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Signs & Symptoms of Drug & Alcohol Abuse

drug alcohol abuse

That’s really what it is about, isn’t it? How do I know whether I, or someone I care about, have a drug or alcohol problem? What are the signs and symptoms?

If you are wondering whether you or someone else has a drug or alcohol problem, the probability is HIGH that there is, in fact, a problem. Generally, we don’t wonder whether someone has a “problem” if there is not a problem. The rest of the signs and symptoms might help you quit “wondering” and take action:

Health and behavior

- Continuing to use even though you have health problems that are affected or caused by your use.
- Irritability, anger, hostility, fatigue, agitation, anxiety, depression, psychosis (seeing or hearing things that are not there), lack of coordination, difficulty concentrating .
Financial and legal issues
- Spending money on drugs/alcohol that is needed for paying bills or inability to keep track of money that is spent, collection agencies calling.
- Being arrested, doing things that you would normally not do, such as stealing to obtain drugs .
- Continued use despite legal and other consequences is a sure sign of addiction.
Employment or school
- Continuing to use drugs/alcohol even though you realize your job or education is in jeopardy.
- Missing work or school, or going in late due to use.

Family and friends

- Feeling annoyed when other people comment on, or criticize your use of drugs/alcohol. Choosing drugs/alcohol over family and friends is a sign of addiction. Addicted people are defensive, protecting their use.
- Feeling remorse or guilt after using drugs/alcohol.
- Associating with questionable acquaintances or frequenting out of the ordinary locations to purchase or use drugs.

Social life
- Scheduling your day around using drugs/alcohol.
- Focusing recreational activities around obtaining drugs/alcohol, using drugs/alcohol, or recovering from drug/alcohol use. Addicted people are preoccupied with their substance use as it takes a progressively more important role in their lives.
- Seeking friendships with people who use and neglecting, even alienating, important relationships with people who do not use.
- Using drugs/alcohol when alone.

Cravings and relapse
- Strong and overwhelming desire to use at a specific time of day or several times a day.
- Drug/alcohol seeking behaviors.
- Trying to stop or control using the drug/alcohol but failing more than once.
- Feeling that you must have the drug to deal with your problems.


- Tolerance means that it takes more of the substance to “get off”. In order to feel the same effect, one has to use more of the drug/alcohol than intended and using it more frequently. The exception to this is marijuana, cannabis, and hashish which store in the fat cells of the brain making it easier to high on lesser quantities.
- Tolerance is a measure of addiction and suggests that, if one quits, withdrawal symptoms will begin.
- Blackouts – Continued functioning, without any memory of what happened or what was done later, is a sure sign that tolerance has increased addiction and that withdrawal symptoms will be present when one stops using.

Withdrawal Symptoms
- Cocaine: Agitation, insomnia, anxiety, depression, anger, cravings, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, shakes, irritability, muscle pain
- Anti-anxiety medications (tranquilizers): Sleeplessness, irritability, anxiety, feeling shaky, headache, dizziness, loss of appetite, and in extreme cases, seizures
- Painkillers/Heroin: Dilated pupils, goose bumps, watery eyes, runny nose, yawning, chills, nausea, muscle cramps, stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, shakes, sweats, feeling jittery, irritable, panic, tremors
- Methamphetamine: Fatigue, disturbed sleeping patterns, irritability, intense hunger, moderate to severe depression, anxiety, psychotic reactions

Effects on memory and motivation

- Impairments in learning, memory and cognitive functioning.
- Losing interest in activities and hobbies that were once pleasurable.

Risky behavior

- Drinking & driving.
- Going to crime-ridden areas or association with “seedy” characters in order to “score” drugs.
- Criminal or unsafe, irregular activity to get drugs or money to buy drugs.
- Sharing needles .
- Having promiscuous or unsafe sex.

Signs and symptoms of Cannabis use (Marijuana and Hashish)

- Heightened visual and auditory perceptions and increased sensitivity in taste.
- Increased appetite.
- Problems with memory, difficulty concentrating, paranoid thinking.
- Decreased coordination, slowed reaction time.
- Bloodshot eyes, elevated blood pressure, increased heart rate.

If you, or someone you know, have one or more of these signs or symptoms there is a good possibility that you might have a substance abuse problem. Help is available but, over time, these signs and symptoms tend to get worse – not better – on their own. Treatment works!

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