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Drug Abuse and Dependence - Symptoms

When drug use, abuse, and dependence occur, you are more likely to have changes in your behavior than to have physical symptoms.

Changes in behavior

  • Changes in sleeping or eating habits, less attention to dressing and grooming, or less interest in sex.
  • Up-and-down moods, a mood or attitude that is getting worse, or not caring about the future.
  • Anger toward others, or treating others badly.
  • Sneaky behavior, lying, or stealing.
  • Poor family relationships, or relationships that are getting worse.
  • New problems at work or school, or problems with the law.
  • Not keeping up with old friends and activities, and finding new friends and not wanting old friends to meet them.

These signs don't always mean a person is using drugs. The behavior could be because of work or school stress, or it could be a sign of depression or another medical problem. But behavior changes like these are common in people who abuse drugs.

If you think you or a loved one might have a drug problem, use this short quiz to check your drug use:

Assess Your Drug Use(What is a PDF document?)

Physical signs of drug abuse or dependence

  • Red eyes, a sore throat, and a dry cough.
  • Needle marks on the arm or other area of the body.
  • Small, "pinpoint" pupils in the eyes.
  • Losing weight without trying to, or not feeling like eating.
  • Changes in how well you sleep.
  • Seeing things that don't exist (hallucinations).

Symptoms in older adults

Drug abuse in older adults may go unnoticed, since the signs may be similar to those of aging. Older adults often take more medicines, such as sleep medicines and painkillers, that can lead to dependence.

Symptoms of withdrawal

When you are dependent on a drug and you stop using it, you may have physical symptoms known as withdrawal. These symptoms differ for each drug. They can include feeling sick to your stomach, vomiting, having belly pain, sweats, nervousness and shaking, and seizures.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: March 12, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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