Signs, Symptoms, & Causes of Drug Abuse & Withdrawal

The first step to getting help is recognizing the problem. If you’re concerned your child or teenager may be suffering from drug addiction and withdrawal, learn more about the signs and symptoms to watch for.

Understanding Drug Addiction & Withdrawal

Learn about drug addiction

Substance abuse is defined as an excessive and continued use of substances in order to experience mood-altering results. When drugs are used in excess, they cause a direct activation of the brain’s reward system so powerful it inhibits one’s ability to focus on what they would normally be focused on, resulting in disturbances within one’s everyday life.

Today, it is highly likely that children and adolescents will be exposed to drugs and alcohol, and there is also a good chance they will try these substances. While most adolescents see their drug use as a harmless way to have fun, there are a large number of negative effects that result from use and abuse of drugs and alcohol. Even if their substance abuse does not necessarily lead to adult drug abuse, there are still risks and consequences.

Adolescent substance abuse can greatly affect behavior, and a new preoccupation with drugs can cause them to lose interest in activities that were previously important – treatment may be necessary. Substance abuse can also change friendships as teens begin to associate with fellow drug users who encourage and support one another’s drug use. Additionally, lying about after school or weekend activities, changes in mood, or depression can indicate that your teen might have a problem with substance abuse.

Some of the most common substances that are abused by children and adolescents include: marijuana, prescription medications, ecstasy, inhalants, alcohol, and cocaine.


Drug addiction statistics

Results from a 2010 survey show that by the 8th grade, about 36% of teens in the U.S. have used alcohol at some point in their life; this number increases to 71% by the 12th grade. As for use of any illegal drugs, about 21% of teens have used some form of illegal drug by 8th grade, with the number increasing to just over 48% by the 12th grade.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for drug addiction in children and teens

There is not one specific cause for child and adolescent substance abuse, however there are a number of factors that have strong influences in leading children and adolescents toward exploring drug use. Some examples of these factors include:

Absent parenting: One of the major contributing factors in child and teen drug abuse is lack of parent supervision. Absent parents are not around to notice the initial signs of a child’s drug experimentation and they are unable to provide proper discipline, education, or support to a child who has begun to use drugs or alcohol. Less supervision provides a child and adolescent with more opportunities to be exposed to drugs.

Peer influence: For children and adolescents, friendships are often one of the most significant relationships in their lives and usually have a big influence on actions and choices they make. Peer pressure can contribute to a child’s decision about substance abuse; if a teen’s peer group starts experimenting with drugs, they will often use so that they fit in. Children fear being socially rejected by their peers and are more likely to go along with drug use.

Drug availability: Growing up in a home that has drugs or alcohol available makes it easier and more accessible for children to experiment with substances. . Additionally, when a parent abuses drugs or alcohol, it teaches the child that it is all right to abuse these substances, especially coupled with a lack of parental guidance.

Risk Factors:

  • Poor socioeconomic status
  • Poor self-control
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of coping skills
  • Chaotic home environment
  • Family history
  • Exposure to violence
  • Experiencing some form of trauma
  • Suffering from other mental illnesses

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of drug addiction in children and teens

The signs and symptoms of substance abuse will vary greatly depending on the type of drug being abused, the frequency of the abuse, and the length of time that the person has been abusing it. The following are some examples of different symptoms that may be indicative that a person is abusing drugs:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Random outbursts of anger
  • Withdrawn from responsibilities
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Increased secretiveness
  • Changes in friends
  • Borrowing or stealing money
  • Wearing long sleeve shirt and pants even in hot weather (often to cover needle marks)
  • Random periods of extreme lethargy
  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Participating in reckless behaviors
  • Excessively rapid or slowed speech
  • Impaired coordination

Physical symptoms:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Deterioration of physical appearance
  • Diarrhea
  • Distorted vision
  • Weakness
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Disorientation
  • Difficulty concentrating or paying attention
  • Memory impairment
  • Altered states of perception
  • Confusion
  • Impaired judgment

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Sudden personality changes
  • Aggression
  • Nervousness
  • Extreme fluctuations in mood
  • Paranoia
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety


Effects of drug addiction in children and teens

Recurrent substance abuse among children and adolescents can lead to a number of negative consequences, some of which can last into adulthood. The long-term effects that substance abuse will have on a child or adolescent will vary depending on the type of drug abused, as well as the length and frequency of use. The most common effects resulting from drug abuse can include:

  • Personal distress
  • Poor school performance
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Involvement in antisocial activities
  • Development of HIV or other serious infections
  • Short and long term health problems
  • Unplanned pregnancy
  • Increased risky behaviors
  • Coma
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Withdrawal
  • Overdose
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Death


Effects of withdrawal & drug overdose

Whenever people suddenly stop using a substance that their bodies have become dependent upon, it is very common for them to suffer from unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Depending on the drug that has been used and the length of abuse, withdrawal symptoms will range in severity from mild to very severe. The following are some examples of various effects that withdrawal can cause:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Intense cravings
  • Agitation
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Tremors and chills
  • Shakes
  • Panic
  • Pale, clammy skin
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Psychosis

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for children and adolescents to overdose on drugs that they are using or suffer from alcohol poisoning. As the length of time that a person uses a substance increases, the higher their tolerance becomes. As a result, many addicts find that they need to steadily increase the amount they use in order to achieve the desired effects. This increase in use can lead to a person taking more than his or her body can handle, resulting in an overdose.

Like withdrawal, the overdose symptoms will vary depending on the drug being abused. Some examples of signs that a person has overdosed may include:

  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Erratic breathing
  • Chills or profuse sweating
  • Acute psychotic behavior
  • Chest pain or tightening
  • Passing out
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Sudden heart failure
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Death