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What Are the Four Signs of Substance Abuse?

The four signs of substance abuse are changes in any or all of these areas: physical, behavioral, mental, and spiritual.

What is Drug Addiction?

Drug addiction is a major problem in New York, as it is nationwide. The  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that more than 100,000 deaths resulted from overdose between April 2020 and 2021. Drug addiction doesn’t always involve the illicit drugs that you hear about on the news. It can come from perfectly legal prescription drugs that are prescribed by healthcare professionals to manage legitimate conditions. These common substances can contribute to drug addiction just as any drink can contribute to alcohol use disorder.

Drug addiction itself is called substance use disorder, officially. It is a disease that impacts an individual’s thought patterns and behavior in such a way that they become unable to control their use of a substance, whether legal or illegal. This applies to all substances that are used for both medicinal and recreational purposes. It also includes everything from alcohol, nicotine, and marijuana, to prescription pills, heroin, cocaine, and all other illicit substances.

Drug addiction doesn’t often start with someone deciding to try a dangerous drug. It starts more often with someone using a drug in an experimental or recreational capacity. Sometimes it can even stem from drug use in purely social situations. Some people begin using a drug, and their use gets more and more frequent, and with some drugs like opioids, this can happen because they misuse an existing prescription. 

The addiction starts with the user taking the drug somewhat regularly. Then they develop a tolerance to the drug, which means their body requires larger and larger quantities of the substance to feel the same effect. As time goes by, this tolerance becomes more and more significant until eventually, the user discovers that they need to keep consuming the drug to feel good at all. 

This activity continues until eventually, the use of the drug becomes so integral to their lives that the user finds it difficult or even impossible to go the entire day without using. If the drug use is stopped, sometimes the user will start to become quite ill, which means that not only are they highly tolerant of the drug, but they’re actually dependent. These ill feelings are the withdrawal symptoms, and they indicate that there is most certainly an active addiction.

The Four Signs of Substance Abuse

To be more accurate, these are the four primary types of signs that may be warning signs of drug addiction. Understanding how to recognize the signs of potential substance use can be vital to early treatment and successful recovery. There are physical signs, behavioral signs, mental health indicators, and some common signs in their spiritual life. 


Physical signs of substance abuse will often consist of physical changes to the individual’s body, due to the drug usage. While there are some of the general signs to look for in mental or behavioral health, the most obvious signs will include:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Dilated or constricted pupils, with a decreased pupillary response
  • Changes in physical appearances, like sudden weight loss
  • Body odor or other unusual smells on their body or breath
  • Impaired coordination
  • Constantly tired or falling asleep


There are significant warning signs to be seen in an individual’s behavioral changes as a result of drug abuse. These changes can often include:

  • Sudden attendance problems at work or school
  • The unexplainable performance or quality changes at work or in school
  • Emotional instability, including irritability, mood swings, and even potentially-violent behavior
  • Isolating more from friends and family
  • Becoming secretive or acting in a suspicious manner
  • A drastic change in friends or social hangouts


The psychological or mental symptoms of potential drug abuse can be varied significantly. Additionally, while one person may display several indications, someone else may only display one or two, though they may be more “impacted” than this data shows.

Common psychological or mental signs of potential substance abuse include:

  • Sudden change in overall personality
  • A distinct change in attitude toward school or work
  • Intense mood swings, periods of being very “spaced out”, and even having angry outbursts
  • Becomes increasingly fearful or paranoid for no reason.
  • Displays heightened levels of anxiety or panic, with no reason behind them.


There may even be a spiritual component to the warning signs, particularly if the person has significant involvement in the church. These signs would look similar to some of the others, such as isolating or changing friend groups but applied in their church, which is where they spend large amounts of their time and effort. Seeing someone suddenly drop out of clergy obligations or spiritual practices can indicate considerable changes in their life.

Are there Effective Treatments for Substance Abuse?

There are many potential treatments for substance abuse, including inpatient treatment, support groups, varying levels of outpatient treatments, and more. One of the most effective treatment options for all addictions is inpatient treatment. 

While this does require a significant commitment from the patient, it also has the best chance of creating a long-term recovery solution. Inpatient treatment will require that you live at the facility in a residential capacity for at least a couple of weeks. Following this period, you may also be referred to other continuing care options like sober living facilities or other long-term solutions. 

How To Find the Right Help for Addiction

If you or someone close to you may be showing some of the warning signs of drug addiction, there are convenient and effective treatment options without even leaving Long Island. Whether there is one compulsion to address or multiple co-occurring disorders, we’ll make sure you get the treatment you need.

Reach out today and speak with a local addiction expert who will listen to your needs and make suggestions for your personalized treatment plan. With options such as inpatient and intensive outpatient available, putting off getting professional help is easier and more convenient than ever before.