Whereas addiction was once commonly viewed as a mental or moral weakness, the public’s perception is slowly shifting toward a more compassionate viewpoint. Addiction does not discriminate, as it crosses all races, nationalities, social classes, genders and other defining characteristics.
Although there are many different forms of medically diagnosable addictions (such as shopping addiction or gambling addiction), most people think of substance abuse when hearing this term. Substance abuse generally refers to illicit drug, alcohol or prescription drug addiction.
Most addictions start out as simple consumption of alcohol or a drug in a social setting. As people start to use more of a harmful substance over time, they need a larger “dose” to achieve the original effect, and their bodies can become dependent on the substance over time.
If you feel that you might be suffering from the onset of addiction, or if you suspect someone you know might be affected by this disease, continue reading so you’ll know how to best identify the signs of addiction. You’ll also learn all of the many things that can go wrong if the addiction isn’t addressed soon enough.
Addiction Stats in the United States
To understand how big the issue of substance abuse is in the United States, here are a few facts and statistics to put it into perspective:
- The number of treatment center admissions in the U.S. for substance abuse-related issues continually falls between 1 and 2 million each year. In 2014, there were more than 1.6 million such admissions, according to SAMHSA.
- Alcohol (36 percent) and opiates (30 percent, counting heroin) were the leading primary reasons for admissions to substance abuse treatment centers in 2014.
- Opiates were the only substance that continually rose in prevalence from 2004 to 2014 when it comes to the primary reason for admission to a treatment center in the U.S.
- Polydrug use was cited in more than 63 percent of admissions to substance abuse treatment centers in the U.S. in 2014.
- Annual drug overdose deaths nearly tripled between 1999 and 2014, according to the CDC. And in 2015, more than 52,000 people died of a drug overdose, including more than 33,000 who had used opioids or heroin.
- Additionally, there are roughly 2,200 alcohol poisoning deaths each year in the U.S. – approximately six such deaths per day.
- In 2014, nearly 10,000 people were killed in alcohol-related traffic accidents, including 209 deaths of children 14 years or younger.
- There were nearly 5.1 million drug-related emergency department visits in 2011, according to SAMHSA.
Signs of Addiction
Although different substances elicit their own set of symptoms and effects, there are some common themes between them. Whether the user in question is yourself or a loved one, look for these general symptoms and signs of addiction:
- The person needs more of the substance to achieve the desired effect.
- They can’t stop themselves from using the substance, even when expressing a desire to quit.
- The user appears out of sorts when not under the effect of the substance. They experience symptoms such as shakiness, headaches, sweating, nausea and insomnia.
- The user has lost interest in hobbies or activities that once appealed to them. They also might have trouble executing formerly routine tasks, such as working or cooking.
- They constantly ask others to lend them money, or they begin stealing to support their substance abuse.
- Their physical appearance is beginning to change, especially regarding weight loss or gain, and their personal hygiene might take a nosedive, too. They also might frequently experience bloodshot eyes, bad breath, shaking or tremors.
- They’ve become frequently irritable and argumentative, especially around family members.
- In the case of prescription drug use, these individuals begin using medication that was prescribed for other people, and they may go to more than one doctor (known as “doctor shopping”) to obtain one or more desired prescriptions.
Health Effects of Addiction
Those who are suffering from drug addiction have a life expectancy of only 15 to 20 years after the onset of the addiction, if left untreated. Additionally, alcohol and other drugs play a role in more than 50 percent of all suicides in the U.S.
Harmful substances release anywhere from 2 to 10 times the usual amount of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is associated with the “pleasure” or the “reward” system of the brain. High levels of dopamine affect the person’s mood, sleep, memory, ability to focus, vision and motor skills.
Prolonged substance abuse can lead to the following physical complications:
- Organ damage
- Neurological impairment
- Cancer (via nicotine or steroid abuse)
- Hormone imbalance
- Gastrointestinal disease
- Respiratory issues
- Drastic weight gain or loss
- Prenatal and fertility problems
- HIV or AIDs (via risky sexual behaviors while under the influence)
Prolonged, active addiction can also trigger the following conditions and disorders:
- Memory loss
- Mood swings
Then, of course, users also run the risk of death when consuming substances, whether it’s via overdose, a poisoning incident or a heart attack. Substance-induced cancer and AIDs can also lead to an early death.
Legal and Social Consequences of Addiction
Undoubtedly, when somebody continues to use and abuse substances, they run the risk of legal consequences and watching their relationships and/or social life deteriorate.
Being caught with an illicit substance or even a prescription medication obtained illegally can lead to fines and/or prison time. Prison sentences can be as high as 40 years for someone who is found with a large quantity of drugs. The individual may also face civil lawsuits related to their substance abuse or distribution. Currently, nearly half of all inmates in federal prisons are serving time on drug-related offenses, although most involve some form of trafficking.
Here’s a quick rundown on the most common legal consequences of addiction:
- Large fines
- Prison sentences of up to 40 years
- Driver’s license suspension, leading to transportation difficulties
- Restrictions on living in certain communities
- Strict community service sentences
- Arrest records that make it difficult to find a well-paying job
- Loss of right to vote (after convicted of a felony)
Financial Consequences of Addiction
Frequent substance abuse commonly rings up a price tag in the thousands annually per user. There are many other financial setbacks related to drug or alcohol addiction, and they include:
- Job loss
- Substantial debt or bankruptcy
- Maxed-out credit cards
- Default on mortgage or other loans
- Home Foreclosure
- Vehicle Repossession
- Hefty fines for legal charges
- Gambling or stealing to recover money lost to substance use
Even if someone is able to avoid the legal fallout often associated with addiction, their relationships with friends and family members will often negatively transform, particularly as they go through mood swings and lose interest in formerly cherished activities.
Those who abuse substances may not lose friends altogether, but they usually start spending more time with others who misuse drugs or alcohol frequently. This often causes tension or isolates them from friends who do not struggle with addiction. Many addicts also engage in risky sexual behaviors, which can lead to contracting HIV or another STD.
In some cases, though, substance abusers may isolate themselves or have strained so many relationships that they begin to have very little human contact. Metal health conditions such as depression or social anxiety can slowly emerge. The risk of suicide is fairly high for those in this situation.
In almost any scenario, addiction negatively impacts the user’s personal and professional life. The ongoing substance use can make it hard for the person to function in most aspects of society. If married, the user’s relationship status will consistently be at stake. The individual may also be suspended or expelled from various organized activities, such as team sports. Addiction also makes it hard to concentrate and perform well in school and at work.