Drug Addiction Symptoms & Effects

Learn how to recognize the signs, symptoms, and effects of drug addiction. Resource Treatment Center provides comprehensive mental health and psychiatric treatment for youth who are suffering from drug addiction.

Understanding Drug Addiction

Learn about drug addiction

Substance abuse is an unhealthy pattern of drug or alcohol use that, in most cases, leads to frequent and serious problems at home, school, and in other areas of a child or adolescent’s life. Those who have substance abuse problems will continue to use drugs and/or alcohol despite all the negative consequences that may be occurring in their lives. When people abuse substances, it can affect their behavior, cognition, and leave a lasting impact on their overall health. If an individual continues to abuse drugs and/or alcohol, the abuse can leave lasting negative effects.

Many children or adolescents will experiment with drugs and/or alcohol in their life and will not end up with a substance abuse problem. However, for some, drugs and/or alcohol can take over a person’s life and eventually turn into substance dependence. Some of the substances that are most often abused include alcohol, marijuana, inhalants, opioids, and stimulants, all of which can have adverse effects and, in severe cases, end in death. The good news is that there is treatment available to help individuals kick their substance abuse habits and live a life of sobriety.


Drug addiction statistics

Studies have found that the use and abuse of substances among children and adolescents is rising. Statistics show that people aged 12 and over account for 9% of the population that have used or abused drugs or alcohol. That percentage represents nearly 24 million Americans.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for drug addiction

There are a number of different reasons for why a child or adolescent may start to drink alcohol or use other drugs. For example, some adolescents may begin using as way to try to fit in with their peers or because they are trying to escape stress they are experiencing at home, work, or school. Others may just be curious. However, no matter what the original reason for why an individual started using drugs or alcohol, no one knows for sure why some individuals go on to have serious substance abuse problems while others do not. Some of the following are explanations that many experts have agreed upon:

Genetic: Research has found that when an individual has a family history of substance abuse or addiction he or she is at an increased risk for developing a substance abuse problem him or herself. This has led experts to believe that there is a strong genetic component for the development of substance abuse.

Physical: When individuals use drugs or alcohol, it begins to alter their brain chemistry and affects their motor abilities, communication abilities, and decision-making capabilities. After a while, prolonged use of substances can lead to psychological and physical dependence, which only causes the individual to crave more of his or her substance of choice.

Environmental: It has long been accepted that exposure to a number of environmental factors can lead to the development of a substance use disorder. For example, witnessing parents or other caregivers using drugs can make a child feel that this type of behavior is acceptable and that it is a healthy way to deal with stress.

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Using alcohol or tobacco at a young age
  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feeling like an outsider
  • Poverty
  • Victim of child abuse or neglect
  • Family stress

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of drug addiction

Substance abuse can lead to a number of different physical and psychological problems, however, the exact symptoms will depend upon the substance that is being abused. Typical warning signs of substance abuse in young people include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Sudden change in friends
  • Problems with the law
  • Changes in dress or appearance
  • Frequently starting arguments
  • Breaking the rules
  • Withdrawing from family life
  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Inability to adhere to responsibilities
  • Slowed or rapid speech
  • Impaired coordination
  • Unexplained need for money
  • Lying or omitting
  • Stealing
  • Aggressive behaviors
  • Damaging property
  • Drop in grades
  • Frequent school absences

Physical symptoms:

  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Tiredness
  • Long-lasting cough
  • Red glazed eyes
  • Altered eating habits
  • Slurred speech
  • Tremors
  • Headaches
  • Tension in muscles
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Unexplained health problems

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Altered state of perception
  • Poor judgment
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Memory problems
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Bad attitude
  • Personality changes
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Carelessness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Agitation
  • Decline in motivation
  • Loss of interest in social activities
  • Paranoia


Effects of drug addiction

Abusing drugs and/or alcohol will create a number of problems that will only get worse over time. The longer individuals go without getting the treatment they need, the more serious the long-term effects can be. Some of the following long-term problems can occur:

  • Overall decline in mental health
  • Development of, or worsening of, an existing mental health condition
  • Addiction or dependence on substances
  • Withdrawal
  • Memory loss
  • Damage or failure to vital organs
  • Broken friendships or other relationships
  • Disciplinary action at school, including expulsion
  • Being in trouble with the law
  • Malnutrition
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Collapsed veins
  • Exposure to viruses / infections
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Overdose
  • Death

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of drug withdrawal and overdose

Withdrawal: Withdrawal occurs when an individual suddenly stops taking a substance that he or she has become physically and psychologically dependent upon. Since withdrawal can cause a number of unpleasant and sometimes dangerous side effects, it is best to seek support from mental health professionals or medical staff during this time. The following signs are indicative that an individual may be going through withdrawal:

  • Intense cravings for continued use
  • Agitation
  • Chills
  • Clammy skin
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Paleness
  • Tremors
  • Depressed mood
  • Panic
  • Anxious feelings
  • Bone pain
  • Muscle tension
  • Psychosis

Overdose: A drug or alcohol overdose is serious and medical attention should be sought immediately. If the following signs are present, it could indicate a person is overdosing:

  • Blue tinged or pale skin
  • Fever
  • Shallow or slowed breathing
  • Sweating
  • Slowed pulse
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Confusion
  • Chest pain or tightening
  • Heart failure
  • Respiratory failure
  • Presence of psychotic features / behaviors
  • Unresponsiveness or coma
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Drug addiction and co-occurring disorders

For those who abuse drugs and alcohol, it is very common from them to have a mental health disorder. The following are some of the most common co-occurring disorders:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Conduct disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Adjustment disorder
  • Personality disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Suicidal ideation
Drug Addiction Treatment

I always felt so misunderstood, but at Resource it was like someone finally took the time to get to know me. That made a huge difference. This place helped me so much.