Drug abuse causes many different changes in a person. It affects the way an individual thinks, feels, down to how they process food, and their heart pumps blood. Perhaps the largest area of impact that drugs or alcohol have is in the brain and nervous system. There, substances change a person in their brain, in ways that may last for the rest of their lives.

Alcohol and other drugs are in a category called psychoactive substances. This means that they affect the brain and nervous system, and change the way a person thinks, feels, acts, and perceives the world around them. They can make people sad, happy, see things that aren’t there, or make ordinarily peaceful and quiet people loud and aggressive. These are some of the changes that substances have on the individual.

These are not the only long-lasting effects of drug abuse, however. There are other parts of addiction and drug abuse that may not be completely visible, but are predictable, and seen in almost everyone using substances. Drug abuse is simply defined as the pattern of repeated drug or alcohol use that often interferes with health, work, and relationships. Abusing alcohol and other drugs predictably lead to other problems that come with increased use, like tolerance and withdrawal. Tolerance and withdrawal are two pieces that demonstrate that drug abuse is crossing the line and turning into an addiction.

A young alcoholic man on a roof

Tolerance

The human body is an amazing thing. It can cope with a lot of disease, pain, and damage before it finally needs help. It learns, without conscious thought, to adjust to any situation until that situation becomes normal and not even a problem anymore. The body learns to tolerate a situation, in other words.

Tolerance, in terms of substance abuse, means the same thing essentially. The body has been exposed to enough drugs or alcohol that it is beginning to tolerate them. They don’t have the same impact anymore, because they are tolerated; they have become the norm. While it is incredible that the body can do that, it is also a terrible affliction for someone abusing drugs.

In this case, tolerance is a very frustrating and sometimes painful thing for someone using. Tolerance means that the body has adjusted to using drugs to the point where they do not have the same effect anymore. The body has become immune to that level of drug abuse, and it does not have the same effect any longer.

What comes next is easy to see. While that level of drug abuse is not getting the same high any longer, taking even more of the drug than usual will get a high feeling. A person with a drug abuse problem will eventually be chasing after that high, using more and more drugs, or trying different, harder drugs, to get the same type of feeling they had when they first started using.

Tolerance is an indication, an early warning sign, that drug abuse is becoming worse and worse. Drug abuse is simply a bad habit. A person is using too much and needs to quit. When they start to notice they are tolerating their drugs better, and not quite getting that same good feeling anymore, that’s the red flag that they are using too much and need to quit before things get worse. From here, things will get much worse.

A woman thinking about her addiction to alcohol

Withdrawal

When it comes to drug abuse, some people may begin to notice very painful problems when they stop using. At first, this will sound counterintuitive. People are supposed to feel better when they quit using drugs or alcohol. Well, that’s true, but it’s not an instant process. Feeling better after abusing drugs or alcohol for a while can cause people to go through withdrawal.

Withdrawal is the part of drug abuse that happens when a person is no longer using, but their bodies have become used to having those substances taken in regularly. A person likely is showing tolerance, and needing more and more drugs to get that same feeling, and begins to feel worse and worse when they stop. That worse feeling is withdrawal. Their body is starting to adjust to functioning without those substances, and at a certain point, it becomes uncomfortable or painful to function without them.

The symptoms that happen in withdrawal will vary based on a few different factors. These include: what substances they have been using, how long a person has been using, how much they have been using, and their body type and overall health and well-being. Some common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • Depression
  • Sweats
  • Agitations/irritability
  • Diarrhea
  • Heart palpitations
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Panic attacks
  • Tremors or the “shakes”
  • Cardiovascular emergencies
  • Difficulty thinking, remembering or focusing
  • Suicidal thoughts

These sound difficult to manage, and for some, they are. Fear of withdrawal is often listed as one of the reasons that people keep using. Their withdrawal process is so difficult, that many people continue to use drugs and alcohol just to avoid it.

Withdrawal is thought to be the most challenging part of recovery from drug abuse, and for some, it is, but it is also the shortest part of recovery. Typical withdrawal will be the worst in the first two to four days after using. Most withdrawal symptoms will be gone after about a week. This again depends on many of the same factors that determine the types of symptoms a person experiences.  Drug abuse can lead a person down this path, but it can be stopped, and recovery can, and does, happen for thousands every day. Withdrawal should not have to be the obstacle that prevents anyone from getting help. If you would like help to detox safely, call Stepping Stone Center for Recovery at (866) 957-7298.

Addiction

Drug abuse is defined almost like a bad habit. It is a persistent pattern of using drugs or alcohol, most often as a way to manage parts of the individual’s life that are not tolerable at the moment. People abuse drugs and alcohol commonly and can stop themselves with some effort and often professional intervention.

Addiction is something different from drug abuse. While drug abuse is a bad habit, addiction is defined more as a compulsive disorder, where a person’s risk versus reward perception is almost completely turned off. There is continued use in spite of constant adverse consequences, and all that matters is making it to the next high. There is evidence that structures in the brain change and are damaged by abuse that makes addiction possible.

Neurochemicals in the body adjust to substance abuse beyond just tolerance. With tolerance, it takes more and more to get that high, when a person is addicted, their bodies crave and need those substances to function. Often we hear people with addictions talk about getting high just to feel normal. That’s what addiction does; it makes people feel normal only when they are under the influence.

Drug abuse is a significant step on the way to addiction. The longer-term damage is not done yet. The body is still relatively healthy, and the unhealthy or unhelpful ways of interacting and getting needs met with others is not cemented in yet. Drug abuse is bad, and it should be viewed as a warning when it becomes evident that this is happening.

When a person is abuse drugs, they should be wary of discovering they are tolerating their drugs more and more, and find themselves needing more to get that same feeling as before. Another huge red flag comes when they decide to quit using or take a break from using. If they find themselves experiencing symptoms of withdrawal, even if it is a couple of the minor sounding ones, that is a warning sign.

What those warning signs add up to is an addiction. A person who needs more and more drugs or is tolerating their use better is experiencing a symptom of addiction or substance use disorder. A person who develops symptoms of withdrawal when they stop using is experiencing a sign of addiction. Drug abuse is one of the first steps, and addiction is the end result. Tolerance and withdrawal symptoms are there to tell you it is time to get help with drug abuse. It does not have to end with a full addiction; you can live a healthy drug-free life before that happens.

Tolerance and withdrawal are very important symptoms for which to be on the lookout. They are vital because they are almost universal in people with an addiction. This is very dangerous if you see this in yourself or someone, seek help sooner rather than later. Drug abuse can lead to addiction, but it can end now, you just need to take the first step. Stepping Stone Center for Recovery is ready to help. Call (866) 957-7298 to speak to a recovery specialist today.