Photos of family members worried about a loved one with alcohol or drug problems and the warning signs of addiction.

Worried about a loved one?

What to Look for When You’re Concerned

Warning Signs of Addiction


In this article we examine the behavioral, physical and psychological signs and symptoms of substance abuse and addiction.

America has an undeniable substance abuse problem. Whether it be alcohol, prescription drugs, heroin, cocaine or another substance, use, abuse and addiction rates in America have never been higher. 2014 was a record year for overdose deaths in this country, and the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that nearly 10 percent of the U.S. adult population were current illicit drug users.


Over 50 Americans die per day from prescription pill overdoses.


10% of adults in the US are Drug Users.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)


$417 billion

Alcohol and illicit drug use costs to U.S.
- National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion

Drug and alcohol abuse destroys lives, ruins families and costs the nation billions in legal and medical costs. The National Center for Chronic Disease and Health Promotion estimates that alcohol and illicit drug abuse costs our nation $417 billion annually. When added to the country’s rampant prescription drug abuse, it’s clear that a deadly epidemic exists. In 2013, over 50 Americans per day died from prescription pill overdoses, and 6.5 million people over age 11 used them for non-medical reasons.

Substance abuse and addiction often comes to the forefront of public awareness following the drug or alcohol-related death of a beloved celebrity. When household names like Michael Jackson, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Prince die of overdoses, shock hits society at large. Hidden addictions revealed, the fatal consequences of drug abuse and dependence become all too real to communities of fans and the general public alike: a constant, familiar figure is suddenly no more. However, famous musicians and actors aren’t the only victims worth discussing. American families are fighting against substance abuse and addiction on a daily basis. By developing an awareness of the risks of drug use, an ability to identify when drug use puts oneself in danger and when use becomes abuse, the life of a loved one may be saved. Still, understanding the difference between recreational, pharmaceutical, abusive and dependent drug use is no easy task. To make an already difficult problem even more complex, families also need to know about all the different types of synthetic street drugs that have become very popular and readily available.


The Difference between Substance Abuse and Dependence

One of the reasons substance abuse often leads to dependence is because it can be very difficult to draw the line between the two. Friends may be willing to look the other way on illicit drug use that only seems to happen at parties, for example, even when these abusive tendencies may indicate addictive dependencies.

Prescription pill abuse can sometimes be more straightforward to identify. If a loved one progressively increases his or her intake of a medical drug and justifies this increased, unprescribed dosage as a means of treating continued symptoms of illness and pain, there may be cause for concern. But how does one tell when recreational substance use has crossed over into abuse and then dependence?

Here is the basic distinction. A person has a substance abuse problem when he or she is unable to alter destructive behavior patterns despite known negative life consequences, such as alienating family and friends, ignoring one's professional and interpersonal responsibilities, and deteriorating one's physical and mental health. On the other hand, substance dependence occurs when changes in the brain and body lead to tolerance, withdrawal and an insatiable need to use a drug at every chance.


People use substances for a variety of reasons. It becomes drug abuse when people use illegal drugs or use legal drugs inappropriately. This includes the repeated use of drugs to produce pleasure, alleviate stress, and/or alter or avoid reality.

photo of woman holding a glass of water looking at a handful of prescription drugs
The Slippery Path from Abuse to Dependence

The Slippery Path from Abuse to Dependence

The initial decision to use and abuse drugs or alcohol begins with a conscious decision. But somewhere in between the first exposure and the onset of addiction, the user loses control of his or her ability to limit, reduce or cease usage. This change occurs as the body and brain become accustomed to the effects of the drug, develop tolerance and then need continuingly increasing amounts to achieve the same results.

Most drugs of abuse target the brain’s reward system, whether directly or indirectly. These substances flood the reward system with dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that regulates movement, emotion, motivation and feelings of pleasure. Dopamine is naturally activated during exercise, when a person smells good food, during sexual activities and other pleasurable events. 

