Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse

The signs and symptoms of drug abuse will vary depending on the type of drug being used, the length of time that the abuse of the substance has been occurring, and the frequency of the abuse, amongst others. The following are a few examples of the different signs or symptoms that may be a warning sign that a loved one is abusing substances. The examples have been broken down for each drug mentioned.


  • Rapid speech
  • Increased activity / hyper behavior
  • Participating in risk behaviors
  • Restlessness
  • Paranoia
  • Dramatic mood swings


  • Variable concentration
  • Fluctuations in mood
  • Increased irritability
  • Family discord
  • Relationship disturbances
  • Social isolation


  • Loss of inhibition
  • Loss of memory
  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Impaired motor coordination


  • Random periods of extreme lethargy
  • Impaired reaction time
  • Sudden, extensive bouts of coughing
  • Increased appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty obtaining and retaining new information
  • Distorted sensory perception

Depressants and downers

  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Drowsiness or increased fatigue
  • Impaired coordination
  • Impaired memory
  • Impaired judgment
  • Decreased anxiety
  • Lowered inhibitions

Hallucinogenic and dissociative drugs

  • Insomnia
  • Disorientation
  • Altered states of perception
  • Impulsive behaviors
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea

Causes and Risk Factors for Substance Abuse

There is not one specific cause or factor that can be attributed to the risk level of how likely a person is to develop an addiction to substances. The causes that lie in the development of an addiction vary from person to person and include the influence of multiple factors, including:

Genetic: Combined with outside environmental influences, inherited genes are responsible for approximately half of one’s vulnerability to developing a drug addiction. Addiction tends to run in families; in other words, people who have a first-degree relative (such as a biological parent or sibling) that has struggled with addiction are more likely to develop an addiction to substances as well.

Physical: The chemicals that drugs are composed of act on the brain’s communication system and cause a disturbance in the way that nerve cells normally send, receive, and process information. The longer that people abuse substances, the more likely it is that the drugs will cause longer lasting damage to the composition of this communication system, reducing its natural flow and leading to the development of a physical dependence on the substance.

Environmental: Certain environmental factors can play a role in one’s development of an addiction to drugs. People who have a lot of stress in their life may find using drugs to be a sense of relief from the chaos they feel surrounds them. People who have been physically and/or sexually abused may also be at risk for developing dependence to substances. Living in an environment where one is exposed to violence, where drugs are readily available, and  where one is surrounded by peers who also use substances can all have an impact on a person’s susceptibility to develop a drug addiction.

Risk Factors:

The more risk factors that a person is subject to, the more likely he or she is to develop an addiction to drugs. The following are some examples of risk factors that can be attributed to the onset of substance abuse and subsequent addiction:

  • Poor self-control / poor impulse control
  • Lack of parental involvement
  • Poor socioeconomic status
  • History of aggressive behaviors
  • Exposure to violence
  • Exposure to some form of trauma
  • Poor life skills
  • Peer pressure
  • The level of availability that the person has to obtaining the drug

Effects of Substance Abuse

The long-term effects of substance abuse will vary depending on the type of substance that a person is using, the length of time that the person has been using, the frequency of the use, one’s individual genetic makeup, and the presence of other health conditions. These factors are also considered when determining which treatment options are most beneficial to you or your loved one.  The most common effects that result from the abuse of various drugs can include:

Opiates and narcotic drugs:

  • Addiction
  • Decreased respiration rate
  • Mood swings
  • Hypotension
  • Collapsed veins
  • Constipation
  • Hepatitis B and C
  • Abscesses in the injection site
  • Coma
  • Death


  • Addiction
  • Malnutrition
  • Insomnia
  • Nasal perforation
  • Severe dental problems (e.g. “meth mouth”)
  • Heart attack
  • Cardiac and cardiovascular complications
  • Stroke
  • Seizures

Hallucinogenic and dissociative drugs:

  • Liver damage
  • Violent, erratic behaviors
  • Cardiac complications
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Memory loss
  • Continuing, unwanted hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Breaks from reality
  • Flashbacks


  • Loss of consciousness
  • Delusions
  • Memory impairment
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Damage to cardiovascular and nervous systems
  • Coma
  • Seizures

Central Nervous System (CNS) depressants and downers:

  • Addiction
  • Amnesia
  • Hypotension
  • Tolerance
  • Withdrawal
  • Decreased respiration rate
  • Consequences of participating in various risk-taking behaviors


  • Decline in mental health
  • Increasing risk of developing cancer
  • Frequent infections of the respiratory system