Drug Addiction Signs, Symptoms & Effects

At TrustPoint Hospital we believe education is an important first step in the effort to heal from substance abuse. Understanding the signs, symptoms, and effects of substance abuse can help you get the right type and level of care for yourself or a loved one.

Understanding Substance Abuse

Learn about substance abuse

Substance abuse is a generalized term that can be applied to a range of behaviors involving the improper use of various legal and illegal mind-altering materials. For example, substance abuse can describe consuming alcohol to the point of intoxication, using prescription medications in a manner that is contrary to the directions of the prescribing physician, ingesting heroin or cocaine, or breathing in fumes from paint or other inhalants with the hope of achieving a high.

Unfortunately, many people who struggle with mental health disorders and physical ailments engage in substance abuse, often in an attempt to self-medicate the distressing symptoms of their disorders or numb themselves to their physical or psychological pain. Of course, substance abuse is not only an ineffective means of dealing with mental health disorders and physical health problems, but it can exacerbate symptoms and complicate the effort to correctly diagnose and effectively treat the individual.

When substance abuse progresses into a substance use disorder, which is commonly referred to as addiction, the problems can become exponentially greater. People who become dependent upon alcohol or other drugs lose the ability to control various behaviors, including the frequency with which they engage in substance abuse and the amount of the drug or drugs that they ingest. This loss of control, combined with the intense cravings that are also symptomatic of substance use disorders, can cause a person to neglect his or her physical and mental health as he or she becomes fixated on acquiring and using the substance or substances upon which he or she has become dependent.

The good news is that help is available. Substance use disorders are treatable conditions. When a person who has become dependent upon alcohol or another drug gets professional help, he or she can overcome the compulsion to continue this self-defeating behavior, which can significantly improve his or her ability to fully engage in treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders and physical health issues. At a comprehensive treatment program, men and women can receive effective professional care that will incorporate treatment for their chemical dependency, mental health disorders, and/or physical health challenges.


Substance abuse statistics

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), about 44 million adults in the United States are currently struggling with a mental health disorder, about 20 million U.S. adults have developed a substance use disorder, and about 8 million U.S. adults are dealing with both a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has reported that more than 200 million prescriptions for opioid-based pain medications are written in the United States every year, and that more than 2 million U.S. adults struggle with substance use disorders related to the abuse of these medications. NIDA has also reported that about 116 million U.S. adults suffer from chronic pain, with experts estimating that as many as 46 million of these adults may also be engaging in substance abuse as a means of dealing with their pain.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for substance abuse

As indicated earlier on this page, individuals engage in substance abuse for a variety of reasons, including misguided attempts to deal with the effects of physical ailments and mental health problems. The following are among the causes and risk factors that can increase the likelihood that a person may abuse and become addicted to alcohol or another drug:


According to the American Psychological Association (APA), genetic factors may account for as much as 60% of the risk variance for developing certain types of substance use disorders. Men and women who have a family history of substance abuse and addiction have an increased risk for developing a substance use disorder. People who have inherited genetically influenced traits, such as impulsivity and novelty seeking personalities, may also be at increased risk for engaging in substance abuse and developing an addiction.


Common environmental influences on the development of a substance abuse problem include living in poverty, experiencing an overwhelming amount of stress, enduring a trauma, and associating with individuals who abuse alcohol or other drugs.

Risk Factors: 

  • Age (substance abuse during adolescence increases the likelihood of addiction later in life)
  • Gender (substance use disorders are slightly more common among men than among women)
  • Mental illness
  • Prior substance abuse
  • Family history of mental illness and/or substance abuse
  • Trauma
  • Pain due to surgery, physical injury, or other cause that is treated with prescription painkillers
  • Access to alcohol and/or other drugs
  • Having peers who engage in substance abuse
  • Impulsivity
  • Novelty seeking
  • Low educational achievement
  • Poverty

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of substance abuse

The following are among the more common signs and symptoms that are associated with substance abuse:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Trying and failing to stop engaging in substance abuse
  • Using alcohol or another drug when it is clearly dangerous to do so, such as when operating a motor vehicle or in combination with other substances
  • Spending significant amounts of time acquiring, using, and recovering from the use of a substance or substances
  • Secrecy or lying about one’s actions and/or whereabouts
  • Neglecting responsibilities at home, at work, or in school
  • Significant change in appearance, habits, and/or associates
  • Acting in a risky, reckless, or otherwise dangerous manner

Physical symptoms:

  • Increased or decreased energy
  • Restlessness
  • Abnormal speech patterns
  • Dilated or pinpoint pupils
  • Change in appetite and weight
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Watery or bloodshot eyes
  • Problems with coordination
  • Sores, scabs, and other skin problems
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Headaches and nosebleeds

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Inability to concentrate or focus
  • Memory problems
  • Racing thoughts
  • Delayed cognitive processing speed
  • Poor judgment

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Drastic changes in mood
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Depression
  • Withdrawal and isolation
  • Loss of interest in significant activities
  • Suicidal ideation


Effects of substance abuse

Depending upon the nature and severity of a person’s substance abuse, as well as the nature and severity of his or her physical and or mental health problems, the range of negative outcomes that may result may include the following:

  • Organ damage
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Physical injury
  • Substandard performance at work
  • Job loss and chronic unemployment
  • Family discord
  • Damaged or destroyed interpersonal relationships
  • Financial problems
  • Arrest and incarceration
  • Development or worsening of co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Isolation
  • Homelessness
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal thoughts and actions

Effects of substance abuse withdrawal: People who become dependent upon alcohol or another drug and then try to stop or reduce their abuse of that drug may experience various withdrawal symptoms, including the following:

  • Powerful cravings for the substance
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • Heavy sweating
  • Watery eyes and runny nose
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Pain in muscles and bones
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tics, tremors, and shaking
  • Seizure

Effects of substance abuse overdose: If a person ingests an amount of a substance that overwhelms his or her body’s ability to process or excrete, he or she may be at risk for several potentially dangerous overdose symptoms, including the following:

  • Impaired breathing
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Increase or drop in blood pressure
  • Elevation or lowering of body temperature
  • Cold or clammy skin
  • Bluish tint in area of lips and/or fingernails
  • Dilated or pinpoint pupils
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Hallucinations
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizure
  • Coma

Co-Occurring Disorders

Substance abuse and co-occurring disorders

Individuals who develop a substance use disorder may also be at increased risk for several mental health disorders, including the following:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Bipolar disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Schizophrenia

To my friends at TrustPoint: thank you so much for helping me recover and thrive.

Marks of Quality Care
  • Alzheimer's Association
  • Better Business Bureau (BBB)
  • Children's Behavioral Solutions
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
  • Tennessee Hospital Association
  • Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network
  • The Jason Foundation