How Drugs and Alcohol Interact with Dopamine

How Drugs and Alcohol Interact with Dopamine

When dopamine is artificially overstimulated through drug and alcohol abuse, it produces euphoric effects.
These strongly reinforce the behavior of abuse, and make the user more inclined to use again. 

illustration of a human heart to show how drugs and alcohol interact with Dopamine


Alters the brain stem’s neuro-chemical activity that regulates breathing and beating of the heart

illustration of a human brain to show how drugs and alcohol interact with Dopamine

Limbic System

Modifies the limbic system’s control over emotions and feelings

illustration of a human spinal cord to show how drugs and alcohol interact with Dopamine

Spinal Cord

Hinders pain signals generated by the spinal cord

The Road to Addiction

The Road to Addiction

untitled text 3EXPERIMENT


This is a stage that many people find themselves in early on as teens or young adults. It could include underage drinking, abusing over-the-counter drugs, stealing prescription pills from relatives or experimenting with illicit drugs. For many, usage stops there. For others, it’s the beginning of a long struggle. According to research by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), 90 percent of all adults with substance use disorders began using before age 18.

photo of group people at a party all clicking their bottles of alcohol together

Regular Use

At this stage, the user has begun a pattern of use and abuse, which may lead to some risky behavior like binge drinking and driving under the influence (DUI). This is the beginning of a user becoming preoccupied with drugs and/or alcohol.

photo of a person's hand holding a glass of hard liquor over ice

Substance Abuse/Risky Behavior

Negative life consequences begin impacting substance abusers at this stage. Noticeable drops in performance at work and/or school are often very apparent. Additionally, friendships and family relationships may become strained as a result of the abuser’s obsession with substance abuse. When the abuser understands the detrimental effects of drug abuse on his or her life but continues this risky behavior despite such knowledge, this becomes a serious issue.

photo of a young male sharing a bottle of alcohol with a young woman at a party


Uncontrollable cravings and debilitating withdrawal symptoms are common characteristics of the final stage of substance abuse. The abuser’s body and brain have become dependent on the substance of choice, and the addicted individual will often do whatever is necessary to feed that dependence. At this stage, individuals with substance use disorders believe that obtaining and using the substance is critical to their wellbeing.

photo of a distressed looking young man sitting in a chair bent over holding his head

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Common Myths about Substance Abuse and Addiction

Common Myths about Substance Abuse and Addiction

Though substance abuse and/or addiction are widespread problems experienced by many, numerous myths and misconceptions surround these issues. For people not suffering from an addiction, it can be difficult to understand why a person can’t simply stop using. Drugs and alcohol interact differently with each person based on a variety of factors, including family history, mental health, physical health and environment.

These varied elements diversify the experience of abuse and addiction, but sustained misunderstandings about these issues ignore these differences in attempt to fit the abuser into a convenient and often alienating narrative.

It’s important that these myths be debunked because people with addictions need to be helped, not outcast. When the public is accurately educated about substance abuse and addiction, it is easier to make informed decisions and provide support and compassion to loved ones who need help.

illustrated street signs showing the word fact in yellow on one sign and the word myth in blue on the other

Myth or Reality

Drug/alcohol addiction is voluntary



Every person suffering from a substance use disorder begins as a voluntary occasional user. Overtime, voluntary use turns into compulsive use because of changes to the brain. Stopping is not as simple as having willpower.

Drug/alcohol addiction is a moral failing



This is a dangerous myth that causes many to avoid seeking help or admitting they have a problem. Drug and alcohol addiction are brain diseases, as defined by the American Medical Association (AMA). Chronic substance abuse causes changes in the brain that impair judgement, decision making abilities, mood, behavior and all aspects of an individual’s health. No one actively chooses to have a substance use disorder.

Substance use disorder is a disease



The AMA officially classified alcoholism and drug addiction as a chronic brain disease. For many individuals, the disease is hidden beneath the surface waiting to be triggered.

Chronic substance abuse can impact anyone



As several celebrity recovering alcoholics and other substance abusers can attest, addiction does not discriminate. Most people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol have jobs, families, have not had legal problems and are flying under the radar as a result. A person struggling with addiction can come from any background.

You have to hit
rock bottom



This is a myth perpetuated by movies and television that is actually very far from the truth. A person can benefit from substance abuse treatment during any of the stages mentioned previously.

