A drug addict is a person whose life is controlled by drugs. They live to use, and use to live.

all about drug addiction

Many people use drugs recreationally, or to try something new and in many cases it doesn’t lead to addiction or dependence, but a drug addict is someone who needs drugs to function.

Drug addiction is a disease where the need to take drugs is more important than any job, relationship, friendship or responsibility. A drug addict usually surrounds themselves with others that are also using drugs, and avoids seeing people who don’t. A drug addict will spend a lot of time and energy seeking out drugs, spend all their money to get drugs, and will often lie or commit crimes to support their addiction.

Addicts often deny they have a problem, justifying it as something to do to get through a ‘bad patch’, and telling themselves they could stop if they wanted to. Drug addicts have a terrible time trying to give up because their bodies and brain chemistry change as a result of drug taking, and so they experience massive cravings and withdrawal symptoms when trying to cut back or give up.

Technically speaking, drug “abusers” still have some ability to set limits on their drug taking. However, their drug use is still self-destructive and dangerous to themselves and others, so much of the information on this page is also relevant to them.


Common signs and symptoms of drug abuse include:

  • Being high in physically dangerous situations, eg. When you’re working with machinery or driving a car.
  • Turning to drugs to cope with stressful situations.
  • Ignoring your responsibilities and getting high instead, eg. Forgetting to pick your kids up, failing exams, performing poorly at work.
  • Drug related legal problems, eg. stealing, or disorderly conduct charges.


Common signs and symptoms of drug addiction include all the above plus these signs to do with physical dependency:

  • Increased tolerance to drugs. If you need to take more of a drug, or have a need to try different drugs just to get a buzz, then your tolerance to drugs has increased. This is the first major warning sign you’re becoming an addict.
  • Withdrawal. If you have any of these withdrawal symptoms that only go away when you do drugs, this is the second major warning sign you’re becoming an addict.
    •  Jumpiness or anxiety
    • Shaking or trembling
    • Sweating
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Depression
    • Can’t sleep
    • Not hungry
    • Overly tired
    • Headache
  • You’ve lost control of your will power, eg. Doing drugs more often than you wanted to, or despite telling yourself you weren’t going to.
  • You’ve given up other things because of drugs, eg. Your hobbies, your family, your work, your house, your possessions.
  • Drugs, and getting drugs is your main focus, eg. If you’re not high, you’re thinking about getting high, and you panic if your drug supply is running low, or you have none in the house.
  • Denial, eg. Lying about how often you do drugs, or downplaying the negative consequences of your drug taking.
  • You keep doing drugs when you know it’s ruining your life, and you don’t care about the consequences. eg. Spending all your pay on drugs, losing your family, losing your job, losing your friends.
  • You want to quit but can’t.

Not all drug abusers become full-blown addicts, but it is a big risk factor. If you find drug taking is becoming a regular thing in your life, you don’t say “no” to trying new drugs, that you spend a lot of time thinking about your next high, and you have surrounded yourself with friends who all take drugs, your risks of becoming an addict are quite high.

  • It can affect us at any age.
  • Drug addiction can be genetic. Some families are pre-disposed to having addictive personalities through their genes, and find it easy to become addicted to substances such as marijuana (or alcohol, or smoking).
  • Our friends, upbringing and social circles also play a part in determining how much and how often we do drugs. We’re likely to be introduced to new drugs, and do drugs more often if it’s what our friends and family do.
  • Men who use drugs to numb their feelings as a way of coping with loneliness, childhood trauma, stressful situations or anxiety, or depression are at risk of developing an addiction unless they seek treatment for the underlying reasons for their drug taking.

Long story short, if your drug taking is causing problems in your life, you have a problem, and need to take steps to fix it.

Testing for drug addiction starts with a series of questions to identify the signs and symptoms outlined in the section above. It may be that you’re asking these questions about yourself, or the people around you have seen the signs.

A good self-assessment tool for drug addiction can be found at DrugHelp.

But, your intuition is usually right. If you think you might have a problem, you probably do.

If you’re an addict, the only way to break the addiction is to stop doing drugs altogether. The decision to stop needs to come from you. And you’ll almost certainly need to get help from professionals to help you see it through.

Once you’ve made the decision to stop doing drugs, talk to your doctor about it, and they can help you form a plan to give you the best chance of quitting and staying quit.

Treatment plan options might include:

  • Medication to help your body wean off the physical dependency to drugs.
  • Counselling or a support person to help stop a relapse.
  • Therapy or coaching to work through hard emotions or situations that were causing you to drink.

There are lots of networks and agencies in New Zealand to provide you with the support you’ll need to get through. And if you have a relapse, don’t beat yourself up about it. Go back to your doctor or health professional and try again. It might take a while, but it’s worth it.

The first step in making any change is realising you have the disease of addiction, and committing to make a recovery.

People who are addicted to drugs usually deny they have a problem, and are reluctant to seek treatment. This is a very hard situation for the addicts’ family and loved ones because they often feel helpless.

If the addict won’t admit they have a problem and get help, then someone close to them can organise an intervention. An intervention needs to be run in consultation with a drug counsellor or doctor.

An intervention is a pre-planned meeting where family members, colleagues and friends confront the addict about how their drug addiction is affecting everyone else’s lives, and ask them to accept treatment.

To find out more about staging an intervention, contact your nearest Community Alcohol & Drug service. Find the contact details for the service in your area through the Addictions Help Service Directory.



Here are some useful brochures and resources that you can download for more information on drug addiction and support for drug addiction.


If you would like to share your story about drug addiction and recovery we’d love to hear from you. Fill in the form and we’ll get in touch.