Posted on: September 13th, 2019

Denise Bertin-Epp

bottle of pills

Do you or someone you know have ongoing issues with drug use? Often drugs can be a regular part of experimentation, or can be safely taken to manage pain, anxiety and a variety of other medical conditions. But sometimes what can start off as a little fun, or a prescription for pain, can spiral into something else.

So, how can we tell if drug use has crossed a line into drug abuse?

There are signs along the way.

Some can use drugs with little negative effect, while others find that their use takes an increasing toll on their health, relationships and quality of life. This is a subtle area, full of confusing and contradicting messages. Often denial plays a part in this confusion, and attempts are made to hide the increasing nature of a drug habit. Because of denial, very few are able to recognize when they have crossed the line into addiction—but there are some telltales to keep a lookout for along the way.

It is great to have an awareness of these signs, as they can be useful tools in determining a problem with addiction.

Sometimes these signs can be obvious, such as an increase in the amount of drugs consumed, but in other situations, a more subtle psychological reliance can be the tipping point.  It is important to understand the reasons why we are taking drugs, as often these reasons alone can be an indicator. For example: if drugs are fulfilling a void in your life, or you feel yourself increasingly relying on their use to function or cope, you are likely at risk for developing an unhealthy dependency with drugs.

The difficult thing about utilizing drugs to cope with pain/anxiety, or to ‘feel better’ and more confident is that we are relying on something outside of ourselves to handle the situations of life. It becomes easier and easier to want to erase uncomfortable feelings than to figure out ways to handle and process them as they arise. Making a decision to face what feelings and experiences are being avoided right now, can be the difference between a difficult, drawn out battle with drug abuse and early intervention. The great news is that if we decide to face these difficulties head on, there are professionals who can help.

As drug use increases, more overt signs might begin to show up. Getting and using drugs could be more important than other aspects of your life. Some of your regular interests and connections may begin to fall away. You may miss or frequently be late for work or school. Your job performance may progressively deteriorate. You may start to neglect social or family responsibilities. Often drug use (how to get them, when to use them, using them) can be the sole focus, and all former interests get cast aside. You may isolate from friends and family, spending time with other drug users, or alone, where behaviour is no longer in check. Habits and environments that were at one point unthinkable become a new normal.  Family and friends might begin to react distastefully to your drug use, behaviour or actions. Eventually, the ability to stop using is compromised more and more. Along the way, there are consequences to using that increase in seriousness and can include: arrests, job loss, relationship loss, loss of health and well-being, monetary problems, homelessness and institutionalization. Our appearance can change dramatically and many serious health issues can develop.

We are often unable to see how we are changing, even though evidence is right in front of us. Denial is a common aspect of drug addiction, and can only be counteracted by awareness. Reading this article is a huge step towards knocking down the walls of denial. Once we know how the process of addiction works, there is more self-awareness and this awareness is life-saving.

Knowing about the symptoms and signs of drug addiction/dependency can become an important tool in recovery, as we begin to recognize lines as we cross them and begin to suspect that things are not going so well. We can look back and think on what we read about the signs of drug addiction and hopefully this recognition can inspire us to seek help and treatment. Recognizing the signs and symptoms as they develop in our own story, or a loved one’s is a crucial step on the road to recovery.

Here are some predisposed factors that can play a part in drug dependency:

  • Family history of addiction and mental health issues
  • Depression, anxiety and other mental health issues
  • Trauma/abuse/neglect
  • Low Self-Esteem

Here are some physical tell tales of drug use:

  • Bloodshot eyes or eyes that appear glazed over, dilated or constricted pupils
  • Abrupt weight change—usually weight loss, but also bloating
  • Changes in hygiene—hygiene becomes poor or minimal
  • Appearance drastically changes—sallowness, dark eyes, teeth missing, skin changes colour, or is broken out, dental issues
  • Problems sleeping or sleeping too much, lethargy
  • Feeling shaky, sweaty, headachy or sick once a drug wears off.
  • Seizures or dizziness, confusion
  • Beginning to build up a tolerance, requiring you to take higher doses

Here are some behavioural warning signs related to drug use:

  • Increased aggression or irritability—moods fluctuate suddenly, prone to angry outbursts, anxiety or paranoid thinking
  • Unexplained changes in attitude/personality—this can include periods of unusual hyperactivity, agitation, giddiness, depressive behaviour, mania, loud and aggressive behaviour, or sullenness
  • Sudden changes in friends and locations for socializing
  • Problems in relationships
  • Dramatic changes in priorities—missing work or school, neglecting responsibilities
  • Around or involved in criminal activity—stealing for drugs, driving while under the influence
  • Financial problems, borrowing or stealing for drugs
  • Being secretive or suspicious
  • Frequently getting into trouble—fights, accidents, illegal activities
  • Engaging in risky activity while under the influence—sharing needles, risky sex
  • Continue taking a drug even after it is no longer needed for a health problem
  • An inability to stop using a drug even when it causes hardship
  • Spending a large amount of time thinking about using/how to get drugs/how you will feel
  • Unable to set limits and frequently or always use more that your set limit
  • Have more than one doctor administering prescription drugs
  • Taking prescription drugs from others

If you suspect that you have a drug problem, here are some things that you can do:

  • Tell your doctor immediately
  • Call the local chapter of Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Reach out to a trusted loved one
  • Reach out to the human resources manager at work
  • Call Urban Recovery 646-960-6656

At Urban Recovery, we believe that working through trauma and difficult emotions are part of the recovery process. It takes one decision to get off of the merry-go-round of avoidance, and to make a decision to face ourselves.

To maintain a healthy balance in life, it is essential to replace negative experiences with positive healthy attitudes and outlooks.

This means facing the things that make us feel bad.

Addiction affects every aspect of our life and overcoming addiction requires us to ask for help. Help is here for you. Reach out to one of our experienced staff today for more information on recognizing the symptoms of drug addiction, and ultimately taking action towards recovery.

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