Friends and family members, or those close to an individual using drugs, typically notice signs of drug use. But for many, there is a feeling of reluctance in acknowledging the signs they see as being directly related to drug use. While it can be difficult, understanding and accepting the signs and symptoms can help you talk with your loved one and take the important first steps needed to get them the help they deserve.

Physical signs of drug abuse 

Different substances may present different symptoms, but overall, common physical drug use symptoms can include the following: 

  • Lack of personal hygiene and care in appearance – For someone focused on substances, priorities can shift. This usually includes a lack of care in physical appearance, such as wearing inappropriate or dirty clothing, neglecting personal hygiene or an overall unkempt look. 
  • Exhaustion – Certain drugs negatively impact a user’s sleep/wake cycle, so you might notice signs pointing to irregular sleeping habits, like insomnia or constant napping.  
  • Appetite changes – Substance use also negatively impacts metabolic functioning, resulting in a possibly dramatic appetite decrease. This can lead to sudden or unexplained weight fluctuations.
  • Bloodshot eyes – The long-term effects of drug and alcohol use can include unhealthy-looking eyes. Eyes appearing bloodshot, glazed or dilated are common among substance users.
  • Other physical signs – The appearance of behaviors like pulling down their sleeves to hide signs of injections, frequently itching, slurred speech and impaired coordination might point to drug use.

While it is important to avoid feelings of paranoia and fall into the temptation of assuming every out-of-the-ordinary behavior is an indication of drug use, it’s also helpful to know what to look for when you suspect that destructive habits.

Behavioral signs of drug abuse

Because drugs alter the physical makeup of the brain, a drug user will begin to display behavioral signs of addiction in addition to outward physical signs. Some of these behavioral signs of drug use include:

  • Mood swings – Many drugs alter a person’s mood, causing them to quickly shift from a normal state into a drug-induced high. This high ends in a potentially depressive crash or even withdrawal. Changes in mood might also manifest in irritability, erratic behavior or even angry outbursts.
  • Loss of interest – A sudden withdrawal from previously enjoyed activities, hobbies or even social groups might indicate drug use. Someone addicted to drugs becomes more and more focused on getting and using the substance, and less focused – or even interested – in anything else. 
  • Engagement in dangerous behaviors – Activities like driving under the influence, stealing, using dirty needles and engaging in reckless sexual behavior can indicate a shift in mindset from prudent choices to impulsive, feel-good decisions, common in those utilizing drugs. 
  • Defensiveness around the topic of substance use – If you bring up the topic of substance use around someone you fear is involved with drugs and they become defensive, it might be an indicator of drug use and their own confused thoughts and feelings on the matter.
  • Large amounts of time spent in private – It is not uncommon for drug use to occur in private, or in the company of others who also use drugs. If you notice behaviors like disappearing into a private room for long periods of time, or a sudden shift in one’s friend groups or hangout places, drug use could possibly be involved.

If you do notice signs and have cause to suspect drug use, consider having an open discussion and gently asking questions before jumping to conclusions. 

Other general drug use signs 

Certain drugs will present specific symptoms, and if you’re concerned about a particular drug, it would be worth learning more about it for the sake of understanding and conversing with your loved one. For now, however, there are general signs of addiction which do apply across the board. These include: 

  • Declining performance in school, such as turning in work late, dropping in attendance or repeated tardiness;
  • Complications at work, such as arriving late, taking multiple sick days, or an overall drop in performance;
  • Financial issues, such as struggling to pay bills, seeking ways to make extra money quickly, asking to borrow money or even stealing;
  • Acting paranoid, fearful or anxious seemingly without reason.

Note that the appearance of one of these signs might be an out-of-the-ordinary, isolated event that shouldn’t raise much alarm. If you do notice repeated, multiple or frequent signs, consider speaking to a drug addiction counselor on best practices, or conversing with the person themselves.

Seeking treatment 

Perhaps you’re concerned for the health and wellbeing of a loved one, or maybe you’ve noticed drug use symptoms in your own life and desire to make a change. No matter the case, seeking treatment for drug use is a brave and positively life-changing decision that you don’t have to undertake alone.

To meet with a counselor or learn more about addiction recovery, contact Real Recovery Clinical Services at 858-363-7325 today.