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Drug addiction, now called substance use disorder, is a brain disorder. There is a science to addiction that begins the moment a substance reaches the brain and alters its functioning, specifically the circuits associated with reward, stress, and self-control.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain most affected by substance misuse. When a person takes a drug, it attaches itself to dopamine receptors in the brain and instructs those receptors to flood the reward center of the brain with feel-good chemicals. The chemicals are released in much higher amounts than the brain can do naturally, making a person feel better than they have ever felt before. 

In this article, we’re exploring 11 symptoms of drug addiction.

Symptoms of Drug Addiction

The brain will do whatever it can to continue feeling so good and to convince you to continue using substances. Withdrawal symptoms are one way of doing this. Producing uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms makes it more likely you will keep misusing the substance. Because drugs impair the parts of the brain responsible for self-control, you get stuck in a cycle of trying to quit misusing drugs and relapsing. 

There are eleven criteria used to diagnose someone with substance use disorder that involve symptoms that can range from mild to severe. Here are the most common symptoms of drug addiction you can expect.

1. Tolerance

When you first start misusing substances, you may only need a small amount to get high and feel the effects of the drug. If you continue to use, you will need more of the substance to achieve the same effects. This is called tolerance.

2. Cravings

When you go without an addictive substance for any period, you may have thoughts about it. You may have intense urges or cravings to find and use the drug. You may feel your thoughts are obsessive and no matter what you do to distract yourself, your thoughts go back to drugs or alcohol.

3. Damaged Relationships

Substance misuse can create friction in all relationships. You may find yourself arguing with family, being reprimanded at work, or losing friendships because the top priority is seeking and misusing drugs or alcohol. You continue to misuse substances even though it causes problems in relationships.

4. Neglecting Responsibilities

When someone has a substance use disorder, they have very little time for work, school, home, or social responsibilities. Some even neglect their children.

5. Loss of Control

Trying to put limits on how much or how often you misuse substances often ends without success. You intend to stop after one or two uses but then feel a greater urge to continue. This is a sign that the substance has control.

6. Risky Behaviors

To obtain drugs or alcohol, you may put yourself in dangerous situations. Examples include meeting drug dealers in high crime areas, driving while intoxicated, or sharing needles with IV substance users. Addiction becomes more important than personal safety.

7. Withdrawal Symptoms

If you try to quit misusing substances cold turkey or do not have access to substances for several hours after your last use, you may experience withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms may include flu-like symptoms, nausea, vomiting, muscle spasms, headaches, and many more. They can cause great discomfort, which is one reason you continue to misuse substances.

8. Continue to Use Despite Consequences

Many people who have substance use disorders also have negative consequences occurring at the same time. Consequences such as DUI or legal troubles, loss of job, unpaid financial debt, and worsening physical conditions are a few examples. Yet despite these consequences, you cannot stop misusing substances.

9. Giving Up Activities

Those with a substance use disorder find reasons to avoid activities they once enjoyed. Whether it is a family event or individual activity, they prefer to isolate rather than participate. They withdraw from family and friends and spend much of their time alone with their substances.

10. Time Spent on Substance-Related Behaviors

There is a cycle that most people with a substance use disorder get stuck in daily. They start to feel withdrawal symptoms, so their attention focuses on obtaining money to buy drugs or alcohol. Once they have the money, they focus on finding and purchasing substances. Then, they misuse the substance until it is all gone and the cycle repeats. Looking back on their day, almost every minute they are awake is spent in the cycle.

11. Inability to Quit

Not many people with substance use disorder are having a good time. They are in survival mode, trying to avoid withdrawal symptoms. The misuse of substances is more about helping them feel normal rather than getting high. If they could stop misusing alcohol or drugs, they would. But they can’t. No matter what they try, they cannot quit.

Physical and Psychological Signs of Addiction

Each substance creates a set of physical and psychological symptoms. Depressants may make someone appear unmotivated or zoned out. Stimulants may make someone appear manic or agitated. Here are some general signs to watch for if you suspect someone has a substance use disorder.

How to Recover

Recovery from substance use disorder can happen. There is a specific process with evidence-based treatments to help. It starts with an assessment by a licensed treatment professional to determine what level of treatment meets your needs. For those who need medication to ease withdrawal symptoms, inpatient detox is the best choice. Medication can also control cravings and urges. Other levels of treatment, from most intensive to least, include residential treatment, partial-hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and general outpatient counseling.

At each level, various treatment methods are used to teach you early recovery and relapse prevention skills that can help you maintain recovery long-term. Peer support groups, 12 Step facilitation groups, family therapy, and alternative treatments are included in an individualized, yet comprehensive, treatment plan.

You can start your recovery journey today. Call us for an assessment and we can create the best treatment plan to help you overcome drug addiction.