Signs & Effects of Substance Abuse

Red River Hospital helps individuals struggling with drug addiction build a strong foundation for long-term recovery. Serving Wichita Falls, TX, Red River is the leading provider of drug addiction treatment.

Understanding Drug Addiction

Learn about substance abuse

When a person continues to use a substance or substances despite the adverse cognitive, behavioral, and physiological symptoms that occur as a result, he or she could be suffering from a substance abuse disorder. It is important to note that experimentation with substances does not equate a substance abuse problem, however, prolonged use regardless of consequences experienced could eventually lead to the diagnosis of a substance abuse problem and treatment may be necessary.

Common drugs, typically separated into classes, that can encompass a substance abuse disorder are alcohol, caffeine, cannabis, hallucinogens, inhalants, opioids, tobacco, and other know or unknown substances. The cornerstone to a substance abuse disorder diagnosis is a lack of control over use, increased social or interpersonal struggles, failing to refrain from use despite persistent negative effects, and the development of tolerance or withdrawal over time.


Drug addiction statistics

In 2012, an estimated 24 million Americans over the age of 12 have used or abused drugs. That number represents just over 9% of the United States population and researchers are expecting that number to increase.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for drug addiction

The specific cause of why a person would develop a substance abuse problem has yet to be isolated by researchers. However, studies have shown that there are a number of factors that can make a person more susceptible to developing a problem with drugs or alcohol. The most commonly named factors include:

Genetic: Family history of substance abuse is known to be a major factor in determining a person’s vulnerability to a substance abuse disorder. Especially in those with a first-degree relative who has struggled with drugs or alcohol, it is widely believed that there is a strong genetic component in developing a substance abuse disorder.

Physical: Brain chemistry changes are known to occur in those who abuse drugs and alcohol. Specifically, chemicals in the brain that communicate pain, process information, and regulate mood are proven to be effected with prolonged substance use. These disturbances in normal brain functioning and the imbalance of vital chemicals can often lead to psychological and physical dependence.

Environmental: Environmental influences have been shown to play an integral role in whether or not a person develops a substance abuse disorder. Because the drugs and/or alcohol can provide the abuser with a sense of relief and escape from the outside world, those who live, work, or attend school in a stressful environment are at risk of abusing substances. Additionally, people who have been or are victims of abuse, neglect, or crime may turn to drugs and/or alcohol as a means of avoiding the unpleasant emotions associated with trauma.

Risk Factors: The subsequent examples of risk factors have been attributed to those who develop a substance abuse disorder:

  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Exposure to substance use
  • Stressful home environment
  • Lack of parenting / parental attachment
  • Being male
  • Preexisting mental illness
  • Undiagnosed mental illness
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Low self-esteem
  • Influence from peers
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Access to drugs and/or alcohol
  • Lacking effective coping skills
  • Exposure to violence
  • Being the victim of abuse, neglect, or crime

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of drug addiction

Depending on the substance being used/abused, the signs and symptoms of a substance abuse disorder can vary. The signs and symptoms that are commonly associated with a substance abuse disorder are as follows:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Interaction with the legal system
  • Not fulfilling responsibilities at work
  • Physical violence against other people or property
  • Unexplained need for money
  • Being secretive
  • Sudden change in friends
  • Rapid or slowed speech
  • Impaired coordination
  • Disciplinary actions at school
  • Engaging in risky behavior
  • Lack of impulse control

Physical symptoms:

  • Muscle tension
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Sleep changes
  • Tremors
  • Slurred speech
  • Lack of hygiene
  • Headaches
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated or constricted pupils
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Memory impairment
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Altered state of perception

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Mood swings
  • Paranoia
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Personality changes
  • Decreased motivation
  • Anxiety


Effects of drug addiction

The effects of a substance abuse problem can have short and long-term effects on a person’s life. Depending on the substance being used/abused, the following effects can occur in someone abusing drugs and/or alcohol:

  • Addiction or physical dependence on drugs / alcohol
  • Presence of another mental health disorder
  • Withdrawal
  • Decline in overall mental health
  • Mood swings
  • Memory loss
  • Damage to vital organs
  • Decline in quality and quantity of interpersonal relationships
  • Loss of employment
  • Homelessness
  • Coma
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Contracting an infectious disease
  • Malnutrition
  • Collapsed veins
  • Overdose
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Drug addiction and co-occurring disorders

Having another mental illness in addition to a substance abuse problem is common above drug and alcohol users. The subsequent mental disorders are often diagnosed in people with a substance abuse disorder:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Mood disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Personality disorders
  • Conduct disorder
  • Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Adjustment disorder

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I was treated with respect and staff showed me love, and understanding from day one till leaving out the door! I received courage, motivation, open eyes, and my heart. Thank you staff, for bringing me back to life.

– Former Resident
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