People with addictions should be punished



Thankfully, this is a myth that is beginning to become exposed as false. The fact is that the philosophy of “incarceration over rehabilitation” that dominated the 70s, 80s and 90s did not result in anything other than higher levels of addiction. Addiction cannot be incarcerated out of an individual any more than asthma, diabetes or some other chronic disease.

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Warning Signs of Substance Abuse

In the midst of social situations and youthful experimentation, it may be difficult to determine whether you or someone you care for has a substance abuse problem. This is especially true with alcohol because drinking is legal and socially acceptable, if not encouraged in many circumstances. Though no level of illicit drug use is acceptable, media glamorization, peer pressure and particular social contexts may cause an individual to believe that his or her usage is not a problem.

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What everyone needs to know about:

  • Heroin
  • Opioids
  • OxyContin
  • Benzos
  • Cocaine
  • Crystal Meth
  • Club Drugs
  • Alcohol
The Scourge of Heroin

The Scourge of Heroin

What draws more and more people towards heroin? Stronger regulations and restrictions on prescription opioids, such as oxycodone, have guided the pathway to heroin as a cheaper and easier-to-access alternative. Whether smoked, snorted or injected, heroin is entering and damaging more bodies in the U. S. every day. Numerous surveys taken by reputable organizations have indicated a correlation between the prescription drug abuse epidemic and the rise in heroin use.

The amount of people who met the DSM-V criteria for heroin use disorder was roughly 586,000 individuals. As the heroin abuse epidemic continues to grow, no one is safe. Families from the most densely populated states to those in the wide open countryside are all equally prone to succumbing to abuse and addiction.

The rise of fentanyl laced heroin has intensified the dangers of use and abuse. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and has been linked to drug overdoses across the nation, including in the passing of musical legend Prince. Fentanyl has also been found in prescription drugs such as Xanax and OxyContin, putting users unknowingly at an increased risk of overdose.

Common street names for heroin:


Increase in heroin overdose deaths
from 2002 - 2013

Not Just Trash

The tell-tale signs of heroin may not be noticeable to the casual observer. Needles and/or syringes lying around when there is not a known medical condition that would warrant this equipment would be indicators of a problem. 

filtered stylized photo of a heroin needle and spoon filled with white powder

Heroin Abuse Paraphernalia Might Include:

photo of tiny orange caps from disposable syringes are often common heroin abuse paraphernalia items

Tiny orange caps from disposable syringes

photo of a spoon with a bird mark on the bottom used to heat heroin and a common heroin abuse paraphernalia item

Spoons with burn marks – Used to heat heroin in water before injection

photo of a piece of aluminum or foil gum wrapper used to smoke heroin

Aluminum foil or gum wrappers with burn marks – Used to smoke heroin

photo of a sneaker with missing shoelaces which sometimes can be a common heroin abuse paraphernalia item

Missing shoelaces, rubber straps or bands – Used to tie off injection sites

photo of plastic drinking straws that are burned or discolored can be a common heroin abuse paraphernalia items

Straws, sometimes burned or discolored – Used to snort or inhale smoke

photo of a empty plastic pen case heroin abuse paraphernalia used for inhaling

Empty plastic pen cases – Used for snorting or inhaling smoke

photo of a modified nasal spray bottle created to snort heroin

Modified nasal spray bottles – Used for snorting heroin/water mixture

photo of a cotton swab which is common heroin abuse paraphernalia item

Very small cotton balls, Q-tips or pieces of cigarette filter – Used prior to injection to filter the fluid

photo of a hundred dollar bill rolled up to snort cocaine

Rolled up dollar bills or paper – Used for snorting

photo of a razor blade used to cut heroin

Razor blades, identification and credit cards with a powder residue – Used for chopping and "making lines" to snort

Warning Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Abuse

The effects from heroin abuse depend on various factors, including the amount used, purity level and length of drug use. These elements inform how long it takes for the opioid to bind to receptors in the brain, how it goes about doing so, and how the body will react. The signs can be subdivided into categories: immediate, delayed and long-term.



