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5 Common Signs of Drug Misuse in Its Early Stages

There is a point between casual drug usage and troubling drug misuse that happens before addiction fully sets in that needs to be addressed. Recreational drug use has been a facet of society for as long as history has existed. Drugs of all kinds, from opioids to alcohol, have always found their way into the lifestyles of the upper-class, as well as those who are stricken by poverty. Just like addiction, drug misuse doesn’t belong to a particular “type” of person or demographic, even though some people may be predisposed to addiction or drug use based on genetics and their surrounding environment. The focus of drug misuse is the bridge between experimentation and continued use into eventual dependency and addiction. Recognizing troublesome misuse early on can potentially stop cases of addiction in their tracks which is why it’s important to be aware of the signs.

 What Is Drug Misuse?

There are many different phrases when talking about the use of drugs but what is “misuse”?

  • The use of illicit drugs: Experimentation can quickly go from a one-time use to habitual use, even if it doesn’t occur every day. The recreational use of illicit substances is always a risk since there is no way to fully know what a person is ingesting when a drug is acquired “off the street.”
  • Incorrect use of medication: Even legal, prescription drugs can be a part of drug misuse, especially when the person taking these drugs is using them outside of medical reasons without a doctor’s discretion or in dosage amounts that exceed the doctor’s instruction. This also occurs when someone is taking medication that does not belong to them.
  • Overuse of legal drugs: For example, just because caffeine and alcohol are legal doesn’t mean they cannot be misused. Regular or binge use of these substances can pose serious health concerns and result in potentially fatal consequences once a level of dependency is reached.

Drug misuse is a willful act which, when done continuously, can lead directly to dependency and unintended addiction. When someone habitually disregards the negative effects of drug misuse it’s likely they have crossed from misuse into addiction. The following are signs that someone has reached the stage of drug misuse:

1) Making Drugs A Priority

When someone starts planning their days, evenings, or entire weekends about obtaining and consuming drugs, misuse is likely a factor. Typically this begins shortly after the first or second experimental experiences they’ve had with a drug and become curious to try more. This can also become somewhat of a ritual. Leisure time is no longer to relax; it begins to focus solely on using the drug of choice in excess until there is no more left or more needs to be acquired. When social outings or gatherings seem to be exclusively dependent on having the drug available, misuse is in play.

2) Drastic Changes in Social Circle

Sometimes people are exposed to drugs and begin to experiment as a way to get acquainted with new friends. Usually, this involves someone new entering a social circle that opens members to a particular drug where its use becomes more and more prevalent. When someone drastically changes their social habits and social circle to include only other people who participate in the use of that drug, it’s more than likely they are misusing the drug regularly. They are most likely associating with people who can give them access to more of the drug.

3) Decline in Health or Appearance

When someone misuses drugs, their body typically experiences neglect or  mistreatment. If someone is showing signs of:

  • constant fatigue
  • confusion
  • lethargy
  • Other unusual outward behavior due to their excessive “partying”

it’s likely they are misusing drugs in their free time. People who are usually ‘put together’ may come stumbling into work or class looking disheveled or ill to hide a hangover or may be struggling through the “come down” from a high from the night before. Mysterious “illnesses” will also be a common excuse as to why they are frequently feeling sick from the misuse of drugs, or the effects that follow after a large dose.

4) Normalizing Drug Use

While some circles may treat recreational drug use lightly, the complete normalization of drug use every time someone goes out or socializes could be a sure sign of drug use. When people no longer attempt to hide the frequency of their consumption of drugs and begin to use them freely around other people, they have completely normalized the misuse of these drugs. Speaking fondly of the drug and their many adventures while using the drug can also be a sign that their use is has moved past the experimental or recreational phase into more serious use. If someone grew up in a household where drug misuse was frequent, this puts them at a much higher risk of drug misuse.

5) Facing Negative Consequences

When wild, drug-fueled events or nights out start leading to unwanted ramifications like constantly being late for work, receiving bad grades, or ruining close relationships, misuse is likely at the source. When people begin to take bigger and bigger risks to consume their drug of choice, it’s likely that their misuse has become full-fledged and they are now starting to see consequences of their decision-making. When someone starts dealing with constant social problems that are a direct result of their drug use, it may lead them to rethink their actions, but those who are misusing drugs at a constant rate may be lacking the self-awareness to correct their behavior.

Without addressing misuse, we cannot effectively make efforts stop addiction in its early phases. There is a period between experimentation and addiction that is the cornerstone of how people develop a substance use disorder. No matter what drug is being misused, the behaviors and subsequent consequences that result in misuse are what can turn a healthy, vibrant person into a shell of their former selves. We cannot ignore the fact that the attitude towards recreational drug misuse in society is troubling and sending the wrong message. While we fail to address misuse, people who fall victim to substance use disorders that once started as occasional misuse will still have to deal with the awful stigma attached to addiction. We can’t ignore something until it becomes an uncontrollable problem while blaming those who have succumbed to it. Prevention can and will help many if the message is clear. Discussing topics like misuse could potentially save many lives before they ever begin to experiment with addictive substances.

