A substance use disorder or drug addiction is a complex mental health condition. The physical and behavioral signs someone is hiding a drug addiction can initially be challenging to spot. As the severity increases, these warning signs of drug use tend to become more apparent.
Someone with an addiction to drugs may have changes in their thinking and behavior. Their brain’s structure and function go through alternations. These changes lead to cravings, personality changes, and even changes in movement.
Researchers looking at brain imaging studies see there are changes in brain areas relating to judgment, decision-making, learning, behavioral control, and memory.
Symptoms of a substance use disorder can fall into four categories, which are:
- Impaired control—cravings and strong urges to use a substance are part of this category of symptoms. Failed attempts to cut down or control substance use are also signs that are part of this category.
- Social problems—when someone uses substances, it can lead to problems at school or work. The person may spend less time doing activities they once enjoyed, and they often experience difficulties in relationships. Some people may demonstrate violent behavior or erratic behavior.
- Risk-taking—someone with an addiction may use substances in risky situations or continue to use the drug even though they know it leads to negative consequences. They may have impaired judgment and a loss of control over their risky behavior, just like there’s a loss of control over their use of the substance.
- Tolerance—the effects of ongoing drug use lead to tolerance, meaning someone may need more significant amounts to get the same impact. Withdrawal symptoms can occur if someone stops using a substance or cuts down.
As mentioned, over time, the effects of addiction tend to get worse for most people and can begin to interfere with functionality in daily life. It’s also fairly common to go through periods of relapse and remission. Someone may cycle between times where their use is intense and then into periods of milder use.
Understanding the Causes of Addiction
Addictive substances such as opioids, cocaine, and methamphetamine, create a physical and psychological high. The high is pleasurable, reinforcing the use of the substance in the brain.
Some people can use drugs or alcohol and never become addicted. Other people develop an addiction relatively quickly.
While many complex factors can be part of the development of an addiction, the frontal lobes likely have a lot to do with it. The frontal lobe is part of your brain that allows you to delay reward or gratification. If someone has an addiction, the frontal lobe malfunctions, leading to immediate gratification.
The frontal lobes aren’t the only part of the brain that plays a role in addiction. For example, the nucleus accumbens may also be part of addiction. The nucleus accumbens is associated with pleasurable sensations. This part of the brain can increase your response when exposed to an addictive substance or behavior.
Chemical imbalances in the brain and mental disorders like bipolar or schizophrenia can also contribute to substance dependence and addiction.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the earlier someone is exposed to addictive substances, the higher their risk of developing a substance use disorder.
Stages of Addiction
When discussing the warning signs of drug use or the signs someone is hiding a drug addiction, it’s important to note there are stages. Early on, someone may not show the signs of a full addiction. As time goes on, the symptoms of addiction can become more apparent.
While there are variations, some of the stages of addiction can include:
- Initiation: During this stage of addiction, which often happens during the teen years, someone begins to try drugs or alcohol. Some will use substances to satisfy their curiosity and stop. Others won’t stop.
- Experimentation: During this phase of addiction, someone might use substances in particular situations. In younger people, it might be at parties. For adults, it could be when they’re facing high-stress levels.
- Regular use: When someone reaches this phase of addiction, substance use becomes more frequent. There are usually patterns surrounding use.
- Problem use: By this point, using substances begins to affect someone’s life negatively. For example, a person could drive while under the influence, leading to a DUI. School or work performance could suffer, or relationships could be impacted.
- Dependence: The dependence stage of addiction includes three sub-stages. These are tolerance, physical dependence, and psychological dependence.
- SUD: The substance use disorder stage of addiction occurs when someone meets specific diagnostic criteria. Depending on how many of these criteria a person meets, they may have a mild, moderate, or severe substance use disorder.
What Are Some Signs and Behaviors Associated with Drug Dependence and Addiction?
Below we cover some specific warning signs of drug use and signs someone is hiding a drug addiction.
Physical Signs of Drug Use or Addiction
The physical symptoms or signs of addiction to drugs can include:
- Low energy or high energy levels, depending on the substance
- Repetitive patterns of speech
- Dilated pupils or very small, constricted pupils
- Red eyes can be one of the common signs of substance abuse
- Sniffing and an ongoing runny nose
- Pale skin
- Clothes aren’t fitting the same due to sudden weight loss
- Changes in eating habits
- Lack of personal hygiene over a period of time
- Always seeming sick
- Sweating, trembling or vomiting
- Slurred speech or rapid speech
- Unexplained injuries
Behavioral Warning Signs of Prescription or Illegal Drugs
- Problems at school or work
- Missing important events
- Being secretive
- Problems with sleep including sleeping too much or too little
- Legal problems
- Relationship or marriage problems
- Financial issues, such as always seeming to need money
Emotional and Psychological Signs of Addictive Drugs
- Depression or other new or worsening mental health disorders
- Apathy is often one of the psychological symptoms of substance abuse
- Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
- Problems coping with stress
- Loss of interest in people or activities
- Rationalization for certain behaviors
- Minimizing substance use
- Blaming others or situations
- Diversion (changing the subject) if the topic of drug use arises
Long-Term Consequences of Substance Use
Over time, the following things risk factors can occur in untreated addiction:
- Contracting an infectious disease
- Dropping out of school
- Arrests or jail time
- Eviction from one’s home or foreclosure
- Job loss
- Loss of parental rights
What Can You Do If You See These Signs In a Loved One?
If you notice signs someone is hiding a drug addiction, whether to prescription drugs or an illicit drug, it can be incredibly upsetting.
Before you have a conversation, learn as much as you can about addiction and the signs of drug abuse. Also, keep in mind that the signs of addiction can be similar to other mental and physical health problems.
If you’re reasonably sure a person is using drugs, you can be a support system for them. Learn about dependence and also treatment options. Stay involved, and offer to go with them to meetings or help them find a treatment program. Help provide an environment that’s free of substances and potential triggers.
Show that you have concerns, but realize that you can’t make a person change. Someone with an addiction has to want change and realize a problem themselves.
Addiction is a complex chronic disease, and treatment isn’t a quick fix.