Drug Addiction

Drug addiction is an intense craving for and compulsive use of a legal or illegal substance. An addict feels the need to use despite the negative or dangerous effects of the drug. Genetic, psychological, and social factors contribute to the condition.

Drug addiction gets worse over time. If untreated, it can be fatal. Abusers continue despite serious adverse health, personal, work-related and financial consequences; they are not in control.


Drug dependence—your body needs the substance to function—can be part of addiction. Some drugs (very often prescription drugs) cause physical dependence. Other drugs lead to addiction, but have physical dependence (very often illegal drugs, like cocaine).

If you become tolerant to a drug (you need a higher dose to attain prior effect or "high") this could be a sign of addiction. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned about a drug you are taking.

Make an Appointment to See a Doctor if:

  • You can't stop using a drug
  • Your drug use has led to unsafe behavior, such as sharing needles or unprotected sex
  • You think you may be having withdrawal symptoms after you stop taking a drug

Call 9-1-1 if you or someone you know has taken a drug and:

  • Loses consciousness
  • Has trouble breathing
  • Has seizures
  • Has sharp chest pain or pressure
  • Has a serious psychological reaction
  • Has excessive vomiting
  • Has a harmful physical reaction

Opiates and Narcotics

Opiates and narcotics are painkillers or sedatives that cause drowsiness and feelings of euphoria. These include heroin, opium, codeine, meperidine (Demerol), hydromorphone (Dilaudid), and oxycodone (Oxycontin). Symptoms of use:

  • Needle marks on the skin (heroin)
  • Scars from skin abscesses
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Tiny pupils
  • Relaxed or euphoric state
  • Anxiety and difficulty sleeping
  • Stomach cramps or diarrhea
  • Enlarged (dilated) pupils
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Excessive sweating
  • Increase in blood pressure, pulse, and temperature


Stimulants like amphetamines, cocaine, dextroamphetamine, methamphetamine, and methylphenidate (Ritalin) stimulate your central nervous system. Caffeine and nicotine are the most commonly used stimulants. You can easily develop a tolerance to stimulants. Symptoms of stimulant use include:

  • Exaggerated feeling of well-being (euphoria)
  • Dilated pupils
  • Fast heart rate
  • Restlessness and hyperactivity
  • Symptoms of cocaine withdrawal: Fatigue and malaise
  • Depression
  • Very clear and unpleasant dreams


Depressants like alcohol, barbiturates (amobarbital, pentobarbital, secobarbital), benzodiazepine (Valium, Ativan, Xanax), chloral hydrate, and paraldehyde sedate your central nervous system. These substances produce an anxiety-reducing effect, and can lead to dependence. Symptoms of use include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Lack of coordination
  • Decreased attention span
  • Impaired judgment
  • Impaired memory
  • Confusion Dizziness

Club Drugs

Drugs like Ecstasy (MDMA), GHB, Rohypnol ("roofies") and ketamine have become widespread among teens and young adults at clubs, concerts, and parties. Symptoms of use include:

  • Exaggerated feeling of well-being (euphoria)
  • Dilated pupils
  • Reduced inhibitions
  • A heightened or altered sense of sight, sound and taste
  • Impaired coordination
  • Impaired judgment
  • Memory problems or loss of memory
  • Increased or decreased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Drowsiness and loss of consciousness (with GHB and Rohypnol)

At high doses, GHB and Rohypnol can cause seizures, coma and death. These drugs do not interact well with alcohol. They are sometimes called “date-rape drugs,” since they can easily be slipped into a drink or food without the victim noticing.


Hallucinogens like LSD, mescaline, psilocybin ("mushrooms"), and phencyclidine (PCP or "angel dust") can cause people to see things that aren't there (hallucinations). They can lead to psychological dependence. Symptoms of use include:

  • Anxiety
  • Frightening images of things that aren't there (hallucinations)
  • Paranoid delusions
  • Blurred vision
  • Dilated pupils
  • Tremors


Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the active ingredient found in marijuana (cannabis) and hashish. Although used for their relaxing properties, THC-derived drugs can also lead to paranoia and anxiety. Symptoms of use include:

  • Lack of energy
  • Anxiety
  • Heightened sense of taste
  • Heightened sense of vision
  • Heightened sense of hearing
  • Hunger


There are many resources available for substance abusers, including treatment centers and 12-step programs to help you or a loved one with a drug problem. The first step is to admit that you have a problem. The second is to determine your path to quit.

For many addicts, denial is a major problem. If you suspect a friend or family has a drug problem—you are not alone. Those close to addicts are often the first to recognize a problem. You may want to consider an intervention, a process where those close to the addict confront his or her problem in a safe, controlled manner.