Explore the links below for more information, resources and support:
Addiction Forum Treatment
Methadone Pregnancy Information
Narcotics Anonymous
NAMA Resource
National Institute on Drug Abuse
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence
Faces and Voices of Recovery
Decisions in Recovery: Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder
Make the Connection: Resources for Veterans
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What Makes Recreational Drug Use Dangerous?

According to SAMHSA, in 2016, 28.6 million people aged 12 or older used an illicit drug in the past 30 days, which corresponds to about 1 in 10 Americans overall (10.6%) but ranges as high as 1 in 4 for young adults aged 18 to 25. An estimated 11.8 million people misused opioids in the past year, including 11.5 million pain reliever misusers and 948,000 heroin users. Additional information is gathered in NSDUH for the misuse of pain relievers in the past year. Among people aged 12 or older who misused pain relievers in the past year, about 6 out of 10 people indicated that the main reason they misused pain relievers the last time was to relieve physical pain (62.3%), and about half (53.%) indicated that they obtained the last pain relievers they misused from a friend or relative.

With recreational drug use in America on the rise, it’s important to understand the risks involved with drugs that can lead to addiction. There is a very short amount of time between the experimental phase of recreational drug use and the next steps towards losing control. Based on statistics, recreational drug use is common among a wide range of ages and socioeconomic classes because addiction does not discriminate. Knowing the potential dangers of drug misuse can help educate others to prevent them from using drugs that could lead them down a dark path.

Drug Use that Leads to Addiction

While growing up, many of us are exposed to scare tactics that are used by school programs to help steer us away from drugs and alcohol. While their intentions are good, curiosity, peer pressure, and underlying risk factors that make people prone to addiction tend to override these measures.  According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), about 24% of 12th graders have used illicit drugs in the last month. While the general attitude towards teenagers is that we expect them to rebel, drug misuse at an early age can severely affect young developing brains. The prefrontal cortex controls the flow of dopamine in their brains, helping with logical decision making. This area doesn’t fully develop until mid-to-late 20s. When a young person has access to drugs during these developmental stages, it can acutely increase their risk of drug use disorder. The most common drugs teenagers are using that can quickly lead to addiction are opioids, methamphetamines, cocaine, and various forms of ecstasy.

From Recreational Use to Addiction

Most commonly, people who consume drugs recreationally do so when they want to let loose and party, whether it be at special events, concerts, or other social situations. Under these circumstances, it’s important to closely consider when use has become a problem, like when they can no longer enjoy themselves if they are not under the influence. Red flags are raised when they begin to consume much more than their friends or even begin to use when alone, outside of social situations. When personal responsibilities fall by the wayside, and drug use becomes the focus, it’s time to seek treatment. Once the line has been crossed, and the addiction has taken over, it’s very difficult to successfully recover without the help of a drug treatment program that can help assist with many different levels of care.

Phases of Misuse

Typically, the steps from recreational use to addiction are gradual. The typical process stems from early curiosity and can potentially lead to something much more serious.

  1. Experimental: Usually this step occurs while still young. Peer pressure builds, and they want to fit in with friends who are doing it too. It can affect adults too. Some people experiment with drugs for a change of pace. It can also appear to help ease social anxiety or negative emotions surrounding an event or incident.
  2. Recreational: Consumption of drugs becomes more frequent during this phase. Every month there’s an occasion where drugs are consumed socially. Usually, there is thrill-seeking involved. There usually aren’t many negative consequences at this phase other than feeling worn out and depleted after using.
  3. Regular Misuse: Drugs have become commonplace every weekend and sometimes on weekdays. Things are dull when not experienced while high and using and obtaining more of the drug becomes a focus. Their social circle begins to mostly include people who use as well, and former friends have slowly pushed
  4. Risky Use: Higher doses become the norm. There are consequences at stake, yet drug use trumps them all. Financial problems start to set in as most funds are used towards obtaining drugs. Usually, run-ins with the law like DWIs or worse are involved at this level.
  5. Dependence: Drugs have taken control over their life, and most relationships have deteriorated with loved ones and close friends. Their body has become physically dependent and needs a constant stream of drugs to function normally.
  6. Addiction: A high is no longer achievable, but the main purpose of ingesting drugs is to simply ward off withdrawal symptoms. Most significant areas of life have been heavily impacted by drug use, and they are holding onto life by a single thread, whether it is blatantly obvious or not from the outside.

Taking drugs recreationally may seem harmless, but it’s one step towards addiction. While some people can experiment with substances without losing control, there are many other factors involved in what makes someone more prone to addiction. Once the wheels towards addiction are set in motion, it’s hard to stop them.

If you find yourself questioning whether or not your drug use is truly recreational, or whether or not you have reached the level of addiction with your drug use, consider taking an assessment at a treatment center to help stop addiction in its tracks with the help of trained professionals.

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