25 Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse

Substance Abuse

Substance Abuse Overview

Drug abuse, likewise known as substance abuse, is the overuse of drugs or a particular drug that leads to serious health issues and the inability to stop using the abused drug despite present damage to health. Some of these abused substances are illegal to use or take, while some of the legal drugs that can be abused require an authorized medical personnel’s prescription.

Drug abuse has been linked to genetic predisposition and a habit. People who have close family members such as a parent or a grandparent who had been addicted to drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, or caffeine are more likely to become addicted to these substances and make it harder to quit, but the person has to take the abused substance first. 

Some people become addicted to certain substances because they have made a habit of taking these substances. The repetitive intake of these substances causes dependency on them and makes it difficult to quit, which affects daily life and could lead to fast death if taken in an overdose or a slow death when used on a long term basis.

Symptoms of Substance Abuse

The signs, symptoms, and behaviors that indicate substance abuse include:

  1. Having the intense desire to take a specific drug to suppress an emotion or a thought
  2. Dry mouth
  3. Warm flushing of the skin
  4. Nausea and vomiting
  5. Severe itching (mostly related to intake of heroin and heroin laced with crack cocaine)
  6. Decrease mental functioning
  7. Paranoia
  8. Switching between being conscious and semiconscious state
  9. Insomnia
  10. Intense euphoria and red eyes
  11. Heavy feeling in the arms and legs
  12. Abscesses (which are swollen tissues filled with pus)
  13. Hallucinations
  14. Constipation
  15. Stomach cramps
  16. Tachycardia (rapid heartbeat)
  17. Spending money, you don’t have or borrowing money to buy a drug that is obviously bad for your health
  18. Having less tolerance to a specific drug and desiring a higher dose to meet the desired effects
  19. Finding it difficult to quit a substance
  20. Confusion
  21. Unusual cravings at a significant time of the day
  22. Needing a particular substance to carry out your daily task
  23. Isolating yourself from family and friends gatherings so you can stay home to use your substance of choice
  24. Only accept invitations to parties/gatherings where there is a high chance of using some substance
  25. Lack of interest in doing outdoor activities or taking care of oneself 

What is the most abused drug?

The most abused illegal substances include:

Cocaine especially cracks cocaine:

Cocaine is an illegal drug that is obtained from a plant called coca. Crack cocaine is made from cocaine, and the name crack is ascribed to this type of cocaine because of the cracking sound the drug makes when it has been smoked. The cracking occurs due to evaporating water escaping when the cocaine is lit.


Marijuana, likewise known as cannabis is a plant that is still illegal for personal consumption in some countries of the world, but it is quite legal in most countries for its medical use. This plant causes a happy feeling (euphoria) or sleepy sensation in a person when smoked or eaten. Cannabis plant’s flower contains a chemical called tetra-hydro-cannabinol (THC). The plant seed is used to make oils (hemp seed oil) that is also known to stimulate hair growth.

Synthetic cannabis

Synthetic cannabis is also known as k2, spice, or fake weed is human-made chemical cannabis. They contain no traces of plant marijuana, but they are sprayed with a chemical called cannabinoids. This chemical acts like THC in the brain and stimulates the brain as marijuana would.


Heroin is a very addictive opioid drug derived from morphine. Morphine is a natural substance taken from the seed pod of opium poppy plants that grow in the southeast and southwest Asia, méxico and Columbia. Heroin can be injected, sniffed, snort, or smoked.

Meth-amphetamine (meth)

Meth-amphetamine (meth) is a human-made stimulant drug. It is illegal for personal use, but in medical practice, it is used legally to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 

3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)

3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), also known as ecstasy, molly, or mandy: They cause feelings of euphoria and altered sensations. They are mainly known as party drugs because of their popular consumption in parties.

What are the most abused legal substances?

The common abused legal substances include: 

  • Caffeine is the world’s most consumed psychoactive drug, and it is legal. It stimulates the central nervous system and boosts energy, increases blood pressure, increases heart rate. Caffeine is a diuretic, and it promotes weight loss because it also suppresses appetite, and it disrupts sleep. It basically keeps you awake. When taken in an excessive and dangerous amount, it causes nervousness, restlessness, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Caffeine is present in coffee, tea, chocolate, over the counter pain meds and soft drinks.
  • Alcohol
  • Cigarettes: the active substance in the cigarette is nicotine, which is very addictive and causes people to keep smoking
  • Dextromethorphan (DMX): This is an over the counter cough suppressant
  • Oxycodone: is a prescription opioid used for severe pain
  • Hydrocodone: is used for severe pain of prolonged duration
  • Methadone: is a synthetic opioid for pain management
  • Codeine: is an opioid used for pain, cough, and diarrhea
  • Sedatives: such as benzodiazepines (Diazepam (Valium), Alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam e.t.c.), barbiturates (phenobarbital, amobarbital) are quite addictive overtime
  • Adderall: belongs to the stimulant group of drugs and has been known to be quite addictive

Complications of Substance Abuse include: 

  • Pneumonia
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Depression
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Female infertility due to menstrual cycle irregularities
  • Substance abused pregnancy complications such as stroke in the fetus, miscarriages, low birth weight, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), fetal heart defects, and learning disabilities
  • Seizures
  • Psychotic behaviors
  • HIV (from shared needles)
  • Memory loss
  • Suicide attempts
  • Family problems (divorce)
  • Legal problems (ranging from driving under the influence of a substance to stealing/murder)
  • Financial, social and employment problems
  • Death

Withdrawal Symptoms Of Substance Abuse

Why do you have withdrawal symptoms? Withdrawal symptoms occur when a person decides to stop the abused substance of choice. 

Can withdrawal symptoms last for months? The first week of withdrawal is the worst of it all. It takes about several months to fully recover from them, and the symptoms depend on the drugs the person was on. 

What does withdrawal symptoms feel like?

The general symptoms that tend to occur in most withdrawal cases include:

  • Depression (sense of sadness)
  • Lack of sleep or restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling dehydrated
  • Muscle pain
  • Goosebumps
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Thoughts of going back to the previously abused substance. (This can be managed by joining a group therapy section in order for the person to share his or her thoughts and to receive support from those who understands what they are going through).

Prevention Of Substance Abuse

Prevention is best done by not even taking any addictive substance in the first place and consulting your health care personnel on prescribed addictive drugs on how to take them carefully and avoid been hooked.

In A Nutshell

  • Treatment of substance abuse is very difficult.
  • Communication about substance abused in our communities should be encouraged in order to teach the effects and complications of these substances so as to prevent their abuse in the community, especially to young children and teens.
  • Attending support groups to help stay on track when getting clean is a good way to prevent relapse.
  • Rehabs with a specialty for your choice of abused substance is also a good place to get help in detoxifying your system and getting better.