  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Itching
  • Dry Mouth


  • Feeling drowsy and sleepy for several hours
  • Having a foggy mental state
  • Slowed breathing
  • Slowed heart rate
  • “Nodding,” where the user will alternate between periods of being awake and asleep


  • Needle marks and bruising on the injection sites
  • Skin problems, such as abscesses and infections
  • Heart problems
  • Disease in organs including the liver and kidneys

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A Hopeful Beginning Dissolved – America and Opioids

A Hopeful Beginning Dissolved – America and Opioids

Twenty years ago, Purdue Pharma introduced the highly effective painkiller oxycodone hydrochloride, commonly known as OxyContin, for the treatment of moderate to severe chronic pain.

This synthetic drug was initially marketed as a controlled-release tablet with strength ranging from 10 to 80 milligrams. When taken properly, OxyContin is slowly released into the blood stream over a twelve-hour period. Due to the quantity and purity of the drug, patients are able to function normally and nearly pain-free. However, with the wide-spread overprescription of these pain pills and the rising rates of prescription opioid abuse, the hope attached to these drugs has begun to dissolve.


In 2014, there were 19,000 deaths in the U.S. involving prescription opioids, approximately 52 per day.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


80 percent new heroin users in the U.S. started off misusing prescription painkillers
- National Center for Health Statistics Data Brief. 2015

259 million

prescriptions written for opioids
in the U.S. (2012)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Distressing Statistics

Prescription drugs are being abused at an alarming rate in this country.

  • Physicians issued almost a quarter of a billion opioid prescriptions in 2013.
  • Health care providers in Alabama (highest prescribing state) wrote more than three times the number of prescriptions per individual than providers in Hawaii (lowest prescribing state).
  • In 2014, nearly 2 million Americans either abused or were dependent on prescription opioid pain relievers.
  • The most common drugs involved in prescription opioid overdose deaths are:
    • Methadone
    • Oxycodone (i.e. OxyContin, etc.)
    • Hydrocodone (i.e. Vicodin, etc.)
photo of a high speed printing press to symbolize the quarter of a billion opioid prescriptions in 2013

Governmental Attempts to Intervene

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) introduced new guidelines for prescribing pain medication, such as OxyContin and Vicodin. While these are not federally mandated, some of the recommendations include:

  • Prescribing painkillers only after non-addictive pain relievers, physical therapy, behavior changes and other options
  • Prescribing the lowest effective dosage
  • Utilizing immediate-release opioids, instead of extended-release or long-acting
  • Limiting opioid use to three days of treatment, whenever possible
logo for the CDC centers for disease control and prevention
Benzodiazepine Abuse Remains Rampant

Benzodiazepine Abuse Remains Rampant

Benzodiazepines, otherwise known as benzos, are pharmaceutical drugs that are typically prescribed to treat severe anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, alcohol withdrawal and seizure disorders. Popular brands of benzos include Xanax, Ativan and Valium. Although they are perfectly legal when administered by doctors, these drugs are often sold on the streets and have led to an increase in emergency room visits and drug-related deaths.

Benzos are being prescribed at an alarming rate in the United States. Opioid pain relievers and benzodiazepine sedatives are both frequently prescribed and are often even given together to a single patient during treatment.


13.5 million adults in the U.S. purchased Benzodiazepine prescriptions in 2013.


31% of the nearly 23,000 prescription drug overdoses in the U.S. (2013) are Benzodiazepine-related.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) / Medical Expenditure Panel Survey 1996-2013


A 2012 review of the top states revealed the following benzodiazepine prescribing rates per 100 individuals:

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Overprescribing Leads to Death

In a 2016 paper published in the American Journal of Public Health, the number of adults filling prescriptions for benzodiazepine increased 67 percent from approximately 8.1 million in 1996 to 13.5 million in 2013. This corresponded to a total quantity of the drug that more than tripled during this period. The results also indicated a four-fold increase in benzodiazepine-related overdose deaths. In 2013, the drug accounted for almost a third of the deaths from prescription drugs in the United States.

