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What are the Warning Signs of Drug Abuse?

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Do you think someone in your life has a drug or alcohol problem, but don’t know for sure? It is not an accusation you want to make lightly, but you can’t afford to ignore that a problem exists, either. Each year, drug addiction takes thousands of lives.

From overdoses to drugged driving accidents, addiction kills. Intervention can literally save a life. Different drugs affect people in different ways, but there are some standard warning signs to look for when trying to determine if someone you love is using.

The Physical Signs

Addiction is defined as the inability to stop using despite the consequences. (2) Drug addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease. Taking drugs on a regular basis changes the brain. Over time, the body starts to need the drug to feel normal. At that point, the addiction has taken over and treatment is necessary.

Chronic drug use takes a toll on the human body, so the physical side effects may be the first thing you notice. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence lists some common physical side effects of alcohol and drug abuse. (1)

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Saucer, or large, pupils
  • Nosebleeds
  • Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Seizures with no apparent organic cause like epilepsy
  • Poor personal hygiene or grooming
  • Injuries with no explanation
  • Frequent bad breath or body odor
  • Shakes or tremors
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired thinking

The Behavioral Signs

Behavior changes are also red flags that may indicate drug use. Not all changes in attitude mean drugs, though. They are clear indicators that a problem exists, but it may or may not be related to drug abuse. Addiction is a possibility.

  • Sudden drop in grades
  • Missing work
  • Dropping out of extracurricular activities, small groups or regular activities
  • Complaints from teachers or coworkers
  • Stealing or borrowing money
  • Missing valuables
  • Change in personality; acting withdrawn and secretive
  • A new friend group, oftentimes heavily involved in the party scene
  • Behavioral problems such as fighting
See also  Drug Addiction in Women

Behavioral changes combined with the physical symptoms are a compelling reason to suspect drug use.

The Psychological Signs

Often drug dependence is accompanied by another mental illness, so psychological warning signs are important, as well.

  • Sudden changes in personality
  • Mood swings
  • Anger management issues
  • Periods of hyperactivity
  • Periods of lethargy or lack of motivation
  • Lack of focus
  • Anxiety
  • Conspiracy feelings or paranoia

Developing a dependence on a drug is a process. At first, you may notice the occasional warning sign. With addiction, the flags will become more obvious as the user’s ability to maintain control starts to falter. Often, addicts try to stop on their own and fail. For someone on the outside looking in, this will look this trying to get a fresh start over and over again.

Tolerance and Withdrawal

The difference between the occasional user and the addict is tolerance levels and withdrawal. Drug use stimulates the reward center in the brain. That is what provides the high they get from using. As addiction sets in, it takes more and more of the drug to get that same feeling. It also becomes harder to feel good without using.

As the drug wears off, the dependent user starts to show signs of withdrawal. Shaking, sweating, tremors and irritability may point to an addiction. A person may suddenly seem to get sick a lot, but is really suffering from withdrawal.

Addiction is not always obvious. The signs are often subtle, but they will be there. It is up to family and friends to put the pieces of addiction together in order to get treatment for someone they love.

See also  Benefits of Drug Rehab for Women


  1. “Signs and Symptoms,” National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc.,
  2. “What Is Addiction?,” National Institute on Drug Abuse,

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