Drug & Alcohol Addiction Symptoms, Signs, Causes & Effects

Blue Ridge Mountain Recovery Center helps individuals struggling with drug addiction build a strong foundation for long-term recovery. Serving Georgia, Blue Ridge is the premier provider of alcohol and drug abuse treatment.

What Is Substance Abuse?

Learn More About Substance Abuse

Substance abuse occurs when an individual purposefully and repeatedly ingests a substance for reasons outside of its intended use, or to achieve a high. Abusing substances like drugs or alcohol can lead to addiction, and puts you at risk for what is known clinically as a substance use disorder.

When you continue to engage in substance use, you may soon find yourself unable to control your behavior. You may experience damage to your physical and mental health, difficulty performing at work or school, and instability in your relationships.

Fortunately, substance abuse and addiction are highly treatable. With help from a quality treatment program, you or someone you care about can overcome a substance use disorder and lead a full, healthy life.


Statistics on Substance Abuse

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) have reported that as many as 90% of Americans will abuse alcohol or another drug at least once in their lives, and more than 20 million Americans are currently struggling with addiction. The three most commonly abused drugs in the U.S. are alcohol, marijuana, and prescription medications. Sadly, fewer than 2 out of 10 addicted individuals will receive professional treatment for their substance abuse problem.

Causes of Substance Abuse

Causes of Drug & Alcohol Addiction

There is no one definitive reason for why someone struggles with substance abuse. But there are a few factors that are known to contribute to the problem, including:

Genetic: Having a close family member, like a sibling or parent, with a substance use disorder may increase the odds that you’ll develop a problem with addiction.

Brain Structures: There is some research to indicate that there are certain similarities in the brain structures of individuals who struggle with substance abuse that are different from those of people who do not use substances.

Environmental: Being exposed to drug and/or alcohol abuse, especially early in life, may put you at greater risk for abusing drugs or alcohol.

Psychological: Dealing with emotional pain, perhaps due to trauma or untreated mental illness, causes some people to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders and the Complexity of Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is often accompanied by other mental health concerns, such as:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Antisocial personality disorder

Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse

Signs and Symptoms of Drug & Alcohol Addiction

There are a variety of signs and symptoms of substance abuse, including:


  • Mood swings
  • Inability to experience joy or deal with stress without using the substance
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability


  • Needing to use the substance every day
  • Trying but failing to stop using the substance
  • Using the substance when it is clearly dangerous to do so, such as prior to driving a car
  • Continuing to use the substance even after experiencing negative effects
  • Lying to, deceiving, and/or withdrawing from family and friends


  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired coordination
  • Dilated or pinpoint pupils
  • Glassy or watery eyes
  • Increased or decreased energy levels
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Unintentional changes in weight


  • Problems with memory, concentration, and focus
  • Obsessive thoughts about getting and using the substance
  • Intense cravings
  • Delusions and/or hallucinations

Effects of Substance Abuse

Effects of Drug & Alcohol Addiction

Abusing drugs and alcohol can cause:

  • Damage to the brain, heart, liver, kidneys, and other organs
  • Physical injury due to impaired judgment or coordination
  • Onset or worsening of mental health challenges
  • Unsatisfactory performance at work and/or in school
  • Strained or ruined relationships with family members or friends
  • Job loss and chronic unemployment
  • Financial problems
  • Arrest and incarceration
  • Social withdrawal and isolation


Effects of Withdrawal

If you use drugs and alcohol for long periods of time, your body will develop a tolerance to these substances. This means that if you then try to limit or cease your use, you will experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, such as:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Intense cravings for the substance
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Tics or tremors
  • Seizure
  • High body temperature and heavy sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Agitation

I love the staff here. Most are in recovery too, so they can definitely relate!

– Harper
Marks of Quality Care
  • Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF)
  • National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP)
  • PsychArmor
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)