Often, drug addiction begins with a seemingly harmless instance of use — a single experimentation, a desire to escape reality, social pressure or even a legitimate prescription from a physician. However, even with a single use, subtle signs of drug addiction can begin to set in and escalate. From the chemical interactions between drugs and body chemistry to the reinforcement that occurs between behavior and the brain, the pull of addiction begins to build. Soon after, drug tolerance, withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings conspire to create the forces of full drug dependency.
Four Major Signs of Drug Addiction
By understanding this process of addiction and familiarizing yourself with the signs of drug addiction, you can learn to recognize addiction that may have taken hold in your own life — or in the lives of those you care for.
Drug use rarely stays at the same levels that it occurs at during the experimentation and escalation stages of drug addiction. The body naturally builds resistance to drugs, particularly to their euphoric side effects collectively known as the “high.” As a result, drug users will naturally increase their dosage amounts and frequency in order to achieve the originally desired high. In some cases, such as with addiction to heroin and other opiates, the pursuit of the high can be constant, rarely reaching satisfying levels equated with first-time use.
Drug Withdrawal Symptoms
When drug use subsides, even for a matter of hours or days, drug-addicted individuals can begin to experience the first signs of drug withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms occur as the body becomes jolted by the chemical changes associated with sudden drug cessation. In many cases, the body has made earnest attempts to adapt to the presence of harmful drugs, throwing its systems off balance when the drug suddenly disappears.
Withdrawal symptoms can be physically painful, nauseating and psychologically harrowing, necessitating professional care to safely reduce drug intake. With professional detoxification, most withdrawal symptoms will subside in a matter of weeks or less time — though for many addicted individuals outside of professional care, they simply propel a person back to drug use.
Drug cravings can be both physical and psychological in origin. Generally, drug cravings consist of intrusive, repeated thoughts about drug use, strong desires to return to drug use and the compulsion to acquire drugs. Drug cravings exist in part due to the body’s response to illegal drugs, compensating for the presence of toxic substances by altering brain chemistry to achieve a sense of balance. When drugs are suddenly removed from the system, chemical imbalances initiated by drug use appear sharply, jolting the user and creating feelings of depression, anxiety and confusion. As a result, many users return to drug use, which allows the body to temporarily normalize once more.
However, lasting chemical balance can only be achieved by successful detoxification, a phase in which the body goes without drugs long enough to notice and adapt, re-achieving its natural chemical makeup. Drug cravings can also stem from neurological associations that have become almost automatic during the course of drug addiction, activating the brain’s reward pathways upon use and negatively reinforcing abstinence as withdrawal sets in.
Social Isolation and Relationship Breakdown
For many individuals, drug addiction ultimately becomes isolative. Personality changes, clandestine behavior, and changes in social circles to accommodate fellow drug users are common, isolating drug-addicted individuals from the people who love them. Additionally, issues of rage, broken trust, financial stress, debt, theft, fraud and infidelity can further strain relationships. In the later stages of drug addiction, many individuals have burned so many bridges and placed drugs at such a priority they feel extremely alone.