Other studies resulted in similar findings. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), benzodiazepines were involved in 31 percent of the opioid-analgesic poisoning deaths in 2011, which is up from the 13 percent of such deaths in 1999. Between 2006 and 2011, these poisoning deaths increased an average of 14 percent per year. The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) reported a five-fold increase in the number of overdose deaths from benzodiazepines from 2001 to 2014.

illustration of doctors prescription pad saying prescriptions for benzos have increased 67 percent

FDA-Approved, But Still Dangerous

Benzodiazepines include a large grouping of drugs and have been around for over 50 years. The first one approved by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was chlordiazepoxide, which was introduced in 1960 for the treatment of anxiety and insomnia.

Brand NameGeneric NameFor Treatment of:
Niravam, XanaxAlprazolamAnxiety, panic disorders
LibraxChlordiazepoxideAnxiety, alcohol withdrawal
OnfiClobazamSevere seizures
KlonopinClonazepamSeizure disorder, panic disorder, nerve pain
Tranxene T-TabClorazepateAnxiety, alcohol withdrawal, partial seizures
ValiumDiazepamAnxiety, sedation, alcohol withdrawal, muscle spasm, seizure disorder
ProSomEstazolamInsomnia (short-term use)
DalmaneFlurapamInsomnia (short-term use)
AtivanLorazepamAnxiety, insomnia, seizures, sedation
VersedMidazolamSedation, Preoperative, general anesthesia, induction, seizures
SeraxOxazepamAnxiety, alcohol withdrawal
RestorilTemazepamInsomnia (short-term use)
HalcionTriazolamInsomnia (short-term use)

Warning Signs and Symptoms of Benzodiazepine Abuse

Medical prescriptions are typically the initial and primary source for individuals who abuse benzodiazepines. The early signs of a problem might include visits to different doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions, taking the medication longer and more often than recommended and forging prescriptions.

Abuse of benzodiazepines can occur when a patient uses the drug in ways that are not prescribed by a physician. The signs and symptoms of abuse depend on the length of time and the amount of abuse. It not only affects behavior, but significant physical and cognitive effects are often displayed. Some of the most common signs of abuse include:



  • Increased respiratory infections
  • Physical dependence
  • Double vision
  • Muscle weakness
  • Vertigo
  • Headaches
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns


  • Memory impairment
  • Anterograde amnesia
  • Increased confusion
  • Slowed thinking
  • Abated reaction time


  • Increased anxiety
  • Irritability and hostility
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
Signs and Symptoms of OxyContin Abuse

Signs and Symptoms of OxyContin Abuse

When taking the prescription opioid OxyContin under a physician's instruction, a patient should experience the elimination and/or suppression of pain.

However, the euphoria and overall peaceful feeling that accompanies taking the drug can lead a patient to take more than is medically necessary, often resulting in abuse of this opioid.

Abuse of OxyContin occurs when its controlled-release property is eliminated by crushing and snorting the tablet, chewing it or dissolving it in water and injecting the solution. Without the time-release features, OxyContin produces an almost immediate high that is similar to the one obtained with heroin. 

The drug is often used interchangeably with heroin because of the similar euphoric effect. However, since it is significantly less expensive and easier to obtain, an addiction to heroin is often the outcome for many OxyContin abusers.

illustration showing how Oxycontin affects the human brain

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Unwanted Side Effects of OxyContin

Difficulty breathing and swallowing
Lightheadedness and confusion
Extreme drowsiness

Warning Signs of Overdose

photo showing constricted pupils photo showing constricted pupils which is one of the possible warning signs of a possible drug overdose

Constricted pupils

photo showing cold and clammy skin photo showing constricted pupils which is one of the warning signs of a possible drug overdose

Cold and clammy skin

photo of a closeup of a woman's mouth with a bluish appearance which is one of the possible warning signs of a possible drug overdose

Bluish appearance to skin, fingernails, lips or around the mouth (cyanotic)

photo showing a young adult who lost consciousness which can be one of the warning signs of a possible drug overdose

Loss of consciousness

photo showing a extremely sleepy woman which can be one of the possible warning signs of a possible drug overdose

Periods of excessive sleepiness

Cocaine Abuse Still an Ever-Present Danger

Cocaine Abuse Still an Ever-Present Danger

Cocaine is a highly addictive, powerful stimulant that is most often taken by snorting, although it can also be smoked or injected. The drug is derived from the coca plant of South America and produces short-term euphoria, energy and talkativeness in users. It also produces dangerous side-effects, such as elevated blood pressure and raised heart rate.

