If you're wondering whether someone you love may be suffering from a drug problem, it's important to take these steps to educate yourself early on so that you know what to look out for. Learning how to spot drug abuse, and becoming knowledgeable of the signs that there is a problem empowers you to share your knowledge with others, show others when it's time to seek help and may provide you with a better understanding of what it takes to break the cycle of addiction before the consequences are irreversible.
Each drug impacts the user in a different way, and although different drugs can have very different effects on each individual, many of the symptoms of abuse are similar in nature.
- Changes in friendships. An individual may spend more time with a crowd that is not their normal group of friends; this is often the "new" group of friends who share interests in drug use.
- Neglecting responsibilities. An individual may start to show signs of slipping grades at school, miss work, or neglect responsibilities in child rearing or household chores.
- Illegal activity may take place. The individual may be arrested for DUI, possession or disorderly intoxication.
- Relationship problems. The individual may act out, disrespect a loved one or otherwise neglect an otherwise healthy or previously healthy relationship.
- Risky behaviors such as driving while under the influence or taking part in unprotected sex.
Physical Signs of Drug Abuse
It's very common for an individual who is abusing drugs to take necessary steps to avoid others from finding out about their drug use. Often times, the user will be very cautious as to conceal their drug use from those who care about them.
If you suspect that someone you know may be abusing drugs, consider the following physical signs of drug abuse:
- Slurred speech (that is not the result of alcohol or a speech impediment)
- Disorientation or acting as if impaired
- Bloodshot eyes
- Changes in pupil size (pupils are larger or smaller than they normally are)
- Changes in sleep habits (staying awake late into the night or sleeping for an unusually long period of time)
- Smelling like a drug (this includes clothing, body or breath)
- Lack of personal appearance (no longer caring about one's personal appearance, lacking hygiene, or possibly having sores on the body)
- Changes in appetite (eating excessively more than usual or avoiding food)
- Changes in weight (a sudden spike in weight gain or substantial weight loss in a short period of time)
Psychological Signs of Drug Abuse
In addition to the various physical signs of drug abuse, many users will show changes in their attitude and mental stability. These signs of drug abuse are most often noticed by those who care for the individual such as loved ones or family members.
- Personality changes such as negative attitude or an inexplicable improvement in attitude
- Mood swings
- Outbursts which may include mania, fear, anger or irritability
- Extreme happiness or inexplicable hyperactivity
- Changes in motivation, especially a drop in motivation to take part in activities that were once considered "fun" or "exciting"
Behavioral Signs of Drug Abuse
Drug use, no matter what the drug, is often responsible for distinct changes in the way that the user behaves. It's common for outsiders to first recognize the behavioral changes of an individual who is abusing drugs.
- Missing work or school regularly
- Failing grades or poor performance at work
- Losing money or asking to borrow money without an explanation
- Acting secretive or suspicious as if others can't know what is going on
- Becoming distracted easily or seeming focused on other things besides responsibilities
- Increasingly getting into trouble
Specific Warning Signs the Most Commonly Abused Drugs
- Constricted or small pupils
- Pupils are irresponsive to light (they do not change when a light is shone into the eyes)
- Track marks (needle marks) on the arms, legs, or other areas of the body
- Nodding or dosing off at unusual times
- Lethargic or heavy limbs
- Twitching or tremors
- Reduced appetite
- Increased activity
- Increased talkativeness
- Weight loss
- Reduced appetite
- Staying awake for long periods followed by extensive sleep
- Depression following drug use
- Sinus infections
- Increase activity
- Burns on the fingers or lips
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Acting erratically
- Inconsistent speech
- Contracted pupils
- Heightened paranoia
- Irrational behaviors
- Irrational thoughts
- Sores on the body from "picking" at the skin
- Cough or respiratory infection
- Staying awake extensively sometimes for days at a time
- Excessive weight loss
- Bloodshot eyes
- Glassy or watery looking eyes
- Laughing out of key (laughing uncontrollably at things that are not funny)
- Loss of interest in otherwise fun activities
- Weight gain
- Changes in appetite, primarily increased appetite
- Loss of motivation
- Odd behavior
- Seeing or hearing things that are not there
- Dilated pupils that do not respond to light
- Aggressive behavior
- Irrational thoughts
- Irrational behavior
- Same or similar signs of abuse to that of heroin use
- Slurred speech
- Impaired judgment
- Changes in pupil size
- Difficulty walking, talking or acting normally
- Lack of concentration
Teen Drug Abuse Signs
Teens often experiment with drugs or alcohol at an early age. The decision to abuse drugs can lead to serious consequences and in some cases may even lead to death. Risk of teenage drug abuse increases in children who:
- Do not have a strong support system at home.
- Have parents who are divorced or are in the middle of a divorce.
- Change schools frequently.
- Move frequently.
It's important for parents to learn how to recognize the signs of teenage drug abuse and how to distinguish signs of drug abuse from typical teenage mood swings. Some of the most common signs of teen drug abuse include:
- Bloodshot eyes, changes in pupils or using eye drops in order to mask the signs of drug abuse.
- Changes in school performance including failing or dropping grades, changes in attendance or frequently getting into trouble at school.
- Losing money or asking to borrow money without any reason or explanation for the need.
- Sudden changes in mood and emotions including depression, anxiety, negativity, or social withdrawal.
- Changes in friends or peer groups.
- Changes in interest or motivation to take part in hobbies or sports.
- Acting sneaky or as if hiding things.
Help for Drug Abuse
If you or a loved one is abusing drugs, seeking help is vital. Facing a drug problem head on may make the difference between whether a lifetime of consequences set in or a lifetime of recovery does. Recovery is a challenge that will likely be faced with many hurdles along the way - but there is help!
Treatment often takes place in a structured environment in which the user is removed from the situation in which drugs are being abused and placed into a controlled atmosphere in which drugs are strictly prohibited. In a residential setting, the user has very little risk of relapse, but outpatient treatment can also work with the right level of support at home and the added commitment of the recovering individual.
- Talking to the individual about his or her problem and offering a supportive hand.
- Seeking the help of a support group to help you stay healthy. Co-dependency is a serious condition that often results when a loved one is addicted.
- Keep yourself healthy by attending Nar-Anon or Al-Anon groups or by finding another means of support and counseling to assist you.
- Don't blame yourself and don't place blame on the individual either. A judgment free attitude will help you to remain focused.
- Don't place guilt or shame on the individual. Be realistic and offer help in finding support, counseling and treatment.
- Don't make excuses for the individual. His or her addiction is just that - it's his or hers, not your own.
- Initiate consequences and avoid hollow threats.
Drug abuse and addiction can be very difficult to cope with. This complex disease places undue strain and burden on millions of lives around the world. Early recognition of the problem is key to getting help.