Substance Abuse Addiction Signs & Symptoms

Understanding Addiction

Learn about young adult substance abuse

Characterized by chronic, excessive consumption of drugs and/or alcohol, substance abuse is a serious problem.

Today some of the most common substances abused throughout the United States include alcohol, marijuana, heroin, cocaine, prescription medications, painkillers, stimulants, and benzodiazepines. No matter what type of substance an individual is abusing, the longer that that pattern of abuse persists, the more likely he or she will develop an addiction to that substance, which can lead to a host of additional negative consequences in virtually all aspects of a person’s life.

Once a substance abuse problem has developed, it can be extremely difficult for an individual to get clean without professional help. The good news is that there are multiple substance abuse treatment options available that can help individuals learn how to live a clean and sober life.


Statistics of substance abuse

In the United States it is estimated that 9% of the population over the age of 12 has used or abused various substances, including alcohol, illicit drugs, and prescription medications, at some point during their lifetimes. This is the equivalent to approximately 23.9 million people, and researchers predict that the numbers will continue to steadily increase.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for substance abuse

It is commonly believed that the development of substance abuse and addiction results from multiple factors working together that increases an individual’s susceptibility to the onset of such disorders. Please consider the following:

Genetic: Decades of research has documented the degree to which addictions run in families, which provides evidence of a strong genetic link to its onset. More specifically, individuals who have first-degree relative who struggle with an addiction to alcohol or other drugs are at a heightened risk for suffering from an addiction at some point in their lifetimes.

Environmental: Several environmental and social factors can contribute to a person’s predisposition for substance abuse or addiction. For example, peer pressure, having role models who abuse drugs and/or alcohol, easy access to substances, lack of family support, and family conflict can all place an individual at an increased risk for substance abuse. Additionally, individuals who have been the victims of abuse or neglect may turn to substances as a means of coping with the emotional pain they often experience.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of substance abuse and addiction
  • Underlying mental health disorder
  • Onset of drug abuse at a young age
  • History of severe trauma
  • Victim of sexual, physical, or verbal abuse
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Suffering from low self-esteem
  • Poor coping skills

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of substance abuse in young adults

The signs and symptoms displayed by someone who is struggling with a substance use disorder will vary depending upon the specific substance being abused as well as the length and frequency of the abuse. It is also likely than an individual is abusing more than one substance, which may impact the specific symptoms that are present. Examples of various symptoms that may indicate that a person is abusing substances can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Multiple days missed at work
  • Increased expenses or evidence of financial difficulties
  • Withdrawal from social situations
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Lots of time and energy spent using or obtaining abuse substance
  • Neglected appearance
  • No longer participating in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Change in peer group
  • Engaging in reckless behaviors
  • Failing to adhere to daily responsibilities
  • Acting out in sudden, unwarranted episodes of aggression
  • Disturbances within one’s interpersonal relationships

Physical symptoms:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Chronic headaches
  • Distorted vision
  • Muscle tension
  • Shakiness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Diarrhea

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Preoccupation with a substance
  • Strong desire or craving for substance
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Memory impairment
  • Confusion
  • Inability to reason
  • Episodes of detachment from reality
  • Altered states of perception
  • Delayed thought processes
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Dramatic changes
  • Temperament changes
  • Heightened levels of anxiety
  • Extreme feelings of depression
  • Periods of emotional detachment or emotional numbness
  • Excessive feelings of irritability and agitation
  • Declined interest in things once interested in
  • Inability to experience pleasure
  • Suicidal ideation

Effects of Cocaine Abuse

Effects of substance abuse on young adults

When an individual continues to abuse any type of substance it can place him or her at an increased risk for the development of a series of negative consequences on his or her emotional wellbeing, physical health, and professional life. While each type of substance will pose its own consequences, if not properly treated substance abuse can be extremely detrimental to a person’s overall wellbeing. Some of the possible negative consequences that may develop include:

  • Decline in one’s overall physical and mental health
  • Organ damage
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Cancer
  • Pre-natal and fertility issues
  • Gastrointestinal disease
  • Contraction of viruses, such as HIV/AIDS or hepatitis
  • Long-term neurological impairment
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Memory loss
  • Aggression
  • Paranoia
  • Probation and arrest records
  • Incarceration
  • Job loss
  • Difficulty finding a job
  • Deteriorated interpersonal relationships
  • Diminished interest in important life events

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders we treat

It is not uncommon for individuals who abuse substances to also be combatting symptoms of additional mental health conditions. Some of the most common mental health disorders known to occur alongside substance use disorders include:

  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Personality disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of substance withdrawal and overdose

Effects of withdrawal from substances: Anytime an individual has been using a substance for a prolonged period of time, resulting in physical and psychological dependence, withdrawal symptoms are likely to occur when that substance use has stopped. The signs and effects of these withdrawal will vary depending on the substance that has been abused and the length of time the substance has been abused. Possible effects may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Extreme cravings for drug of choice
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Pale, clammy skin
  • Hot flashes or cold flashes
  • Runny nose / teary eyes
  • Tremors and shakes
  • Abundant sweating
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Seizures
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Effects of an overdose on substances: An overdose occurs when an individual has either intentionally or accidentally taken more of a substance than his or her body can handle. Those who regularly abuse substances or have developed a drug or alcohol addiction are at a higher risk for overdose because of the development of tolerance, which requires an individual to take more and more of a substance to achieve the desired effects. The more substance a person takes, the greater the risk for overdose becomes. Anytime overdose occurs, medical attention should be sought immediately. While the signs and effects of an overdose will vary depending on the specific substance that was ingested, some common examples include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of balance
  • Acute psychotic behavior
  • Erratic breathing
  • Cessation of breathing
  • Chest pain or tightening of the chest
  • Extreme dizziness
  • Extreme confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Hallucinations
  • Losing consciousness
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Sudden heart failure
  • Lapsing into a coma

We are affiliated with the following organizations, which provide accreditation, education, and training to ensure quality behavioral health and addiction treatment.
  • Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF)
  • National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP)
  • National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP)
  • Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council
  • The Jason Foundation