Crack is a form of cocaine that has been processed into a rock crystal formation, also known as free-base cocaine. This form of cocaine is smoked and absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs, causing an intense, rapid and short-lived high. The impact of cocaine use and abuse depends on the amount being taken and the way it is administered.

The 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 855,000 Americans over age 11 were dependent on cocaine. Among people ages 15 – 34, an estimated 7.5 million have used the drug at least once in their lives, while 3.5 million have used in the past year and 1.5 million in the past month.

Common street names for cocaine:


1.5 million cocaine users are living in the U.S. (2014)
- National Survey on Drug Use and Health

The Problem of Increasing Doses

Unfortunately, abusers often use cocaine in binge patterns in order to maintain their highs. This causes them to do increasingly large amounts in very short periods of time, potentially leading to overdose and addiction.

Cocaine, which acts as a strong central nervous system stimulant, floods the brain with dopamine, the body’s pleasure hormone. Long-term use can impair the brain’s reward system, which may lead to difficulty in experiencing enjoyable feelings in any other way.

illustrated drawing of a person snorting cocaine through a straw

Warning Signs of Abuse

Random Nosebleeds
Increased Agitation
Decreasing Work or Academic Performance

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Long-term Effects of Cocaine Abuse

Some of the long-term adverse effects of cocaine abuse includes inflammation of the heart muscle, rupture to the aorta and severe declines in cardiac function. Abuse can also lead to a loss of the sense of smell, cardiac arrest and damage to the nasal membrane. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) World Drug Report, as many as 21 million people around the world were abusing cocaine in 2012.

illustrated drawing of a distraught young woman sitting and holding her head in her hands
Crystal Meth Abuse Afflicting U.S. and World

Crystal Meth Abuse Afflicting U.S. and World

Crystal meth is the rock-like crystal form of methamphetamine: a legal, highly addictive stimulant used to treat obesity and ADHD when prescribed. Crystal meth is a purer form of methamphetamine that is always illegal and has no other purpose than for abuse.

Users are often drawn to crystal meth (also known as ice or glass) because of its immediate and long-lasting euphoric effects. These desired effects are highly insignificant, however, when compared to its undesirable, even disturbing consequences to the mind and body.

Common street names for crystal meth:


Over 12 million people in the U.S. (4.7 percent of the population) have tried methamphetamine at least once.
- Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 2012

According to results from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 1.2 million Americans over age 12 reported using crystal meth within the previous year, while 440,000 reported doing so in the previous month.

photo of crystal meth poured out of a medicine bottle saying there were 1.2 million meth abusers in the U.S.

In 2011, nearly 12 million U.S. individuals reported nonmedical methamphetamine use in their lifetimes. There are 25 million abusers worldwide, making it one of the globe’s most serious health problems.

photo of crystal meth poured out of a medicine bottle saying there are now 25 million meth abusers in the U.S.

Desired Effects of Crystal Meth

30-minute rush
Initial 30-minute rush
Higher motivation to accomplish goals
Increased self confidence
Enhanced sexual performance and feeling

Undesired Effects of Crystal Meth

Severe Mood Swings
Severe Mood Swings
Elevated Heart Rate & Stroke
Elevated heart rate
Irreversible damage to blood vessels in heart and brain
Irreversible damage to blood vessels in heart and brain
Body Sores
Body Sores

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Identifying Meth Abuse

Long-term abuse of crystal meth can cause outward signs of accelerated aging in users. The drug destroys blood vessels and impedes the body’s ability to heal, leading to the development of acne and damaged skin. An abuser’s skin may appear dull and lacking elasticity. Additionally, meth use may cause an abuser’s teeth to crack and decay, leading to what is known as "meth mouth."

