Signs and Symptoms

JADE Wellness Center

Alcoholism and drug dependence and addiction, known as substance use disorders, are complex problems. People with these disorders once were thought to have a character defect or moral weakness; some people mistakenly still believe that. However, most scientists and medical researchers now consider dependence on alcohol or drugs to be a long term illness, like asthma, hypertension (high blood pressure), or diabetes. Most people who drink alcohol drink very little, and many people can stop taking drugs without a struggle. However, some people develop a substance use disorder—use of alcohol or drugs that is compulsive or dangerous (or both).


Symptoms of Substance Abuse Disorder:

One of the most important signs of substance addiction or dependence is continued use of drugs or alcohol despite experiencing the serious negative consequences of heavy drug or alcohol use.

Often, a person will blame other people or circumstances for his or her problems instead of realizing that the difficulties result from use of drugs or alcohol. For example, your partner may believe he was fired from jobs because his bosses didn’t know how to run a business. Or your daughter may believe she got a ticket for driving under the influence of alcohol because the police were targeting her. Perhaps your loved one has even blamed you. People with this illness really may believe that they drink normally or that “everyone” takes drugs. These false beliefs are called denial, and denial is part of the illness.

A person will need increasingly larger amounts of alcohol or drugs to get high.

A person will feel a strong need, desire, or urge to use alcohol or drugs, will use alcohol or a drug despite negative consequences, and will feel anxious and irritable if he or she can’t use them. Craving is a primary symptom of addiction.

Loss of control:
A person often will drink more alcohol or take more drugs than he or she meant to, or may use alcohol or drugs at a time or place he or she had not planned. A person also may try to reduce or stop drinking or using drugs many times, but may fail.

NOTE: While there is no single warning sign for substance abuse, some additional signs to look for include:

  • Skipping classes or not doing well in school or work
  • Unusual odors on their clothes or in their room
  • Hostility or lack of cooperation
  • Physical changes (red eyes, runny nose, small pupils, constant itching/scratching, and bodily marks)
  • Borrowing money often, or suddenly having extra cash or being in need of extra cash
  • Lack of interest in activities and loved ones
  • Significant mood changes
  • Loss of interest in personal appearance
  • Change in friends
  • Heightened secrecy about actions or possessions

(courtesy Substance Abuse and Mental Health Association)