The Signs of a Substance Addiction


Substance use disorder, also known as drug or alcohol addiction, is a condition that affects the brain, body and spirit. The chemicals in substances alter the brain’s ability to control behavior and emotions. Once the neurotransmitters (the cells in the brain that send signals to other parts of the brain) are reshaped, a person’s capacity to control their use of substances deteriorates, resulting in addiction.

Experimental Substance Use

Taking drugs or drinking alcohol can start with casual, recreational or experimental use with friends or in social situations. The belief that infrequent use or substance use in social situations is harmless can lead to more frequent use. Some believe drinking alcohol, using marijuana or taking medication as a way to get high is not a big deal, but the long-term effects and risks of addiction exist. 

Substance Addiction: Signs and Symptoms


Many people may call themselves a moderate drinker, which is defined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as up to one drink per day for women or two a day for men. Moderate drinkers can socialize with friends or coworkers, attend family functions or enjoy a drink with dinner. They aren’t known to binge drink, consume a large amount of alcohol during a short time; for women, this is four or more, and for men, this is five or more drinks. They also don’t imbibe alcohol in large quantities over a short period at any point during the month or engage in this behavior every day.

Adults who consume more than the CDC’s definition of a moderate drinker are often heavy drinkers, alcohol-dependent or addicted to alcohol. Heavy drinkers are not alcoholics but are at a higher risk of becoming alcoholics. Those who are alcohol dependent rely on alcohol to make it through the day, withdraw from activities they once enjoyed or have cravings. Their use of alcohol changed the chemistry in their brain.

Alcohol use disorder is associated with alcohol dependence or addiction. When people use alcohol to ease their feelings of depression, anxiety or low self-esteem, they are masking their ability to identify and find healthy coping mechanisms. Others who drink believe alcohol makes them funnier, more social or larger than life. They use alcohol to help them feel comfortable in social situations; over time, their alcohol dependence becomes problematic.

Many people aren’t aware they have alcohol use disorder. They can ignore their friends’ or family members’ concerns about their drinking. However, if they respond “yes” to two or more of the questions, they can have alcohol use disorder. Have you:

  • Consumed more alcohol or for a longer time than intended?
  • Attempted to cut down or stop drinking but was unable?
  • Spent a large portion of the day, week, or month drinking or recovering from drinking?
  • Had cravings for alcohol?
  • Continued drinking despite it creating problems with your family or friends?
  • Continued the use of alcohol despite an increased feeling of depression or anxiety?
  • Increased the amount of alcohol consumed to feel the effects once felt with less alcohol?
  • Experienced withdrawal as the effects of drinking wore off?

The decision to quit drinking can offer many possibilities. However, cessation of drinking can cause withdrawal symptoms, which should be monitored by medical professionals.


Marijuana addiction can start with social use. Gatherings with friends when marijuana is shared isn’t as safe as some assume. Frequent marijuana use creates dependence on the chemical THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), that is released when smoked or consumed. An increased frequency in marijuana use changes the endocannabinoid neurotransmitters as the brain becomes less reliant on those and replaces them with THC. A person can have a marijuana addiction if they have any of these symptoms:

  • The inability to stop using the drug despite its interference in work or personal activities
  • Lethargy
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Lack of focus
  • Increased conversation
  • Increased appetite
  • Inability to judge time

When a person tries to stop smoking or consuming marijuana, symptoms of addiction can persist. Withdrawal can begin the first week after quitting and last up to two weeks after stopping. Withdrawal signs are:

  • Inability to sleep
  • Decreased appetite
  • Irritability
  • Cravings 
  • Physical discomforts

Because marijuana is often viewed as a social drug, the number of people with marijuana use disorder is unknown. However, if a person recognizes any of the symptoms of marijuana addiction, they can speak to a therapist at a treatment center to determine a safe and healthy treatment plan. 

Prescription Medication

The use of opioids in the United States has increased because aggressive marketing led to increased prescribing of medications such as OxyContin to treat chronic pain. Opioids may seem harmless because they are given to people by their doctor but the potential for dependence is real. Typically, patients who were prescribed opioids took them as ordered without knowing the drugs were addictive. A few signs of opioid addiction are:

  • Unmanageable cravings
  • Altered sleep patterns
  • Financial difficulties
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased personal hygiene
  • Incessant flu-like symptoms
  • Lack of interest in sex

Anyone who thinks they are addicted to opioids or alcohol should consult with their local treatment center. Treatment centers have qualified medical staff who can guide them through the process of withdrawal and therapy.


The signs and symptoms of substance addiction can vary by substance. Alcohol or marijuana as a social tool lulls people into thinking they are in control of their substance use, and opioid addiction has become an epidemic. Casa Palmera understands the effects of substances on a person’s mind, body and spirit. We know everyone requires a treatment program created to meet their needs. We have doctors, nurses, therapists and other trained staff who want to see everyone succeed in their sobriety journey. Do you wonder if you or someone you love may be struggling with a substance addiction? Call Casa Palmera to speak with one of our staff members at (877) 557-5372.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.