Substance use affects individuals from diverse backgrounds and various socioeconomic statuses. Whether initiated for recreational purposes or as prescribed medication, the use of drugs can lead to tolerance, escalating consumption patterns, physical dependence, and, eventually, addiction. In some cases, addiction may develop without the user even realizing it. 

The impact of drug use goes beyond individual experiences and extends to families, communities, and society as a whole. Understanding the progression from drug use to addiction is crucial in addressing substance use disorders effectively. By recognizing the signs and symptoms early on, individuals and their loved ones can seek appropriate help and support, promoting recovery and improved quality of life.

Understanding Substance Use Disorder

Substance use disorder (SUD) is a complex and chronic condition characterized by the excessive and problematic use of substances such as alcohol, illicit drugs, or prescription medications. It is a diagnosable mental health disorder recognized by medical professionals and classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

The severity of SUD is often categorized as mild, moderate, or severe based on the number of symptoms present and the degree of impairment they cause in an individual’s life. It is important to note that SUD is a complex condition influenced by various biological, psychological, and social factors.

Common Substances Involved in SUD

Substance use disorder (SUD) can involve a variety of legal and illegal substances that have the potential for overuse and addiction. Some of the most prevalent drugs linked to SUD are:


Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a common type of SUD. Excessive and persistent alcohol intake can result in physical dependence, tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms when consumption is reduced or discontinued.


Opioids, which include prescription pain relievers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, as well as illicit substances such as heroin, can create severe physical and psychological dependence. Opioid use disorder has emerged as a significant public health concern.


Stimulants, such as cocaine and amphetamines, especially methamphetamine, can lead to addiction. They cause euphoria and increase alertness and energy by triggering the central nervous system.


While cannabis is becoming more legal in some jurisdictions, regular and excessive usage can still result in cannabis use disorder. It can potentially impair cognitive function, motivation, and overall well-being.

Sedatives and Tranquilizers

Prescription sedatives and tranquilizers, such as benzodiazepines (e.g., Xanax, Valium) and sleep medicines, are frequently abused and can develop into dependence and addiction.


Substances such as LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, and MDMA (ecstasy) can produce hallucinogenic effects and, in some cases, psychological dependence.


Inhalants are compounds inhaled to create intoxication, such as glue, aerosol sprays, or household chemicals. Abuse of inhalants can severely harm several organs and the central nervous system.

While these chemicals are highly diverse, they all substantially engage your brain’s reward region and cause sensations of pleasure.

The likelihood of these substances leading to SUD varies. The possibility is referred to as “addiction liability,” and it is determined by several factors, including:

  • How you consume the substance, for example, orally, intravenously, or breathing.
  • The pace at which a chemical passes the blood-brain barrier and activates your brain’s reward pathway.
  • The amount of time it takes to feel the substance’s effect.
  • The ability of a chemical to cause tolerance and withdrawal symptoms.

It is crucial to note that this list is not exhaustive, and additional chemicals can play a role in SUD. Furthermore, polysubstance use, or the use of many substances simultaneously, is not uncommon. The specific drugs involved in SUD can differ depending on geographical area, cultural influences, and individual preferences.

How Does a Substance Abuse Disorder Arise?

Several variables influence the development of SUD, including genetic susceptibility, a family history of addiction, environmental effects (such as substance use, trauma, or stress), mental health disorders, and social and cultural factors. Furthermore, because of their impact on the brain’s reward system, certain chemicals, such as opioids or stimulants, may have a higher potential for addiction.

It should be noted that not everyone who tests with narcotics develops SUD. Individual susceptibility to addiction varies, and various circumstances can impact the journey from beginning usage to addiction.

The development of SUD typically involves the following process:

  1. Experimentation: It often begins with the initial investigation of substances, driven by curiosity, peer pressure, or a desire for pleasure or relief. Individuals may try drugs or alcohol without perceiving any significant negative consequences.
  2. Regular use: Some individuals move from occasional use to more traditional and frequent use as experimentation progresses. They may start using substances as a coping mechanism to deal with stress, emotional pain, or other life challenges. The substance may provide temporary relief or a perceived escape from their problems.
  3. Increased tolerance: With continued substance use, the body develops tolerance, which means that higher doses or increased frequency of service are required to achieve the desired effects. This can lead to a cycle of escalating substance consumption.
  4. Dependence: Dependence occurs when the body adapts to the substance’s presence and experiences withdrawal symptoms when the substance is reduced or discontinued. Individuals may feel a strong compulsion to keep using the substance to avoid the discomfort of withdrawal.
  5. Addiction: Addiction, also known as a severe substance use disorder, is characterized by the inability to control substance use despite the negative consequences it brings. It involves intense cravings, compulsive drug-seeking behavior, and continued use of substances despite adverse physical, psychological, and social effects.

