Most drug addictions start with casual or social use of a drug. For some people, using the drug becomes a habit, and its use becomes more and more frequent. As time passes, you may need larger doses of the drug to get high. Soon you may need the drug just to feel good. As your drug use increases, you may find that it becomes increasingly difficult to go without the drug. Stopping may cause intense cravings and make you feel physically ill (withdrawal symptoms).

Drug addiction symptoms or behaviors include:

  • Feeling that you have to use the drug regularly — this can be daily or even several times a day
  • Failing in your attempts to stop using the drug
  • Making certain that you maintain a supply of the drug
  • Spending money on the drug, even though you can't afford it
  • Doing things to obtain the drug that you normally wouldn't do, such as stealing
  • Feeling that you need the drug to deal with your problems
  • Driving or doing other risky activities when you're under the influence of the drug
  • Focusing more and more time and energy on getting and using the drug

Recognizing drug abuse in teenagers

It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish normal teenage moodiness or angst from signs of drug use. Possible indications that your teenager is using drugs include:

  • Problems at school. Frequently missing classes or missing school, a sudden disinterest in school or school activities, or a drop in grades may be indicators of drug use.
  • Physical health issues. Lack of energy and motivation may indicate your child is using certain drugs.
  • Neglected appearance. Teenagers are generally concerned about how they look. A lack of interest in clothing, grooming or looks may be a warning sign of drug use.
  • Changes in behavior. Teenagers enjoy privacy, but exaggerated efforts to bar family members from entering their rooms or knowing where they go with their friends might indicate drug use. Also, drastic changes in behavior and in relationships with family and friends may be linked to drug use.
  • Spending money. Sudden requests for money without a reasonable explanation for its use may be a sign of drug use. You may also discover money stolen from previously safe places at home. Items may disappear from your home because they're being sold to support a drug habit.

Recognizing signs of drug use and dependence

The particular signs and symptoms of drug use and dependence vary depending on the type of drug. You might be able to tell that a family member or a friend is using or abusing a drug based on the physical and behavioral signs and symptoms associated with the drug.

Marijuana and hashish

It's possible to develop a psychological addiction to cannabis compounds including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) found in marijuana and hashish. People who have a marijuana addiction generally use the drug on a daily basis. They don't actually have a chemical dependence on the drug but rather feel the need to regularly use the drug.

Signs of use and dependence can include:

  • A heightened sense of visual, auditory and taste perception
  • Poor memory
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Red eyes
  • Decreased coordination
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased appetite
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Paranoid thinking

Barbiturates and benzodiazepines

Barbiturates and benzodiazepines are prescription central nervous system depressants. Phenobarbital, amobarbital (Amytal) and secobarbital (Seconal) are examples of barbiturates. Benzodiazepines include tranquilizers, such as diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan), clonazepam (Klonopin) and chlordiazepoxide (Librium). If you're prescribed these drugs, take them exactly as ordered. If you feel your need for these medications is increasing, talk to your doctor.

Signs of use and dependence can include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Lack of coordination
  • Memory problems
  • Confusion
  • Slowed breathing and decreased blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Depression

Methamphetamine, cocaine and other stimulants

This class of drugs includes amphetamines, methamphetamine, cocaine and methylphenidate (Ritalin).

Signs of use and dependence can include:

  • Euphoria
  • Decreased appetite
  • Rapid speech
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Depression as the drug wears off
  • Nasal congestion and damage to the mucous membrane of the nose in users who snort drugs
  • Insomnia
  • Weight loss
  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure and temperature
  • Paranoia

Methamphetamine, also known as "meth," is a particularly dangerous drug. It's highly addictive and causes a number of short-term and long-term health consequences. Methamphetamine is relatively inexpensive and widely available.

Club drugs

Club drugs are drugs commonly used by teens and young adults at clubs, concerts and parties. Examples include Ecstasy (MDMA), GHB, Rohypnol ("roofies") and ketamine. These drugs are not all classified in the same category, but they share some similar effects and dangers.

Signs of club drug use and dependence can include:

  • An exaggerated feeling of great happiness or well-being (euphoria)
  • Reduced inhibitions
  • A heightened or altered sense of sight, sound and taste
  • Amphetamine-like effects (with ketamine and Ecstasy)
  • Decreased coordination
  • Poor judgment
  • Memory problems or loss of memory
  • Increased or decreased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Drowsiness and loss of consciousness (with GHB and Rohypnol)

GHB and Rohypnol are particularly dangerous. At high doses, they can cause seizures, coma and death. The danger increases when these drugs are taken with alcohol. Because they worsen consciousness and memory and they're easy to give someone without his or her knowledge or consent, these drugs are both commonly used as date-rape drugs.

One particular danger of club drugs is that the liquid, pill or powder forms of these drugs available on the street often contain unknown substances that can be harmful, including other illegally manufactured or pharmaceutical drugs.

Hallucinogens

Use of hallucinogens produces different signs and symptoms depending on the drug. The most common hallucinogens are LSD and phencyclidine (PCP).

Signs of LSD use include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Greatly reduced perception of reality, for example, interpreting input from one of your senses as another, such as hearing colors
  • Permanent mental changes in perception
  • Rapid heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Tremors
  • Flashbacks, a re-experience of the hallucinations — even years later

Signs of PCP use include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Euphoria
  • Delusions
  • Panic
  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression
  • Aggressive, possibly violent behavior

Inhalants

The signs and symptoms of inhalant use vary depending on what substance is inhaled. Some commonly inhaled substances include glue, paint thinners, correction fluid, felt tip marker fluid, gasoline, cleaning fluids and household aerosol products.

When inhaled, these products can cause brief intoxication and a decreased feeling of inhibition. Long-term use may cause seizures and damage to the brain, liver and kidneys. Inhalant use can also cause death.

Narcotic painkillers

Opioids are narcotic, painkilling drugs produced naturally from opium or made synthetically. This class of drugs includes heroin, morphine, codeine, methadone and oxycodone (OxyContin). If you're prescribed these medications by a doctor, take them exactly as directed. Don't increase your dose without first talking to your doctor.

Signs of narcotic use and dependence can include:

  • Reduced sense of pain
  • Sedation
  • Depression
  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Slowed breathing
  • Needle marks (if injecting drugs)

When to see a doctor

If you think your drug use is out of control or is causing problems, get help. The sooner you seek help, the greater your chances are for a long-term recovery. Your family doctor may be a good place to start, or you may see a mental health provider such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Make an appointment to see a doctor if:

  • You can't stop using a drug.
  • Your drug use has led to unsafe behavior, such as sharing needles or unprotected sex.
  • You think you may be having withdrawal symptoms. If you're reluctant to approach a doctor, help lines or hotlines may be a good place to learn about treatment. You can find these lines listed in the phone book or on the Internet.

Seek emergency help if you or someone you know has taken a drug and:

  • May have overdosed
  • Loses consciousness
  • Has trouble breathing
  • Has seizures
  • Has signs of a heart attack, such as chest pain or pressure
  • Has any other troublesome physical or psychological reaction to use of the drug
Oct. 01, 2011