidemic because misuse or nonmedical use of these drugs is rising rapidly, as are overdoses involving benzodiazepines, but it is rarely discussed as an epidemic, like opioid addiction. In 2013, 30 percent of overdose deaths involved benzodiazepines like Klonopin, Xanax, or Valium, either alone or in combination with other drugs.
Signs of benzodiazepine addiction and abuse include:
One sign of meth addiction is “tweaking,” a process that begins when a person ingests a large amount of meth and does not sleep for 3-15 days. The person will be irritable, paranoid, and aggressive or fearful. Tweaking can cause brain damage from loss of sleep and excessive amounts of neurotransmitters in the brain.
This drug is one of the most potent stimulants, and it is commonly found as a white powder or as whitish or yellowish rocks called crack cocaine. Cocaine releases excessive amounts of dopamine into the brain, leading to an excitable euphoria similar to that produced by meth.
Anabolic steroids are the most common type of steroid that is abused. Unlike other drugs of addiction, steroids do not involve intense euphoria, although some anecdotal evidence suggests that people feel “high” because they still take the drug compulsively. Steroids increase muscle mass, physical energy, and extroversion; however, these effects come with serious long-term health consequences.
People who struggle with anabolic steroid abuse often have an underlying body image problem, which may involve depression, body dysmorphia, or an eating disorder.Anabolic steroid abuse can be identified by:
This list contains several of the most common substances of abuse, but people struggle with abuse of countless other drugs. Some of these include over-the-counter cough syrup, synthetic marijuana, bath salts, or inhalants like paint thinner, markers, or nail polish remover.
Regardless of the type of drug abused, continued drug abuse and addiction cause serious problems in virtually every aspect of life. Thankfully, with professional help, people can stop abusing drugs for good and embrace healthier, happier lives. Professional rehabilitation programs offer various specialties to address individual needs, so anyone who struggles with addiction can overcome the problem and maintain long-term sobriety.