Physical Symptoms of Substance Use Disorder

The physical symptoms of someone going through SUD are crucial in identifying one’s level of addiction. Substance use can have detrimental effects on physical health. Different substances can cause specific health problems. 

Physical Health Issues

Physical health issues can manifest as substance use disorder (SUD) symptoms and vary depending on the substance used. Prolonged and excessive substance abuse can have detrimental effects on various systems in the body, leading to a range of health problems.

One common physical health issue associated with SUD is liver damage. Excessive alcohol consumption can result in liver inflammation, alcoholic hepatitis, and, ultimately, cirrhosis. Liver damage can have severe consequences and impact overall health and well-being.

Cardiovascular problems are also prevalent among individuals with SUD. Long-term substance abuse, particularly stimulant drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine, can lead to high blood pressure, heart palpitations, and an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. Opioid use can cause respiratory depression, which can be life-threatening.

Substance use disorder can also compromise the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to infections. Intravenous drug use, in particular, carries the risk of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis due to needle sharing and compromised hygiene practices.

Other physical health issues that may arise as symptoms of SUD include respiratory problems, gastrointestinal issues, dental problems, and malnutrition. These health issues can significantly impact a person’s overall well-being and quality of life.

Here are typical examples of cues from physical health deterioration due to substance use:

  • Eyes that are bloodshot or glassy
  • Pupils that are dilated or constricted
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Hygiene modifications
  • Dental problems
  • The skin changes
  • Sleeping difficulties or excessive sleep

Tolerance and Withdrawal Symptoms

Tolerance is the body’s adaptation to the presence of a chemical, resulting in higher doses required to get the desired effect. It indicates that the body has become acclimated to the presence of the chemical and has evolved a reduced response to it.

As tolerance develops, people may find themselves ingesting more material to achieve the same level of intoxication or relief. This can contribute to a dangerous cycle of growing substance use, increasing health hazards and the possibility of overdose.

Withdrawal symptoms occur when a person abruptly quits or dramatically reduces their substance use after developing physical dependence. These symptoms vary according to the substance but frequently entail bodily and psychological distress. Opioid withdrawal, for example, can induce flu-like symptoms, muscle aches, anxiety, and insomnia. Alcohol withdrawal can include tremors, nausea, sweating, and convulsions.

Tolerance and withdrawal symptoms indicate the development of physical dependency due to persistent substance use. It emphasizes the neuroadaptations that arise in the brain and body, making it difficult to stop using substances without expert assistance.

Changes in Appetite and Weight

Stimulant substances such as amphetamines and cocaine frequently suppress appetite, reducing food consumption and weight loss. These medicines can reduce hunger and enhance metabolism, causing people to ignore healthy nutrition to get and use the substance.

Opioids and certain sedatives, on the other hand, may enhance appetite and cause weight gain. These medicines can increase hunger and desire, leading to overeating or poor nutritional choices.

Changes in hunger and weight can significantly impact general health and well-being. Consequential weight loss or gain can result in nutritional shortages, reduced immunological function, and increased risk of various health issues. Furthermore, changes in hunger and weight might contribute to body image difficulties and lower self-esteem.

Sleep Disturbances

The kind and intensity of sleep disruptions can differ depending on the substance utilized. The following are some of the most prevalent sleep-related symptoms associated with SUD:

  • Insomnia – It is defined as trouble falling asleep, remaining asleep, or having a non-restorative sleep. Individuals suffering from SUD may experience insomnia due to the stimulating effects of certain medications, such as stimulants or narcotics, which interrupt the natural sleep-wake cycle.
  • Hypersomnia – It is characterized by extreme tiredness or increased demand for sleep. Some substances, notably depressants such as alcohol or sedatives, can cause drowsiness and lead to excessive daytime sleepiness or prolonged sleep periods.
  • Nightmares – Substance abuse can interfere with regular sleep patterns, resulting in vivid, frightening dreams or nightmares. Nightmares can be upsetting and contribute to more sleep disruptions.
  • Fragmented Sleep – Substance abuse can result in fragmented sleep, characterized by numerous awakenings. This can hinder people from getting deep, restorative sleep, resulting in exhaustion and daytime sleepiness.
  • Sleep-Related Breathing Disorders – Certain substances, such as opioids or alcohol, can suppress the respiratory system, resulting in sleep-related breathing disorders such as sleep apnea or shallow breathing when sleeping.
  • Irregular Sleep Schedule – Substance abuse can disturb typical sleep rhythms, resulting in unpredictable sleep patterns and irregular bedtimes. This can exacerbate sleep disruptions and have an impact on overall sleep quality.

