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What are the Signs of Drug Addiction?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Drug addiction is a physical and often mental dependency on any form of drug. This isn’t limited to illegal drugs, as there are many legally prescribed medications that are addictive, and easily obtainable substances like alcohol. With repeated use of addictive drugs, the body begins to crave and require them, so much so, that discontinuation of them may cause severe physical illness, uncharacteristic behavior and extreme mental distress. Symptoms of drug addiction may be noted by addicts, or by those observing addicts like friends, family, and employers.

When people develop dependence on a drug, they need to use it regularly to feel a sense of balance. Whether a person is taking a drug for pain relief, treatment of anxiety, relaxation or stimulation, the small amounts that are initially needed increase over time. This means people must use more of a drug as they become more deeply addicted and as the body builds tolerance to lower doses.

One reliable symptom of drug addiction or beginning dependence is requiring more of the drug than was first used. To get larger or more potent amounts, people may resort to illegal practices like doctor shopping to obtain more of a medicine than they should take. At this point, overdose becomes a risk, because people may take more of a drug than the body can tolerate.

Most experiencing drug addiction have regular and observable symptoms. As the drug clears the system, the person becomes anxious and agitated. Some addicts become physically ill, may vomit, or exhibit physical signs like tremors. the last is particularly common in severe alcoholism. All focus may be on obtaining the next dose, and addicted people have impaired judgment and may be willing to go to any ends to get a drug, including engaging in a number of dangerous and/or illegal behaviors. Particularly if the drug is not easily available, people might purchase illegal drugs, share contaminated needles, steal from others to obtain drug money, or engage in things like prostitution for drugs. They also may step up addiction, switching to harder drugs to achieve a level of satisfaction that is more difficult to achieve. The likelihood of things like blackouts or periods of time where behavior is not remembered become more common.

When clearheaded, people often feel extreme guilt about their behavior, and they may quit frequently, but are unable to follow through. Need is so strong, resolve frequently fails. The intense guilt about drug addiction can fuel more addictive behavior, instead of helping people recover from addiction.

Those looking for the signs of drug addiction may observe other symptoms. These include frequent absences from work/family engagements, disinterest in hobbies or social gatherings, sudden money problems, evidence of being on drugs, changes in behavior, and theft of money and/or personal prescriptions. Should these symptoms be present, people are strongly advised to see if they can help or offer any intervention. At the same time, it can be very hard to convince drug addicts to seek help.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By SarahGen — On Dec 03, 2013

My ex-husband was addicted to drugs. The first sign I saw was the lying. His lying kept getting worse and worse and I knew that he was keeping something. He was aloof most of the time, except for sudden bouts of anger. He just completely changed as a person.

By turquoise — On Dec 03, 2013

@ddljohn-- Nicotine addiction is stronger than what most people think. Since it's a common addiction, there is an assumption that it's easy to quit but that's not true. Some people even need drug addiction counseling in order to quit smoking.

The other danger is that one type of addiction could possibly lead to another type. And the longer an individual is addicted to something, the more problems they experience.

By ddljohn — On Dec 02, 2013

I was addicted to nicotine for several years in college. Initially I was smoking hookah once a week but that kept becoming more frequent and I started to smoke it everyday.

I realized that I was addicted when I didn't smoke for a few days. I experienced a lot of anxiety and constantly had the feeling that something was missing. I was always looking for opportunities to smoke, it was almost like a ritual for me.

It got so bad that I developed a chronic cough and also picked up a nasty stomach bug from using unclean hookahs at public restaurants. I vowed to quit after these health problems and I haven't smoked since.

Addiction is a very weird thing. It's physical and psychological dependence and it can be very difficult to get away from it. Even now, when I see someone smoking or when I smell it, it makes me happy but I control myself.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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