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It is currently estimated that about 10% of adults struggle with a substance abuse disorder, however, a large majority of those adults never seek treatment. Though your loved one may not admit to having a drug problem, it is important to be able to recognize the signs of drug abuse. Knowing the signs that someone is on drugs may help you identify when there is a problem, and taking steps to address this problem may save your loved one’s life.
Below is a list of 27 common signs of drug addiction. If you believe that your loved one is in fact abusing drugs or alcohol, talking to them about their treatment options is critical in helping them regain control over their life and reach long-term recovery.
Physical Signs of Drug Abuse
Changes in Appetite: Some drugs will suppress appetite while others will cause rapid weight gain. If you notice that your loved one’s weight has changed significantly without an explanation, it could mean that they have begun to regularly use addictive substances.
Red Eyes & Dilated or Constricted Pupils: There is often a direct link between chemical alterations of the brain becoming physically visible through the eyes. Some drugs will cause redness or bloodshot eyes, some will drastically alter pupil size, so it is important to pay attention to your loved one’s eyes, as that is usually a very telling indicator that someone is using drugs.
Needle Marks: People who inject drugs like heroin, will have marks or small wounds, usually on their arms but these may also appear on the legs, hands, or sometimes even feet. These marks may become infected depending on the cleanliness of needles used, and scarring may occur through repeated injection at the same spot.
Loss of Interest in Hygiene or Grooming Habits: When drug use becomes a priority in someone’s life, hygiene and outward appearance may become less and less important to your loved one. Some may forget they haven’t taken care of themselves because of the mental effects of their drug use, while others simply stop caring as their time is totally taken up by getting high and then getting more of their drug so they can get high again.
Signs of Withdrawal or Overdose: If your loved one is experiencing withdrawal symptoms or overdose symptoms, there is a good chance that they may have an addiction to that particular drug. Seeking medical attention is critical in these situations, even if you are unsure of what they’ve taken or if they’re even using drugs. Knowing what withdrawal symptoms and overdose symptoms look like may save your loved one’s life.
Anxiety or Paranoia: Increased drug abuse can lead to anxiety or paranoia, especially if the drug has left their system and they are experiencing withdrawal.
Environmental Signs of a Drug Problem
Unusual Smells: Some drugs, like marijuana, crack, or meth have distinct smells that individuals may try to cover up, but repeated and constant use will be hard to disguise. You may notice those smells on their clothes, in their car or bedroom, or on their breath or skin.
Finding Drug Paraphernalia: If you find smoking devices, needles, oil vaporizers, stashes of different devices needed for drug use, you may want to discuss with your loved one what those items are and why they have them.
Deodorizers or Incense to Cover Up Smells: Some drugs have very strong smells, so you may notice this person spraying areas such as their room or car, wearing very strong cologne or perfume, or even burning candles and incense constantly to cover up the smell. This is concerning especially if this is a new behavior.
Behaviors to Look Out For
Changes in Sleep Patterns: Some of the most commonly abused drugs are either classified as stimulants or depressants. Excessive use and abuse of these drugs can either cause intense highs characterized by hyperactivity and periods of insomnia, or intense lows that cause long periods of sleeping or drowsiness. Addictive substances chemically alter the brain’s natural circadian rhythm which can actually cause sleep disturbances well after someone has stopped using the drug.
Noticeably Different Energy Levels: People typically use drugs to change the way they feel, whether it be to increase pleasure or to calm anxiety. If you notice that your loved one has a drastic change in their usual mood, either they are extremely euphoric or drowsy, it could indicate drug use.
Drastic Personality Change: Over time, drug use alters the chemical and functional structures of the brain which can result in personality change. Addiction and the intense need for a drug may cause someone who is normally very docile to become agitated and aggressive. Also, stimulant drugs may cause a normally depressed person to appear very energetic or even manic.
Being Dishonest or Sneaky, Hiding Things, or Needing Increased Privacy: Most people are not going to be very public about their drug use, especially if it’s to an illegal substance. You may notice your loved one is lying about where they are or who they’re with. Maybe their story keeps changing and they can never seem to be honest about what they’ve been up to. They may try to sneak in or out of the house, may try to hide their drugs in their room or car, and they may spend more time alone in their room with the door locked. They may also choose to spend more time than usual away from home to hide their use.
General Lack of Motivation, Energy, or Self-Esteem: Because of the ups and downs involved with drug abuse, you may notice that this person is showing more depressive side effects, especially when they’re coming down from a high. They may choose to sleep all the time or not want to do anything that requires them to be out of reach of their drug. They may be depressed when they are not high or start to look at themselves negatively.
