September is Substance Abuse Recovery Month – Know the Warning Signs

According to provisional data released by the Center for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics, over 94,000 people died in the U.S of an overdose in 2020, a 30% increase from the prior year. This is a startling statistic, with this issue affecting individuals and families throughout the U.S, regardless of geographic location, age, race, or socio-economic status.

Understanding risk factors and early warning signs will increase awareness and help you recognize substance abuse problems early on.

Key Substance Addiction Risk Factors:

  • Surrounded by family/friends who partake in substance abuse
  • Social pressure from peers to engage in substance abuse
  • Genetics/family history
  • Mental health disorder
  • Stress
  • Early drug or alcohol use*

* The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism conducted a survey that showed that young adults from the ages of 18 to 24 were more likely to have both drug addictions and alcohol use disorders

Common Forms of Substance Addiction Disorders and Early Warning Signs:

Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol addiction disorder (or alcoholism) is characterized as frequent and/or heavy drinking. As an individual’s tolerance increases to alcohol intake, dependence can often occur, leading to physical health, and mental health issues, along with family, social and work-related problems. Alcohol abuse can take the form of binge drinking or long-term use. A study from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), Nation Institute of Health (NIH), and National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) found that people who suffer from alcohol addiction can generally be categorized into five subtypes: young adult, functional, intermediate familial, young antisocial, chronic severe. Regardless of gender, age, genetics, or status, alcohol abuse can have a harmful, lasting effect on the body and health of an individual, including depression, brain damage, psoriasis, anxiety, hand tremors, and more.

Warning signs of alcohol use disorder:

  • Drinking alone
  • Being unable to control alcohol intake
  • Making excuses to drink
  • Taking alcohol in more significant amounts or for more extended periods
  • Needing more alcohol to get the effect desired (tolerance)
  • Giving up important social, professional, and recreational activities

Narcotic and Opioid Use Disorder

Narcotics, which are a form of drugs commonly referred to as opioids, are highly addictive. Common narcotics include (but are not limited to) morphine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, oxycodone, heroin, and prescription pain drugs. Opioid drugs trigger dopamine responses in the brain, often causing reward and reinforcement responses leading to addiction. Someone suffering from a narcotics dependency will feel a powerful, compulsive urge to use opioid drugs, and it regularly leads to health, social, and economic problems. This addiction can cause life-threatening health issues, including overdose.

Warning signs of narcotic and opioid disorder:

  • Showing signs of exhaustion and malaise
  • Being nervous
  • Quickly changing moods
  • Drastically changing friends or social groups
  • Experiencing financial hardship
  • Meeting with multiple doctors to receive desired prescriptions
  • Attending work or school on an erratic schedule

Tobacco and nicotine addiction disorder

Over-use and dependency on tobacco and nicotine are common forms of addiction. These addictions can manifest in cigarette smoking, vaping, e-cigarettes, tobacco chew and more. The NIH states that due to nicotine’s addictive properties, only about 6% of smokers quit each year.

Warning signs of nicotine dependency include:

  • Inability to stop smoking or using, with attempts
  • Intake continues despite health problems
  • Disengagement from social activities that do not allow smoking or tobacco use
  • Showing signs of withdrawal, including (but not limited to):
    • Irritability
    • Cravings
    • Anxiety
    • Increased appetite

Psychostimulant addiction disorder

Psychostimulants, which are substances that have mood-enhancing and stimulant properties, are commonly known in drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, Adderall, and Ritalin. Addiction to psychostimulants has become a significant concern in the United States and globally. The 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that cocaine was the highest in past year dependency and abuse. In recent years there has been an increase in psychostimulant overdose, resulting from these drugs being laced with readily available and inexpensive Fentanyl.

Warning signs of psychostimulant abuse include:

  • Restlessness
  • Hyperactivity
  • Weight Loss
  • Meeting with multiple doctors to receive desired prescriptions
  • Aggressive behavior or anger outbursts
  • Impulsive behavior

Support and Recovery Options

Addiction and substance abuse can be addressed with multiple forms of treatment, support groups, and recovery options. The type and level of treatment required for successful recovery vary depending on the individual and the substance used.

Useful Contacts

Alcoholics Anonymous-

Narcotics Anonymous-

Treatment Facilities-

Family Support Organizations-

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 


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