Other Warning Signs of Abuse:

Physical indications of meth abuse include sudden weight loss, uncontrollable twitching, dry and cracked skin (especially lips and fingertips), bad breath, dilated pupils, and chronic nasal problems.

The Dangers of Club Drugs

The Dangers of Club Drugs

Club drugs, also known as designer drugs, have grown in popularity in the United States since entering the drug market in the 1980s. They include a wide variety of drugs that are often associated with parties, all-night raves, nightclubs and concerts. Club drug abuse can damage brain neurons and impair judgement, memory and coordination. The effects on the body include loss of motor control, blurred vision and seizures.

Part of the additional dangers associated with club drug use is the uncertainty of their ingredients. They are manmade illegally in makeshift home laboratories, making it impossible for users to truly know what they are putting into their bodies.



More than 10% of High School students have abused MDMA at least once.
- National Drug Intelligence Center

Common Club Drugs


(MDMA, Ecstacy, Molly, E, Clarity, Lover’s Speed): An amphetamine-based, hallucinogenic that is usually taken orally in tablet, pill or capsule form. The effects enable users to dance for hours, increase body dehydration and may lead to kidney failure, depression and hypertension, among many other conditions.


(Special K, K, Vitamin K, Cat Valium): An injectable anesthetic used primarily by veterinarians. Ketamine is available in either liquid or powder form, allowing it to be smoked, injected or snorted. Users of the drug suffer from hallucinations and impaired learning and memory function. In larger amounts, some users may experience amnesia, high blood pressure and depression.

Lysergic Acid Diethylamide
Lysergic Acid Diethylamide

(LSD, Acid, Boomers, Yellow Sunshines): A hallucinogen that causes distortions in sensory perception. The drug is most often taken orally, either in tablet or capsule form. It is also often sold on blotter paper that has been saturated with the drug. The effects of the drug are very unpredictable and often depend on the environment, user and amount taken. Some common effects include numbness, high blood pressure, increased heart rate and persistent psychosis.

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Warning Signs of Club Drug Abuse and Addiction:

Due to the fact that many of the club drugs listed are primarily used and abused at nightclubs and raves, it may be difficult to detect if someone is using them. Individuals who are most likely to use club drugs include teens and young adults, because the 18 – 29 age group is the most likely to frequent clubs and raves.

Dilated Pupils
Involuntary Shaking
Decreased Coordination
Behavioral Changes
Reduced Inhibition
The Problem of Alcoholism in America

The Problem of Alcoholism in America

Having a few drinks with friends after work or taking a sip of wine at the end of a long day are perfectly acceptable ways to relax in our society. However, when alcohol consumption reaches the point where it is “needed” instead of just “desired,” a problem may be on the horizon. Excessive drinking can cause serious health issues and potentially lead to death. 

 Alcohol abuse is a growing problem in this country. In the United States between 2006 and 2010, alcohol-attributable deaths reached an annual average of approximately 88,000 people, with excessive drinking causing one in 10 deaths among working-age adults. In 2014, 16.3 million adults over the age of 18 were diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder (AUD), but only about 1.5 million adults received treatment for this disease in a specialized facility.

What is AUD?

AUD is a medical condition diagnosed in individuals for whom drinking has become so severe that it causes harm or distress. The diagnosis is based on the criteria that is set forth in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). In past editions (DSM-IV and earlier), alcohol disorder was divided into two separate conditions – alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. The most recent publication (DSM-V, issued in 2013), integrated the two DSM-IV disorders into one disorder, denoted as AUD, with various levels of severity.

880 00

Approximately 88,000 people die from alcohol related causes every year, making it the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol Related Disease Impact (ARDI) application, 2013

1630 0000

In 2014, 16.3 million adults had an alcohol use disorder, with 1.5 million receiving treatment.
- 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health

Alcohol Abuse vs Alcohol Dependency

Specific characteristics establish the differences between alcohol abuse and alcohol dependency. Alcohol abuse is defined as a pattern of drinking that causes recurring negative impacts on an individual’s health, relationships and livelihood.

photo of a young man chugging a beer at the bar

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse

Failure to meet responsibilities at home, school or work.
Drinking in risky and dangerous situations, such as driving or operating machinery.
Legal issues, such as being arrested for driving under the influence (DUI).
Hurting yourself or others while drinking.

