Differences Between Drug Side Effects and Addiction Symptoms

February 19, 2016

A zoomed in picture of pills and the words Side Effects

Many drugs, whether legal or illegal, have side effects. These are unpleasant, unintended and sometimes dangerous effects that occur in addition to the desired effects of the drug. When a person uses drugs, she may experience several different types of side effects, even if she uses the recommended dosage.

Because some drugs’ side effects can be similar to symptoms of addiction, it’s important to recognize the differences between the two.

Common Drug Side Effects

Side effects of drugs vary widely from mild to severe, and can occasionally be life-threatening.

As the National Institute on Drug Abuse lists, some of the most common side effects for different types of drugs include:

Common Side Effects of Drug Use

The risks and side effects of drug use should be weighed against any potential benefits to ensure users are not experiencing unnecessary complications.

Common Addiction Symptoms

Most of the time, the side effects of drugs are unwanted. They are sometimes unrelated to the main effect of the drug and can lessen the overall worth of using it. For people who struggle with drug abuse, though, negative side effects may not be enough to make them stop abusing the drug. Additionally, some of the side effects of drug abuse are similar to symptoms of addiction.

The Mayo Clinic explains that some drug addictions have the following drug-specific symptoms:

  • Marijuana: memory loss, concentration problems, increased appetite, paranoia
  • Barbiturates and benzodiazepines: drowsiness, depression, decreased breathing and blood pressure
  • Stimulants: decreased appetite, irritability, insomnia, weight loss, increased heart rate, blood pressure and temperature
  • Opioids: depression, decreased breathing, confusion

Since several of these symptoms are similar or identical to these drugs’ side effects, it can be difficult to distinguish between them. It can, therefore, be helpful to know the specific symptoms of addiction.

The Mayo Clinic lists the following symptoms, which are common to all types of addiction, regardless of the substance:

  • Need to use the drug regularly
  • Inability to stop using the drug
  • Maintaining a supply of the drug
  • Spending a lot of money on the drug, even when doing so is financially unwise
  • Doing whatever it takes to acquire the drug
  • Using the drug as a coping mechanism for personal problems
  • Engaging in dangerous behavior while using the drug
  • Allowing the drug abuse to consume large amounts of time and energy

Steven Gifford also explains that another common sign of addiction is isolation. An addict may try to hide the negative behavior from friends and family by isolating himself and making up excuses for his absences. Additionally, addicts may experience severe mood swings and have withdrawal symptoms that make them depressed, anxious and irritable when they stop using the substance. Likewise, beginning the substance use again can cause a sudden shift into a happy and positive mood.

Distinguishing Between Drug Side Effects and Addiction Symptoms

It’s not always easy to tell when a person is struggling with addiction since the side effects of many drugs are similar to the symptoms of addiction. A person experiencing the negative effects of a drug may mistake his symptoms for an addiction, or a person who thinks his drug abuse is under control may assume that the side effects he experiences are normal for the drug, and thus may ignore key signs of addiction.

Because of these similarities it’s important to keep your healthcare provider informed of your use habits and any effects – expected or unexpected – so he or she may be able to objectively identify warning signs of addiction and dosage needs.

Get More Information About the Differences Between Drug Side Effects and Addiction Symptoms

If you are unsure whether or not your drug use has developed into an addiction, please reach out to us. Our admissions coordinators are always ready to discuss how to tell the difference between drug side effects and addiction symptoms and, if necessary, find the right treatment option for you.

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