May 23, 2014
Despite the fact that we would strongly dissuade anyone from recreational drug use, there are a number of people who can use prescription or recreational drugs without experiencing negative consequences or forming a dependence on those substances. However, for a larger number of people, substance abuse can lead to feeling shame, helplessness, isolation, and can also lead to problems in personal relationships; in an academic setting or in a professional setting.
If you are concerned about your own use or the drug use of a friend or family member, it is important to understand that it is possible to find help. Through long-term recovery programs it is possible to get to the underlying cause of the issue and learn the skills necessary to live a sober life. However, before you can get help, it is important that you know what addiction is. It is also important to understand why it develops the way that it does and what the signs and symptoms of drug addiction are. Until you recognize that this is dependence rather than recreational use, it might be difficult to make a lasting change.
How Drug Abuse and Dependence Might Develop
Those who experiment with illicit substances often do so because it either makes them feel good (providing a temporary high) or stops them from feeling bad. The problem with identifying drug abuse and dependence is that there is a fine line between the two. Many people who struggle with dependence are unable to determine for themselves that they have in fact crossed that line. Despite the fact that substances taken and frequency of use are not the sole determining factors when it comes to abuse and dependence, they are often indicators of drug-related problems.
- Problems may develop unknowingly – As people take more and more of the same substance over time, they do not notice that what was once occasional use (maybe during weekends at a party) has slowly but surely transitioned into using a few days out of the week. Eventually the substance becomes more and more important to the person.
- The substances fulfill a need – The person may become increasingly reliant on the drug. For example, energize them when they feel depressed, calm them down when they feel anxious or stressed, or help them overcome shyness by making them feel more confident in social situations. The same thing happens with people who use prescription medication to deal with chronic pain or panic attacks. They need to find a healthier, alternative method to deal with these issues.
- The substance takes hold – Eventually the user’s ability to stop using is compromised altogether. They start to neglect social or family obligations and their performance at work or school may progressively deteriorate.
The Signs of Substance Abuse
Despite the fact that there are countless different physical effects depending on the substance that the user is dependent upon, the symptoms of addiction are mostly similar. If you find that the symptoms of substance abuse and dependence are recognizable for yourself or someone close to you, it is important to seek help as quickly as possible.
- Neglecting responsibilities – This can be at home, work, or school (neglecting children, skipping work, or failing classes) because of substance abuse.
- Taking risks while under the influence – Recreational users will often avoid using under dangerous conditions. However, those who struggle with substance abuse may take extreme risks while using. This could be unprotected sex, sharing contaminated needles, or driving while under the influence.
- It leads to legal trouble – Most assume that this means arrests for possession, but it might also be stealing to support a habit, driving while intoxicated or arrests for disorderly conduct.
- Relationship problems – This is not exclusive to romantic interests, it might be the loss of old friends, an unhappy supervisor, fighting with partners or family members.
The Signs and Symptoms of Drug Addiction
A user does not have to exhibit all these signs in order to qualify as someone who needs treatment. Some signs and symptoms might not be obvious right away unless someone spends a long time around the user or has known them for years.
- Building up a tolerance – The body adapts to the drug use over time in an attempt to minimize the physical problems. This means that the user will progressively start taking more and more of the same illicit substance in order to experience the same euphoric effects that they had with smaller amounts.
- Using to relieve/avoid withdrawal symptoms – If the body has become dependent on the narcotic, it means that the user is going to experience withdrawal symptoms if he or she stops using. This could be increased anxiety, shaking, sweating, feelings of depression, problems with insomnia, sensations of restlessness and nausea.
- Losing control – One of the clear indicators of problems with drug addiction is the fact that the user is no longer in control of his or her usage. This means using even though you swore to yourself that you would not or using more than previously planned. The user wants to stop, but feels powerless to overcome their addiction and cannot stop the cravings, leading to compulsory use.
- Life revolves around using – This person spends most of his or her day thinking about or actively using the illicit substance of choice. This means they think about how to get more and recovering from the effects of using.
- Continued use despite negative consequences – If there was one symptom that would sum up drug addiction, it might be this one. The user is fully aware that continuing his or her use is causing major problems in his or her own life, but despite knowing that, continues to use anyway.
Warning Signs of Drug Abuse
Those who abuse illicit substances will often downplay their problem and try to conceal their symptoms. The following warning signs may help you determine whether this is in fact a problem:
- Physical signs – These may include impaired coordination, slurred speech, unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing, deterioration of personal grooming habits or physical appearance. Sudden weight gain or weight loss, changes in appetite or sleep patterns, or larger/smaller pupils than normal.
- Behavioral signs – Frequently getting into trouble, engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors, unexplained need for money or financial problems
- Psychological signs – The person appears fearful, anxious, or paranoid, with no reason, unusual hyperactivity, agitation, or giddiness, sudden mood swings or irritability and an unexplained change in personality or attitude.
The old saying “better safe than sorry” does apply when it comes to concerns about drug addiction. If you feel that you or someone close to you has a problem, make sure that you seek out immediate professional help. Even if the situation seems dire, it is still possible to help someone.