Alcohol Dependence

Alcohol dependence, which is also known as alcoholism, is a severe form of alcohol abuse. An individual’s behaviors become linked to a physical or mental need for alcohol. This chronic disease causes a person to drink despite health, family or legal complications.

photo of alcoholic man sitting at a bar leaning on his glass of whiskey drunk with bloodshot eyes

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Dependence

Temporary blackouts or memory loss.
Hurting Yourself
Recurrent arguments or fights with family members or friends as well as irritability, depression, or mood swings.
Continuing use of alcohol to relax, cheer up, sleep, deal with problems, or feel "normal."
Headache, anxiety, insomnia, nausea or other unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when one stops drinking.
Flushed skin and broken capillaries on the face; a husky voice; trembling hands; bloody or black/tarry stools or vomiting blood; chronic diarrhea.
Drinking alone, in the mornings or in secret.

Be Aware of the Warning Signs of Substance Abuse and Addiction

Perhaps the only thing stronger than your loved one’s substance abuse or addiction problem is your love. Most often, substance abusers are the last ones to recognize they have a problem because they are so preoccupied with getting their next high. Be sure to pay attention to your loved one’s habits, who he or she spends time with, and in what environment.

While many drug and alcohol abusers will go to great lengths to hide their addictions, a watchful eye can discern the signs of an issue emerging. If you recognize that you or a loved one has a problem, you already have taken the first step toward a solution. The next course of action is getting help.

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This article was written by addiction care experts at Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches.
We are committed to offering the most comprehensive addiction treatment services in the nation and being thought leaders in the addiction recovery community.



A primary condition manifesting as uncontrollable cravings, inability to control substance use, compulsive substance use, and use despite doing harm to oneself or others.
Addiction Disorder
Addiction disorder is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by the seeking and using of a substance, despite harmful consequences.
Binge Alcohol Use
"Drinking 5 or more alcoholic drinks on the same occasion on at least 1 day in the past 30 days (Source: SAMHSA)."
Binge Drinking
A pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above. This typically happens when men consume 5 or more drinks, and when women consume 4 or more drinks, in about 2 hours.
Continuum of Care
A concept involving an integrated system of care that guides and tracks patient over time through a comprehensive array of health services spanning all levels of intensity of care.
The state of relying on or being controlled by an substance, such as alcohol or drugs.
A neurotransmitter (a chemical that is responsible for transmitting signals between the nerve cells and the brain) that is associated with the 'pleasure center' of the brain.
Drug Rehab
A term for the processes of medical or psychotherapeutic treatment for dependency on psychoactive substances such as alcohol, prescription drugs, and street drugs such as cocaine, heroin or amphetamines.
Heavy Alcohol Use
Drinking 5 or more drinks on the same occasion on each of 5 or more days in the past 30 days (Source: SAMHSA)
Illicit Drugs
Chemical substances, prohibited by law, that affect the normal functioning of the body and/or brain; these include amphetamine-type stimulants, cannabis, cocaine, heroin and other opioids and MDMA (ecstasy).
Non-medical Use
The taking of prescription drugs, whether obtained by prescription or otherwise, other than in the manner or for the reasons or time period prescribed, or by a person for whom the drug was not prescribed.
Physical Dependence
The physiological state where the body develops a tolerance for a substance and relies on a substance to prevent the negative physical symptoms of withdrawal.
A return to the pre-treatment pattern of substance use.
Synthetic Drugs
Products containing chemical substances artificially developed to mimic the effects of illegal drugs like cannabis, cocaine and methamphetamine.
The syndrome of often painful physical and psychological symptoms that follows discontinuance of an addicting substance.


American Medical Association
American Psychiatric Association
National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse
Center fro Behavioral Health Statistices and Quality
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
U. S. Drug Enforcement Administration
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
U. S. Food and Drug Administration
National Center for Health Statistics
National Drug Intelligence Center>
Office of National Drug Control Policy
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime


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