Outbursts, Resentful Behavior, Intense Irritability, or Mood Swings: Though the drugs themselves may cause a change in mood, your loved one may also display signs of irritability or agitation when they do not have the drug in their system or they’re running out of ways to get that drug. They may become moody and not want to talk to you or anyone that may notice changes due to drug use.
Forgetfulness, Trouble Concentrating, or Paying Attention: Some drugs may cause impaired memory, inability to focus, or loss of time due to blackouts which may lead your loved one to become forgetful. The fact that drug use can often become the top priority may also cause them to lose interest in any other responsibilities and lead them to forget about plans or things they were supposed to do. Though being forgetful is not necessarily an immediate cause for concern, if you notice that your loved one is suddenly neglecting their responsibilities, forgetting about commitments, or you notice they appear to be spaced out and non-communicative, you may want to pay attention to the other signs.
Financial Problems: Most people struggling with addiction are going to have some form of financial problems considering most, if not all, of their money is supporting their habit. They might have also lost their job due to a lack of productivity. Your loved one may show signs of an increased need for money with little explanation as to why, and they may either borrow or steal in order to pay for their drug use.
Increased Defensiveness: Your loved one may become increasingly defensive when you ask them questions about where they’ve been or what they’ve been doing or who they’ve been hanging out with. They may especially become defensive if you ask them about drugs or addiction.
Loss of Memory: The areas of the brain affected and changed by drug abuse are the same areas of the brain that control cognition and include learning, memory, and higher reasoning. When drugs are abused, those areas in the brain are chemically altered which disrupts normal functions and may cause a deficit in memory.
Risky Behavior: People who abuse drugs or alcohol may also engage in risky behavior such as combining two or more drugs, risky sexual behavior, driving while under the influence, or putting themselves in dangerous situations to obtain more of the drug.
Social Signs that Someone is On Drugs
New Friend Group or Hangout Spots: When someone is sliding into addiction, they tend to hang out with people who also use their drug of choice, or use any kind of substance for that matter. Someone may begin to distance themselves from their old friends or loved ones that may try to get them to stop.
A Decline in Grades or Participation in School: As drugs become the primary focus of someone’s life, they will often spend more and more time using and getting drugs. You may notice that their school work or participation in school starts to decrease suddenly. They may stop caring about their grades and choose to neglect the work they need to do to improve their academic performance.
A Decline in Work Performance: If they have a job or career, you may also notice declining performance in the professional area of their life as drug use becomes the number one priority. They may no longer be able to focus, and there may also just be no drive to complete work or perform how they once did, especially if work-related stress is what led to substance abuse in the first place.
Missing School or Work Constantly with No Legitimate Excuse: In order to get high or to hide their drug abuse, your loved one may miss school or work consistently but have no good excuse as to why. They may have even told you that they were still going to school or work, and you may not even notice this until the school calls or until they stop receiving paychecks from their job.
Loss of Interest in Family Activities or Things They Used to Do: Drug use can cause depression or isolation simply because your loved one doesn’t want anyone to know about their drug use. They may feel some shame or guilt, or the drug may be causing chemical changes to their brain that make them anxious or reduced their ability to enjoy things that they used to like.
Relationship Problems: Many people struggling with addiction cannot support healthy relationships simply because their priority is drug use. They may miss important events to get high, they may be deceitful and behave in suspicious ways, and they often let drug use get in the way of their relationships with friends, family members, and romantic partners.
Legal Troubles: Many people struggling with an addiction have some sort of interaction with the law at some point in their life. This may be because they got caught in possession of a drug, they were selling it, or they may drive while intoxicated and hurt someone. Among teens it is also important to pay attention to their school behavior and whether or not you’re getting calls from their teachers about new bad behaviors that have little explanation.
Drug-Specific Signs of Addiction
If you believe that your loved one may be dealing with substance abuse or drug addiction, reaching out to them is the best way to start a conversation about seeking treatment. Substance abuse can be overcome, and the odds of long-term recovery increase significantly when a person seeks help through a professionally trained recovery center. Knowing how to tell if someone is on drugs can help you recognize when professional help is needed. Here at The Summit Wellness Group, our dedicated team of experts and recovery professionals are committed to helping you and your loved one take that first step towards a new way of life. We utilize a variety of treatments and therapies and individually tailor each plan to our client’s specific needs so that we can provide you with the best possible care.