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Symptoms and Signs of Substance Abuse

Doctor's Notes on Substance Abuse

Substance abuse, or drug abuse, is when people take illegal drugs or they misuse legal drugs such as alcohol, tobacco, or prescription medications. Abused substances often produce some form of intoxication that alters judgment, perception, attention, or physical control.

Signs and symptoms of substance abuse may include giving up past activities a person used to enjoy, hanging out with new friends declining grades aggressiveness, irritability significant changes in mood or behavior forgetfulness disappearing money or valuables feeling rundown, hopelessness, depression, suicidal thoughts or actions, selfishness, use of room deodorizers and incense, presence of drug paraphernalia (such as baggies, small boxes, pipes, and rolling paper), physical problems with unclear cause (for example, red eyes and slurred speech), getting drunk or high on drugs on a regular basis, lying (especially about how much alcohol or other drugs are being used), avoiding friends or family in order to get drunk or high, planning drinking in advance, hiding alcohol, drinking or using other drugs alone, having to drink more to get the same high, believing that in order to have fun you need to drink or use other drugs, frequent hangovers, pressuring others to drink or use other drugs, taking risks (including sexual risks), having "blackouts," forgetting what happened the night before, constantly talking about drinking or using other drugs, trouble with the law, drinking and driving, and suspension or other problems at school or in the workplace for an alcohol- or drug-related incidents. Many substances can also bring on withdrawal symptoms when the drug is stopped or reduced that can range from mild anxiety to seizures and hallucinations. Drug overdose may also cause death.

Medical Author: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.