Drug Abuse

drug abuseDrug abuse occurs when drugs cause a problem in someone’s life. Drug abuse affects everyone differently.  Some people may experience the negative consequences of drug abuse right away, while others may go for a period time without experiencing problems.  That doesn’t mean drug use is any less dangerous or that drugs are less addictive, just that everyone’s experience with drug abuse and addiction are unique. Fortunately,  if you or someone you love is suffering from drug abuse or addiction, you should know that both conditions are very treatable.

Understanding Drug Abuse

Drug abuse almost never starts out with a person making a decision to become addicted to drugs.  It may start out of curiosity, to feel a part of a group, to perform better at work, or to relieve emotional problems.  There are any variety of reasons a person starts to use drugs.

There is no clear cut line for when drug use becomes drug abuse.  Some people may never move beyond casual use, while others may become addicted quickly.  The amount and frequency don’t trigger a diagnosis of addiction, rather the consequences of drug use trigger the diagnosis.

The vulnerability to addiction depends on many factors from family history to your environment, mental health and past experiences.  There are some risk factors that research has shown increase your vulnerability to drug abuse including a family history of addiction, abuse or other trauma, mental illness, and early drug use.  Treatment can help people recognize and overcome these risk factors to lead safe, healthy and productive lives.

Drug abuse often leads to addiction, a medical disease caused by the physical effects of a drug.  While each drug effects the body differently, all drugs alter the brain’s chemical composition and function.  Often, addiction sneaks up on people.  What may start out as casual or recreational drug use becomes more compulsive over time and without realizing it, a person has lost control of their life to drugs.    Because of the physical changes to the brain, it can be very difficult for a person to recognize the consequences of their drug use and even more difficult to break the cycle.

Signs of Drug Abuse

Drug abuse is different for everyone.  Remember, it is the impact of the drug use that crosses the line from use to abuse.  The American Council for Drug Education published these common signs of drug use[i] (you can see the whole list on our resources page):

Physical Signs of Drug Abuse or Use

  • Loss of appetite, increase in appetite, any changes in eating habits, unexplained weight loss or gain.
  • Slowed or staggering walk; poor physical coordination.
  • Inability to sleep, awake at unusual times, unusual laziness.
  • Red, watery eyes; pupils larger or smaller than usual; blank stare.
  • Cold, sweaty palms; shaking hands.
  • Puffy face, blushing or paleness.
  • Extreme hyperactivity; excessive talkativeness.
  • Nausea, vomiting or excessive sweating.
  • Tremors or shakes of hands, feet or head.


Behavioral Signs of Drug Abuse or Use

  • Change in overall attitude/personality with no other identifiable cause.
  • Changes in friends; new hang-outs; sudden avoidance of old crowd.
  • Change in activities or hobbies.
  • Drop in performance at work; increase in absence or tardiness.
  • Change in habits at home; loss of interest in family and family activities.
  • Difficulty in paying attention; forgetfulness.
  • General lack of motivation, energy, self-esteem, “I don’t care” attitude.
  • Sudden oversensitivity, temper tantrums, or resentful behavior.
  • Moodiness, irritability, or nervousness.
  • Chronic dishonesty.
  • Change in personal grooming habits.

Although drug abuse and addiction are complex conditions, they are also very treatable and hundreds of thousands of people seek treatment and recovery each year.   If you or a loved one has a problem with drug abuse, our treatment page has information on the types of treatments commonly available and our resources page has information on finding treatment centers that fit your needs.


[i] American Council for Drug Education. Signs and Symptoms of Drug Use. http://www.acde.org/parent/signs.htm