Behavioral Symptoms of Substance Use Disorder

Behavioral symptoms encompass a range of problematic behaviors and patterns commonly observed in individuals struggling with substance abuse. The behavioral signs of SUD include cravings and a preoccupation with obtaining and using substances, loss of control over substance use, neglecting responsibilities and social obligations, and engaging in risky behaviors to get substances.

Here are typical examples of changes in behavior due to substance use:

  • Increased irritation or violence.
  • Personality/attitude shifts.
  • Lethargy.
  • Depression.
  • Unexpected developments in a social network.
  • Significant shifts in habits and priorities.
  • Participation in criminal behavior.

Cravings and Preoccupation With Obtaining and Using Substances

Individuals suffering from SUD frequently develop a strong desire or drive to take their favored substance, resulting in recurrent cravings. Cravings might be overwhelming thoughts, obsessions, or intense physical and psychological desires to seek out and use the substance.

Cravings and obsession with substances can demand a significant amount of time and attention. The individual may use substantial effort and energy in getting drugs or alcohol, planning how and when to use them, and anticipating the next opportunity to engage in substance abuse.

Cravings can range in strength, with some people having brief desires and others suffering long-lasting and bothersome thoughts about substance use. Environmental cues, stress, emotional states, or social circumstances connected with substance use can all induce these desires. The obsession with getting and using narcotics can increase over time, becoming an all-consuming priority in the individual’s life.

Cravings and obsessions not only drive prolonged substance addiction, but they can also make quitting or maintaining abstinence difficult. Cravings might hinder an individual’s attempts to stop or reduce substance use. Cravings can set off a cycle of compulsive substance-seeking behavior, leading to relapse even after abstinence.

Neglecting Responsibilities and Social Obligations

As the disease worsens, the individual’s focus and priorities change toward obtaining and using substances, causing them to overlook different tasks and commitments in their personal, professional, and social lives.

Work or education is one of the critical tasks that is sometimes overlooked. Individuals suffering from SUD may find it challenging to maintain regular attendance or to perform well in their employment or educational endeavors. They may experience decreased productivity, frequent absences, job loss, or academic failure. Neglecting these tasks can have profound implications, such as financial insecurity, diminished career opportunities, and strained relationships with employers or educational institutions.

Individuals with SUD frequently disregard their personal and household responsibilities besides work or education. Basic chores such as personal cleanliness, caring for their living environment, and meeting family commitments may be disregarded or inadequately managed. It can result in poor physical health, filthy living circumstances, and strained relationships with family members or roommates.

Psychological Symptoms of Substance Use Disorder

Substance use disorder can manifest psychological symptoms in a variety of ways. Among the most prevalent psychological symptoms are:

  • Mood changes: People with substance use disorders may experience mood changes such as irritability, anxiety, depression, or mania.
  • Changes in thinking: People with a substance use disorder may have different thinking, such as difficulties concentrating, making poor decisions, or experiencing delusions or hallucinations.
  • Changes in behavior: People suffering from drug use disorder may exhibit behavioral changes such as withdrawing from friends and family, isolating themselves, or participating in dangerous or destructive behaviors.
  • Physical health changes: People with substance use disorders may experience material health changes such as weight loss or gain, poor hygiene, or changes in facial expressions.
  • Changes in social functioning: People suffering from a substance use problem may have differences in their social functioning, such as missing a job or school, failing classes, or having difficulty with the authorities.

Mood Swings and Emotional Instability

SUD’s psychological symptoms include mood swings and emotional instability. Substance abuse can induce considerable mood swings, producing solid highs and lows. Individuals under the influence of drugs may experience exhilaration and happiness, followed by irritability, rage, or sadness during withdrawal or when unable to utilize chemicals. 

Individuals suffering from SUD may experience frequent and severe mood changes. While under the influence of chemicals, they may experience euphoria or excessive happiness, followed by bouts of impatience, rage, or sadness during withdrawal or when unable to utilize drugs. These mood swings might interfere with daily life, relationships, and emotional stability.

Cognitive Impairments and Difficulties With Memory and Concentration

Because substance abuse can harm the brain, it can create cognitive deficits and difficulty with memory and focus. The damage can occur in a variety of ways, including:

  • Direct toxicity: Some substances, such as alcohol and cocaine, are toxic to the brain and can damage cells directly.
  • Neurotransmitter imbalance: Substances can alter the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, leading to problems with memory, concentration, and other cognitive functions.
  • Brain inflammation: Substance use can cause inflammation in the brain, which can damage cells and impair cognitive function.
  • Oxidative stress: Substance use can increase oxidative stress in the brain, damaging cells and impairing cognitive function.

