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Recognizing the Warning Signs of Drug Addiction: What You Need to Know

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Drug abuse is rampant in the United States.

Almost 20 million people over the age of 12 currently struggle with an untreated substance use disorder. Statistics on drugs don’t get much bleaker than that.

Indeed, substance abuse can have a profound impact on someone’s life. Caught in the throes of addiction, everything from physical, emotional, and personal struggles ensue. It goes without saying that seeking help and accessing treatment is essential to recovery.

However, a better approach is to prevent the problem from occurring in the first place. And to do that, knowing the warning signs of drug addiction is a crucial first step.

Being ignorant of the signs of addiction is a recipe for disaster and will quickly have you or a loved one on a path toward a substance abuse disorder. Conversely, identifying them early can mitigate the future deleterious impact they’d surely have.

Would you like to learn more?

Keep reading to discover eight key signs of drug abuse and addiction.

1. Physical Evidence: Drug Paraphernalia

First things first:

Seeing actual physical evidence of drug-taking constitutes a definite red flag.

Of course, the evidence itself can take many forms.

Scattered remnants of the drugs themselves, glass pipes, rolling papers, bongs, tin foil, and needles are just a few examples of tell-tale drug paraphernalia. Be wary if you notice them in and around your house and/or in the bedrooms of loved ones.

Now, this doesn’t always indicate addiction. It is, however, a fairly clear sign of drug-taking. The paraphernalia’s nature indicates the drug’s severity and, thus, how worried you should be.

For example, on the grand scale of things, smoking an occasional joint is unlikely to lead to a mortally threatening addiction. As such, seeing evidence of small-scale cannabis use is unlikely to be a major cause for concern.

On the other hand, seeing the implements of heroin use (needles, teaspoons, tin foil, and so on) should be taken seriously.

2. Stashes of the Drug

Another warning sign of addiction is the presence of drug stashes.

People who are addicted to a substance are often incredibly ashamed of their habit. They know they shouldn’t do it, but can’t stop. As such, they try to hide their habit from everyone- including themselves.

It isn’t uncommon for people to start keeping stashes of their drug(s) of choice. Doing so helps them remain undetected while continuing to indulge in their addiction.

By its very nature, this is a difficult warning sign to notice. Oftentimes, you might stumble across a stash by accident, under the mattress, in the sock drawer, or in the glove box of the car.

Stashes constitute one of the clearest signs of a burgeoning, fully-fledged drug problem. Finding small parcels or packages of drugs and drug-taking paraphernalia is never good news and should not be ignored.

Likewise, anyone who finds themselves feeling compelled to stash their drugs away should consider seeking support.

3. Increasing Risk-Taking Behaviour

It’s hard to overstate the power that full-blown addiction can hold over someone.

They’re no longer in control. Rather than something they want, the drug becomes something they actively need. Often, that ‘need’ is more than just a sensation. As time goes by, drug addicts experience a genuine physical need to consume the substance.

Going cold turkey out of nowhere can lead to life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.

More often than not, this can cause people to take exceptional risks to get their hands on the drug. Lacking alternative means of sourcing it, they’ll get involved with clandestine acts instead. For example, they might turn to prostitution, or to theft, and gang activity.

In the lead-up to addiction, though, the risk-taking can look different. Under the influence, somebody might behave erratically or in risky ways.

They might get arrested, drive at excessive speeds, have unprotected sexual intercourse, or form new friendship groups of questionable character.

4. Altered Physical Appearance

Addiction can take its toll on a physical capacity, too.

Everything about the impact it has can lead to alterations in someone’s appearance. For example, many people begin to prioritize drugs over food. As a result, they begin to lose weight to an unhealthy degree.

Other possible changes include an overall decline in their personal hygiene. Remember, nothing else matters when all you can think about is using it again. Hair goes un-brushed, clothes go unwashed, and oral hygiene disappears.

