The line between substance abuse and drug dependence is defined by the role drugs play in your life.  Addiction and drug dependence occur when drugs become so important that you are willing to sacrifice your work, home and even family. Once your brain and body get used to the substances you are taking, you begin to require increasingly larger and more frequent doses in order to achieve the same effect.

Drugs such as alcohol, opiates, and benzodiazepines often cause compulsive drug-seeking behaviors and affect self-control and judgment. These drugs are highly addictive and require a medical detoxification (detox) to cleanse the chemicals from your system. The severity of withdrawal symptoms such as chills, shakes, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, headaches, and cravings can be reduced in detox with prescribed medications that can be slowly decreased over time. Withdrawal affects you physically and emotionally resulting in sadness, depression and exhaustion. Below are classic symptoms of drug and alcohol abuse and dependency.

Sobriety – Sobriety can be described as living a full, rewarding and meaningful life without the need for drugs and/or alcohol and without their use. There is movement from a life of dependence, destruction and being unfulfilled to one of emotional, physical and spiritual health. Sobriety can be described as a way of life that involves healthy relationships, communication, and personal growth.

Abstinence – Becoming abstinent, stopping the use of all mood altering drugs, is the necessary first task that must be accomplished in working toward a life in recovery. However, it is not by itself sobriety. It is like paying the admission fee at the amusement park, not the attractions themselves. Abstinence is an all or nothing proposition, either you have quit absolutely, or not. To enter into sobriety requires total abstinence; the first building block of sobriety.

Drug or Alcohol ABUSE: How can I tell if I have a problem?

Health and behavior

  • Continuing to use drugs even though you have health problems that are affected or caused by your drug use
  • Irritability, anger, hostility, fatigue, agitation, anxiety, depression, psychosis (seeing or hearing things that are not there), lack of coordination, difficulty concentrating

Financial and legal issues

  • Paying bills late, collection agencies calling, inability to keep track of your money
  • Being arrested, doing things that you would normally not do, such as stealing to obtain drugs

Employment or school

  • Continuing to use drugs even though you realize your job or education is in jeopardy
  • Missing work or school, or going in late due to drug use

Family and friends

  • Feeling annoyed when other people comment on, or criticize your use of drugs
  • Feeling remorse or guilt after using drugs
  • Associating with questionable acquaintances or frequenting out of the ordinary locations to purchase or use drugs

Social life

  • Scheduling your day around using drugs
  • Focusing recreational activities around obtaining drugs, using drugs, or recovering from drug use   
  • Using drugs when alone

Signs and symptoms of Cannabis use (Marijuana and Hashish)

  • Heightened visual and auditory perceptions and increased sensitivity in taste
  • Increased appetite
  • Problems with memory, difficulty concentrating, paranoid thinking
  • Decreased coordination, slowed reaction time
  • Bloodshot eyes, elevated blood pressure, increased heart rate
Drug or Alcohol DEPENDENCE: How do I know if I have become dependent?

Cravings and relapse

  • Strong and overwhelming desire to use your drug of choice at a specific time of day or several times a day
  • Drug seeking behaviors
  • Trying to stop using the drug but failing more than once
  • Feeling that you must have the drug to deal with your problems


  • In order to feel the same effect, using more of the drug than intended and using the drug more frequently

Withdrawal symptoms

  • Alcohol: Agitation, insomnia, anxiety, depression, anger, cravings, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, shakes, irritability, muscle pain
  • Benzodiazepines: Sleeplessness, irritability, anxiety, feeling shaky, headache, dizziness, loss of appetite, and in extreme cases, seizures
  • Heroin: Dilated pupils, goose bumps, watery eyes, runny nose,  yawning, chills, nausea, muscle cramps, stomach cramps,  diarrhea, vomiting, shakes, sweats, feeling jittery, irritable, panic, tremors.

Effects on memory and motivation

  • Impairments in learning, memory and cognitive functioning
  • Losing interest in activities and hobbies that were once pleasurable

Risky behavior

  • Sharing needles
  • Having unsafe sex
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