Drug addiction often begins with experimental substance use in social environments. While virtually any psychoactive substance can be abused, some drugs have a higher risk of dependency and addiction than others. It’s critical to identify which substance is being abused as soon as possible, so intervention can occur before full-blown addiction develops.
There are common indicators of probable chronic drug use across all substances and specific signs unique to the drugs of abuse. Knowing these can help a person identify whether a loved one may be using drugs and risk detrimental consequences to their mental and physical health, career, school, and family life.
General Signs of Drug Addiction
- Difficulties at school, such as lack of interest in school-related activities, poor academic performance, tardiness, and absenteeism
- Poor work performance and related reviews, such as being chronically late to shifts and appearing fatigued and disinterested in work responsibilities
- Changes in physical appearances, such as wearing disheveled clothing and a lack of interest in grooming or personal hygiene
- Increased need for privacy, withdrawal from loved ones and social isolation
- Troubling changes in relationships, hanging out with new friends who appear sketchy or into doing drugs and alcohol themselves
- A notable lack of energy when performing daily activities
- Spending more money than normal or requesting to borrow money, selling one’s own possessions, or stealing and selling the possessions of others
- Financial issues, such as not paying bills on time
- Legal problems, such as driving while intoxicated, theft, and domestic assault
- Appetite changes, such as loss of appetite and associated weight loss
- Bloodshot eyes, poor skin tone, and appearing fatigued
- Defensive behavior when the person is asked about substance use
Signs of Abuse Related to Specific Drugs
Alcohol is the most widely used legal substance in the U.S. Often, so-called “functional alcoholics” may be able to hide or minimize these signs for some time. However, this usually becomes more challenging, and the problem becomes increasingly difficult to conceal as time goes on.
According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), alcohol abuse can cause blackouts and partial or total memory loss. A person may exhibit flushed skin and visible capillaries, particularly in the face. Severe alcohol use disorder is often characterized by shakiness, and the voice may take on a hoarser tone. Chronic alcohol abuse can lead to persistent diarrhea and the vomiting of blood.
When individuals suffering from alcohol use disorder stop drinking, they will experience withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, nausea, insomnia, and anxiety. There is the potential for severe withdrawal complications, including delirium tremens (DTs), a condition that can lead to hallucinations and life-threatening seizures. As a result, those addicted to alcohol should never attempt to quit drinking on their own. Medical detox is always recommended.
Other common signs of alcohol addiction include the following:
- Loss of control over how much alcohol one consumes and for how long
- Preference to drink in isolation or during inappropriate times, such as the morning
- Continuing to drink despite interpersonal, physical, and emotional problems related to it
- Depression, irritability, and moodiness, and a propensity to get into altercations with friends and family members
- Drinking to deal with problems, relax, sleep, or elevate mood
Marijuana and other cannabis-based products can induce euphoria. They can cause intensified visual and auditory perceptions, but the user may also appear uncoordinated and be forgetful. Since cannabis boosts appetite, the person may eat more than he or she usually would. Reaction times may be slower, and the user may also become paranoid and suspicious. Those who have ingested marijuana often have bloodshot eyes, droopy eyelids, and a generally relaxed and mellow demeanor.
Someone who uses a stimulant may exhibit frequent behavioral changes, aggressiveness, or rapid or rambling speech. They may have dilated pupils, increased energy, and be breathing rapidly. In some instances, users may become paranoid and hostile. If a drug such as cocaine or meth is snorted, nasal congestion is a common problem, as is damage to the nasal septum and surrounding tissues.
Benzodiazepines and Barbiturates
Benzodiazepines (benzos) and barbiturates are central nervous system depressants commonly prescribed to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. Benzos include several brand-name prescription drugs, such as Ativan, Klonopin, Valium, and Xanax. Barbiturates are not used for clinical purposes as much as they used to be due to their high potential for overdose. They are, however, still sometimes used to treat seizure disorders, for alcohol withdrawal, or during surgery. They include phenobarbital, secobarbital, and pentobarbital, among others.
A person who abuses any of these drugs may appear uninhibited, dizzy, or depressed. They may experience blurred vision, impaired coordination, overall confusion, and involuntary eye movements, also known as nystagmus.
Hallucinogenic drugs are a class of substances that alter a person’s awareness of their surroundings as well as their intrinsic thoughts and feelings. There are classic hallucinogens (e.g., LSD, psilocybin) and dissociative drugs (e.g., PCP, salvia divinorum). Both types of drugs can cause hallucinations, sensations, and images that appear real to the user but cannot be seen by anyone else. Additionally, dissociative drugs can cause users to feel out of control or detached from their bodies and environment.
Hallucinogenic usage signs vary depending on the specific hallucinogen being used. For example, LSD may cause a person to act rashly and experience hallucinations and paresthesia (mixing of the senses, e.g, seeing sounds).
Also, someone who has ingested psilocybin, or “magic mushrooms,” may experience hallucinations, nausea, muscle twitching, and challenges differentiating between reality vs. personal visions. People on hallucinogens may appear exhausted, panicked, or at peace, depending on the type of “trip” or experience they are having.
Opioids include both prescription painkillers such as hydrocodone and oxycodone and illicit drugs, such as heroin and street fentanyl. Signs of opioid abuse include general sedation, memory problems, inability to concentrate, slowed response times, lethargy, and moodiness. Since opioids can impede the digestive system, users often encounter constipation and other intestinal issues. Once dependence has developed, abrupt cessation of use typically leads to unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that are flu-like in nature.
Ecstasy, GHB, and ketamine are common types of club drugs. Signs of use include increased body temperature, impaired dizziness, profuse sweating, clenched teeth, and slurred speech.
The Importance of Early Intervention and Treatment
If you suspect someone is using drugs, early invention is vital to ensure the best chance of a successful recovery. Loved ones, including family, friends, and coworkers, may choose to hire a professional interventionist who can help them confront the person who is suffering and guide them through the planning process needed to get him or her the professional care they need. Treatment should consist of a multidisciplinary approach that includes medical detox, therapy, and counseling to address the underlying issues related to substance abuse.
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery employ a fully licensed team of medical providers who help individuals with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health disorders get back on track and reclaim their life in recovery. Our mission is to treat the whole person emotionally, physically, and spiritually and set them up for a lifetime of success!