Signs & Symptoms of Substance Abuse & Addiction

For 30 years,  Youth Care Treatment Center has helped teens all over the United States overcome substance abuse problems. Our unique approach features superior clinical services, compassionate support, and an emphasis on respect, integrity, and accountability.

Understanding Substance Abuse & Addiction

Learn about drug addiction and substance abuse

Substance abuse occurs when an individual continually abuses drugs and/or alcohol even though a number of negative consequences have occurred because of that abuse. Impacting one’s behavior, general health, and cognition, substance abuse can have long-term effects if treatment is not obtained to put a stop to this abuse. While some people experiment with drugs and/or alcohol, the difference with substance abuse is when dangerous effects are ignored and the abuser’s health is placed at risk.

Cannabis, alcohol, tobacco, inhalants, stimulants, and opioids are commonly abused substances. An issue that does not discriminate based on age, these substances can become the primary focus on one’s life and lead to the uncontrollable use of these substances with the most costly consequence of all being death. Thankfully, there is treatment for substance abuse available, which can help individuals of all ages achieve sobriety and a life free from the confines of substance abuse.


Substance abuse statistics

Research has shown that the use and abuse of substances in children and adolescents is increasing. Statistics from these studies have showed that individuals ages 12 and older make up 9% of the population that have used/abused drugs or alcohol, which translates to about 24 million Americans.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for substance abuse

Experts agree that a variety of causes and factors can lead an individual to abuse drugs and/or alcohol. However, while a specific cause has yet to be identified, consider the following:

Genetic: When there is a family history of substance abuse or addiction, an individual is more likely to develop similar abuse issues. Research has proven that this factor is a primary contributor to the development of a substance abuse problem, which is why experts have determined that one’s genetics play a role in substance abuse.

Environmental: Exposure to negative environmental factors, including watching caregivers abuse drugs or alcohol as a method of coping with stress, and/or going through trauma, neglect, or abuse, can all lead to the development of a substance abuse problem. Those individuals who abuse substances often do so because they do not possess the appropriate coping skills needed to manage their emotional pain.

Risk Factors:

  • Exposure to trauma / abuse / neglect
  • Easy access to drugs and/or alcohol
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Peer influence
  • Poor parental attachment
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Low self-esteem
  • Exposure to the use of drugs or alcohol
  • Chaotic /stressful home environment
  • Underdeveloped coping skills
  • Preexisting or undiagnosed mental illness
  • Poor parenting
  • Being male
  • Family history of substance use or abuse

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of substance abuse

The signs and symptoms of substance abuse depend on the type of substance that is being abused. Below are some of the behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms connected to substance abuse:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Stealing
  • Aggressive behaviors
  • Damaging property
  • Unexplained need for money
  • Lying or omitting facts
  • Getting in trouble at school or in the community
  • Engaging in risky behavior
  • Switching friends
  • Slowed or rapid speech
  • Poor impulse control
  • Inability to adhere to responsibilities

Physical symptoms:

  • Poor hygiene
  • Dilated or constricted pupils
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Changes in sleep
  • Altered eating habits
  • Impaired coordination
  • Tension in muscles
  • Slurred speech
  • Tremors

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Poor concentration
  • Memory impairment
  • Altered state of perception

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Drastic shifts in mood
  • Decline in motivation
  • Paranoia
  • Agitation
  • Changes in personality
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability


Effects of substance abuse

The use and abuse of substances can increase one’s chances of suffering from both long and short-term consequences if treatment is not obtained. Depending on the type of substance being abused, the following can occur:

  • Suicidal ideation
  • Collapsed veins
  • Exposure to viruses / infections
  • Malnutrition
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Disciplinary action at school
  • Academic failure / expulsion
  • Interaction with law enforcement
  • Memory loss
  • Damage or failure to vital organs
  • Demise of relationship
  • Worsening of a preexisting mental health condition
  • Addiction or dependence on substances
  • Withdrawal
  • Decline in mental health
  • Development of a mental health condition
  • Overdose
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Substance abuse addiction and co-occurring disorders

The presence of a mental health condition is common in those who struggle with substance abuse. Below are some of the most typical mental illnesses that are known to occur alongside of substance use disorder:

  • Personality disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Adjustment disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Conduct disorder

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Substance abuse withdrawal and overdose

Withdrawal: When an individual has used a substance for an extended period of time and then attempts to abstain from use, he or she will likely experience a series of extremely uncomfortable symptoms known as withdrawal. In many cases, it is required that mental health professionals are involved in helping one go through his or her withdrawal period. Below are some of the signs and symptoms that one might display if he or she is struggling with withdrawal symptoms:

  • Muscle tension
  • Psychosis
  • Tremors
  • Bone pain
  • Clammy skin
  • Paleness
  • Anxious feelings
  • Agitation
  • Chills
  • Depressed mood
  • Panic
  • Intense cravings for continued use

Overdose: When continual substance abuse occurs, there is a greater risk for overdose. The signs and symptoms that an individual is experiencing an overdose can include the following, which should be treated as a medical emergency if present:

  • Presence of psychotic features / behaviors
  • Unresponsiveness or coma
  • Respiratory failure
  • Chest pain or tightening
  • Confusion
  • Heart failure
  • Sweating
  • Slowed pulse
  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • Changes in skin tone
  • Shallow breathing
Marks of Quality Care
  • American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM)
  • Cognia
  • National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP)
  • The Joint Commission (JCAHO) Gold Seal of Approval

As a parent, I highly recommend Youth Care. We were involved in all aspects of my child's treatment plan, the staff provided a safe and friendly environment, we enjoyed parent day participation and, most importantly, the therapy my child received while at Youth Care was exceptional - pretty much life-changing. My child made more progress there than had been made in years of therapy elsewhere.

– Michelle S.