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The signs and symptoms of drug addiction and drug abuse are not always obvious to the untrained eye. Many that abuse drugs are usually very careful about hiding their secret.

Others, who’s drug abuse has spiralled into a full blown drug addiction, the signs and symptoms become more obvious. Yet the question of which drug they are using may still well arise.

The signs and symptoms of drug abuse and addiction vary tremendously in their physical presentation. This is due to the fact that each person reacts differently to a drug or drugs. There are also numerous drugs available, each having its own unique set of effects.

what addiction is not

If you are worried that a family member, work colleague, partner or friend is abusing drugs, we hope that this article will help to provide clarity and answer some questions.

By the same token, if you are concerned that your own drug abuse may have turned into an addiction, recognising the signs and symptoms of drug addiction in yourself may help you to take the courageous and life saving step in asking for professional help.

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What is drug addiction?

Drug addiction is a chronic and progressive brain disease, characterised by relapse and compulsive drug taking for which there is no cure (1)

A person suffering from drug addiction will often start out abusing drugs. This then leads to them developing a drug tolerance so they need to take more drugs in order to feel the desired effects.

Once addicted to a drug, a person will be compelled to take drugs despite suffering adverse consequences occupationally, financially, physically, mentally, emotionally and socially.

Usually, someone who suffers from drug addiction will be physically and mentally dependent on a particular drug or a combination of drugs. Going without drugs will cause them to suffer from drug withdrawal symptoms. This can cause many to continue to take drugs rather than ask for help and get clean.

Drug addiction is defined as a brain disease due to the effects of drugs changing and damaging many functional areas of the brain.

Excessive exposure to harmful drugs changes the way the brain communicates and functions. The brain adapts by rewiring its pathways to place drugs as a priority, even above food, shelter, health and loved ones. The rewiring of the brain compels the sufferer to take drugs even when they want to stop (1,2)

As a progressive disease, without treatment, drug addiction only gets worse and never better on its own.

In terms of treatment for drug addiction, drug addiction cannot be cured but the condition can be arrested (drug detox) and recovery maintained through undergoing a drug rehabilitation programme (1)

Drug addiction may seem like a hopeless condition and the truth is that it is unless a sufferer accesses the correct treatment and support.

Drug addiction signs & symptoms

Depending on the drug being abused will affect how the physical signs and symptoms show in a person.

What we feel is of greater use in identifying a drug addiction is that no matter the drug involved, psychological symptoms of drug addiction and behavioural symptoms of drug addiction tend to be the same.

Physical signs and symptoms of drug addiction include:

  • Suffering drug withdrawal symptoms
  • Frequent drug intoxication
  • Drastic changes in appearance and weight
  • Constricted or dilated pupils depending on the drug
  • Bloodshot eyes, glazed eyes
  • Drug cravings
  • Compulsion to take drugs
  • Changes in speech – either fast, erratic and chatty or slow, slurred and delayed
  • Unusual sleep patterns – sleeping more or less, or at odd hours of the day
  • Drug paraphernalia in their possession
  • Drugs in their possession
  • Sooty or white residue of hands, fingers, face, paraphernalia or clothes
  • Unusual smell on clothing
  • Numerous empty packets of addictive prescription drugs or over the counter drugs in their possession
  • Unresponsive (call emergency services if you suspect a drug overdose)

Psychological signs and symptoms of drug addiction include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Mood swings
  • Changes in cognitive ability
  • Uncharacteristic overconfidence
  • Feelings of invincibility
  • Obsessing over drugs and preoccupation – how and where to get and take them
  • Hallucinations – seeing or hearing things that are not there
  • Psychosis
  • Aggression

Behavioural signs and symptoms of drug addiction include:

  • Secrecy
  • Denial of problem
  • Lying about where they have been and what they were doing – concocting elaborate stories
  • Isolating from family and friends
  • Appearing not to care or showing consideration for others
  • Keeping loved ones at arm’s length
  • Defensiveness when challenged
  • Risk taking
  • Changes in friendship circles
  • Loss of interest in things they previously used to enjoy
  • Disappearing or being out of contact for lengthy periods of time
  • Manipulating loved ones
  • Committing crime to get money for drugs
  • ‘Borrowing’ money that is never repaid
  • Neglecting personal and financial affairs
  • Money and items going missing to pay for drugs
  • Uncharacteristic behaviour
  • Suffering negative consequences as a result of drug taking
  • Distinct lack of control around drug use
  • Becoming more careless around their drug taking, ie leaving drugs or paraphernalia lying about, or being intoxicated at inappropriate times
  • Prioritising drug taking above all else, ie work, time with family, partners, friends and health

The thing with drug addiction is that once a person loses control of their drug use, the signs and symptoms become more and more apparent. As the drugs take over every area of their life, they become more sloppy, reckless and careless in their behaviour. 

Drug addiction takes away a persons ‘choice’ as to whether they use drugs or not. Not using drugs is not an option.

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Signs and symptoms of drug abuse

Drug abuse can, but not always lead to drug addiction. Treating drug abuse and spotting the signs and symptoms of drug abuse early can prevent the problem progressing further into drug addiction, a far more complex condition to treat.

The signs and symptoms of drug abuse include:

  • Losing control of drug use once they start using – binging on drugs
  • Changes in friendship circles
  • Secretive behaviour
  • Drug intoxication
  • Changes in character
  • Lengthy periods of ‘recuperating’ after drug binges
  • Missing important appointments or family engagements
  • Reduced performance academically or occupationally
  • Experiencing drug cravings
  • Speaking in ‘drug code’ on the phone or by text
  • Disappearing for lengthy periods of time
  • Evidence of drug use, finding drugs or paraphernalia on their person
  • Experimenting with numerous different drugs
  • Mixing drugs with medication, other drugs or alcohol
  • Defensiveness, denial or justification when challenged
  • Mixing addictive prescription drugs with alcohol
  • Buying drugs illicitly (online or from a street dealer)

When a person is abusing drugs but not yet addicted, they will still have some element of control and may be able to still manage their affairs. Nevertheless, drug abuse is a very serious condition and can kill at any given moment.

Sadly, some people are more predisposed to developing addiction, especially when they abuse drugs during their teenage and early adulthood years. Their brain is still developing and very vulnerable to chemical change.


Drug abuse often carries very serious and negative consequences and just like addiction, it can kill.

Last year in England and Wales 4,393 died as a direct result of drug poisoning, which can be attributed to drug abuse or drug addiction (3)

Deaths due to drug use are currently at an all time high across the UK. Experts attribute the increase to drugs being of higher purity and more readily available.

Successful treatment for drug abuse and drug addiction

Here at Delamere we believe in arresting a drug problem as quickly as possible. The earlier the intervention, the better the odds of a successful long term outcome. Also a lot of pain and misery is avoided by treating a drug problem early. 3-Intervening-early
No one needs to die of drug abuse or drug addiction! We offer lifesaving and life changing cutting edge drug treatment within our first class drug treatment and behavioural wellness facility.

It is our experience that no one needs to die of drug addiction and that no one is beyond recovery, no matter how dire their circumstances.

Delamere is a compassionate place of healing, we combine traditional evidence based drug treatment methods with a plethora of thoroughly researched and proven holistic treatments. All of our guests are treated with the utmost respect, empathy and dignity.

Our reviews from past guests speak for themselves. Most of our guests continue to access the free aftercare we provide as an important part of their ongoing recovery.

If you or a loved one want help for a drug abuse or drug addiction, we are here waiting to take your call. Even if you are unsure if you have a problem that requires professional treatment our colleagues are highly skilled and trained professionals who will gladly assess your or a loved ones drug use and provide you with the correct advice and support

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  1. The science of addiction. National Institute on drug abuse
  2. Harvard Medical Health – is addiction a brain disease?
  3. Deaths related to drug poisoning in England and Wales registration 2019