Bloodshot eyes, yellowed teeth, and a general air of dishevelment are all signs to be on the lookout for. 

However, it’s important to note that not everyone struggling with addiction will show physical changes. You don’t have to fit the stereotype of an addict to be one! Someone can seem, for all intents and purposes, unchanged on the outside; underneath that veneer may lie a serious illness.

Thus, be sure to keep the other signs of addiction on this list in mind, too.

5. The Inability to Quit

The inability to quit a substance is a hallmark of addiction. Perhaps the most defining one. 

As such, be vigilant for this experience in both yourself and others. Of course, this is nigh on impossible when you don’t know someone is taking drugs in the first place.

However, you can still pay attention to the habits of loved ones who you know have dabbled in the past. After all, recreational drug use is incredibly common in society. Keep an eye out for people in your life who’ve started increasing their consumption and/or seem more focused on it than they once were.

In actuality, though, this particular tip applies more to an investigation of personal drug-taking practices. Be honest with yourself about the relationship you’ve developed with drugs.

Have you tried to quit or cut down but found it impossible to do so? Do you find yourself making excuses as to why continuing (or increasing) your current drug-taking habits is justifiable?

Consider seeking professional support if the answer is yes to either of these questions. Here’s more about the substance abuse recovery process.

6. Unpredictable and Irrational Mood Swings

Addiction doesn’t just alter someone’s outward appearance.

Mental health can suffer too, and their entire personality can change too.

Mood swings are a frequent struggle for anyone hooked on a substance. These swings can be short-lived and/or long-standing in nature. For example, in the blink of an eye, someone who’s usually warm and affable can become aggressive and abrasive.

In a more permanent sense, someone addicted to drugs can become impatient, demanding, self-interested, and critical. It can feel like the habit removes their capacity for self-control and understanding.

For outsiders, developments like this can be as confusing as they are troubling. Someone you’ve known for years can seem like a total stranger.

7. Relationships Start to Break Down

Addictions have a habit of ruining relationships.

Remember, drugs become the priority; the life of an addict becomes one constant effort to satisfy their cravings. Everything and everyone else takes a backseat when that pursuit is paramount.

Family commitments and obligations get pushed to one side in the process. Social events are ignored, and friendships are left to decay.

Each individual component of drug abuse makes it difficult to sustain even the most important relationships in life. Take the mood swings and personality changes we just mentioned. Their quick temper and lack of patience make them a challenge to be around.

In the most serious cases, physical and emotional abuse can occur.

A form of self-sabotage takes place, where addicts unwittingly push away the loved ones they so desperately need for support.

8. Forgoing Professional Commitments

Keeping up with work commitments can become a struggle for many of the same reasons.

For one thing, motivation levels take a nosedive, and sustaining a routine becomes a challenge. It’s common for drug addicts to start late for work or not turn up at all. When they do arrive, they might appear bleary-eyed and unkempt.

Their capacity to perform the job itself can suffer, too. Having gone without a fix, they can struggle to concentrate on a task and become distracted with ease.

It’s important to note that this isn’t always the case, though. Just as a drug addict’s physical appearance can seem unchanged, they might also perform equally well in their job.

Never infer a lack of addiction from an ongoing ability to function at work. High-functioning drug addiction is a common experience these days; scary numbers of people assume their habits are under control because they can still work okay. Alas, that isn’t always true.

Watch for These Signs of Drug Addiction

Whether they know it or not, millions of Americans struggle with addiction every single day.

The current ubiquity of drug abuse in society is frightening for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, though, is the destructive impact it can have at every level of life. Our personal, social, and professional worlds can all suffer in serious ways.

Thankfully, identifying addiction in its early stages is a great way to prevent it from worsening. Hopefully, the signs of drug addiction we’ve highlighted in this post will help you do exactly that.

Be sure to seek professional support if you’re concerned about the drug habits of yourself or others.

Would you like to help people who suffer from addiction? Click here to learn about our degree in substance use disorder counseling.

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