Social and Interpersonal Symptoms of Substance Use Disorder

Social and interpersonal symptoms of substance use disorder (SUD) refer to how substance usage affects an individual’s social interactions and relationships. These symptoms can have a substantial impact on a person’s life in a variety of ways. The following are some of the most common social and interpersonal symptoms of SUD:

Social Isolation

Individuals suffering from SUD may retreat from their social circles, including friends, family, and community activities. As their substance usage precedes social engagements, they may become increasingly isolated. Isolation can strain relationships and cause emotions of loneliness.

Relationship Conflicts

Conflicts with family members, friends, romantic partners, and coworkers: Substance misuse can strain relationships with family members, friends, romantic partners, and coworkers. It frequently leads to disagreements, trust concerns, and a communication breakdown. Substance abuse can destabilize crucial interpersonal dynamics and destroy partnership trust and support. 

Neglect of Responsibilities

As the addiction progresses, people may disregard their personal and professional responsibilities. This can include failing to meet job or school requirements, ignoring family tasks, or failing to meet financial obligations. The emphasis on getting and utilizing narcotics can lead to a lack of dependability and accountability.

Financial Difficulties

Substance misuse can put a considerable drain on one’s finances. Individuals may spend a significant part of their money on drugs or alcohol while ignoring other necessary expenses such as bills, rent, or groceries. Financial insecurity can aggravate stress and weaken relationships.

Legal Issues

Substance abuse might raise the likelihood of engaging in unlawful drug or alcohol acquisition activities. This can lead to legal penalties such as arrests or convictions for drug use, theft, or intoxicated driving. Legal troubles can further alienate people and make it difficult for them to restore their lives.

Stigmatization and Social Judgment

Society often stigmatizes Individuals with substance misuse, leading to social judgment, discrimination, and an unwillingness to seek help. Individuals afraid of criticism or social penalties may avoid seeking help, perpetuating their isolation.

Seeking Help for Substance Use Disorder

Seeking treatment for a substance use disorder (SUD) is a critical step toward recovery and living a happier, more satisfying life. Here are some important actions to take when getting help with SUD:

Step 1. Recognize the problem: The first step in seeking help for substance use disorder is to recognize and acknowledge the problem. This can be a challenging step, as it requires honesty and self-reflection. It’s essential to be honest with yourself about the impact of substance use on your life, relationships, and overall well-being.

Step 2. Reach out for support: It’s crucial to seek support from trusted individuals, such as family, friends, or healthcare professionals. These individuals can provide emotional support and guidance and help you navigate the process of seeking treatment. They can also assist in finding appropriate resources and treatment options.

Step 3. Research treatment options: Take the time to research different treatment options that are available to you. This can include inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation programs, support groups, therapy, or a combination of these approaches. Finding a treatment plan that aligns with your needs, preferences, and the severity of your substance use is crucial.

Step 4. Consult a healthcare professional: Seeking help from a healthcare professional, such as a doctor or addiction specialist, is essential. They can comprehensively assess your condition, determine the appropriate level of care, and guide you toward evidence-based treatment options. They can also address any underlying physical or mental health issues that may be contributing to your substance use.

Step 5. Build a support network: Surrounding yourself with a supportive network is crucial for long-term recovery. This can include attending support group meetings, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), where you can connect with individuals with similar experiences. Building a support network will provide encouragement, understanding, and accountability throughout your recovery journey.

Step 6. Follow through with treatment: Once you have chosen a treatment plan, committing to it and following through with the recommended steps is essential. This may involve attending therapy sessions, participating in support groups, or taking prescribed medications. Staying dedicated to your recovery and actively engaging in treatment is needed.

Substance Use Disorder Symptoms: How to Tell If Someone Is Going Through It – Conclusion

Remember, seeking help for substance use disorder is a courageous step; you don’t have to face it alone. Resources, support systems, and professionals are available to guide and assist you throughout your recovery journey. Recovery is possible, and with the right help and support, you can achieve a healthier and more fulfilling life.

If you’re ready for a better change, Life Renewal is here to help. Contact us today, and together, we will take that one big step toward betterment.

Substance Use Disorder Symptoms: How to Tell If Someone Is Going Through It – Further Readings


Signs and Symptoms of Drug Misuse in Adults

Substance Use Problems

Substance Use Disorder Vs. Addiction