Signs of Drug Abuse

Drug addiction takes many forms, but it is heralded by the same inevitable signs. Learning how to identify the signs of drug addiction can help you care for the people closest to you. In this article, we’ll identify the most prevalent signs of drug abuse, and we’ll help you learn how to identify the signs that indicate abuse of specific types of drugs.

The Origins of Drug Abuse

To understand how to identify and combat drug abuse, it’s important to recognize where this issue usually starts. While addiction to opioids often starts with being prescribed opioids for pain management, most other drugs aren’t found in clinical settings. Instead, teenagers and young adults are often exposed to drugs in social settings in which people are using them recreationally.

While fewer kids are using alcohol and some types of drugs these days than in decades past, social drug and alcohol use is still a big problem in society. In fact, most kids are exposed to drug use before they graduate high school whether they engage in drug use themselves or not.

According to NIDA’s National Survey of Drug Use and Health, alcohol use is, by far, the most commonly reported type of substance use in the United States. Between 2013 and 2015, 65.7 percent of survey participants over the age of 12 reported alcohol use in the past year, and 13.5 percent reported using cannabis. In addition, 17.8 percent reported using other illicit drugs like opioids or methamphetamine.

Drug use doesn’t necessarily translate into drug abuse, but when using drugs is as baked into American culture as it is, opportunities for abuse can appear anywhere. Even if drug use starts off as experimental, the longer that you use a drug, the harder it is to quit.

Any type of drug that has a psychological or physiological impact is addictive. Like other drugs, cannabis provides relief from stress and pain, and the longer that you use the substance, the harder it is for your mind and body to cope with the difficulties that life naturally delivers. That’s why it’s so important to be able to recognize telltale signs of substance abuse before they become serious problems.

General Indicators of Drug Abuse

The indicators of abuse vary from drug to drug. However, drug abuse in any form comes with signs that are the same for every person and every situation. By identifying these indicators, you can tell whether someone that you know or love needs help overcoming an addiction that threatens to affect their health and well-being. Here are a few signs to watch out for:


When a person no longer takes interest in activities that they once held dear, this is a sign of dysphoria. Drugs hack a person’s sense of pleasure and reward by flooding the brain with endorphins like dopamine. In the absence of these artificially induced feelings of pleasure, everything else seems dull and boring. In a relatively short time, a user can come to associate pleasure with, and only with, their drug of choice.


This same mechanism of artificial neurochemical reward can also cause a person to outwardly express their doubt in the meaning of existence. It could be argued that we live in an inherently nihilistic society, but most people find meaning and reward in healthy activities. Drug users, on the other hand, only associate meaning with their drug of choice, and all of the other meaning structures that we share and enjoy in society can become the subject of derision and scorn.

Lack of Proper Grooming

Nihilism and dysphoria can bring with them a general disinterest in the physical world. Since the effects of drugs take place in the brain, drug users can become introverted to the point that they don’t have much interest in the outside world whatsoever. They may stop grooming themselves effectively, and they might start wearing clothes that are noticeably worn and/or dirty.

Cutting Off Friends and Family

Drug users often seek increased privacy so that they can pursue their addiction without outside intervention. In addition, drug addiction tends to make human relationships seem petty or meaningless. This leads many users to cut themselves off from the world.

Changes in Appetite

Certain types of drugs may cause users to experience changes in appetite. Some drugs, such as methamphetamine, can entirely destroy a user’s interest in food. If you notice a person experiencing weight loss during a short period of time, drugs may be at play. Certain diet pills contain methamphetamine analogs, and overuse of these drugs is also a form of drug addiction.

Increased Spending

Drug users often become desperate for money. Addiction has a way of making it harder to make money in the usual ways, and constant drug use takes a significant financial toll. If you notice someone asking to borrow money frequently or being constantly broke when they were previously financially solvent, they may be struggling with drug addiction.

Unhealthy Physical Appearance

Many drugs cause serious physiological disturbances. Methamphetamine can cause tooth decay and the breakdown of facial muscles and bones, and cannabis can cause bloodshot eyes. If you notice that a person’s physical appearance has changed significantly, be sure to watch for other signs of substance use.


Drug addiction has a way of making users incredibly worried about losing their drug supply. If someone you know becomes unreasonably and emotionally defensive when confronted about their drug use, they may have a problem.

No one indicator is a sign that a person is a drug abuser. However, if you find that someone you care for is exhibiting many of the above signs of addiction simultaneously, it’s likely that drug abuse is at play. If you notice any of these signs of drug abuse, it may be time to suggest recovery at a qualified addiction treatment center.

Signs of Adolescent Drug Abuse

Adolescence is a time in which people naturally go through a lot of mood swings and emotional changes. In some cases, the same signs that would indicate drug addiction in other situations can just be natural parts of the teenage years. However, NIDA has officially stated that signs of drug abuse that are especially noticeable in the adolescent years include depression, fatigue, and unreasonably hostile behavior.

Also, if you’re the parent of a teen, you should take note if your child starts interacting consistently with a new group of peers or starts avoiding lifelong friends. This can be a sign that your child has entered into a drug-friendly peer group.

Also, while it’s easy to incorrectly interpret inside jokes or innocent vernacular as drug slang, you should listen in if you feel like your teen is using certain terminology consistently and in suspicious circumstances. If you feel like your child is suffering from drug abuse, it’s important to search for assistance immediately.

Indicators of Alcoholism

Since alcohol is the most widely used drug in the United States, looking out for alcohol addiction is an important aspect of keeping your loved ones safe. According to NIDA, 16 million adults over the age of 18 in the United States have suffered from alcohol use disorder.

Alcohol abuse comes with a number of indicators that are usually readily apparent. Some alcoholics can hide their consumption relatively effectively, but there often comes a point where alcohol addiction spirals out of control.

Despite its practically universal popularity, alcohol is toxic to the human body, and it can even lead to cancer. While signs of alcoholism-related cancer may not become apparent for years, this drug causes redness in the face, and it may also cause blackouts or memory loss. Over time, alcoholism causes liver damage, but before it does, it may cause trembling in the hands and a huskier voice tone.

As with all types of drug addiction, a major sign of alcoholism is the inability to stop drinking even when doing so noticeably impacts a person’s interpersonal life or health. Alcoholics may prefer to drink alone and in secret. Drinking early in the morning is also a sign of alcoholism. Additionally, if you notice that someone you love is drinking to regulate their emotions or get to sleep, they may have a drinking problem.

Abuse of Specific Drugs

Various drugs have their own indicators of abuse. Here are some of the most commonly abused drugs along with their abuse indicators:

1. Cannabis

When used moderately, cannabis is a relatively benign drug. However, it is highly psychologically addictive, and it can also be physiologically addictive in certain circumstances. Concentrated cannabis, which is commonly called “hash” or “hash oil,” can cause serious withdrawal symptoms if heavy users go cold turkey or decrease their normal dose. A common sign of cannabis use includes red, droopy eyes.

2. Opioids

When opioids are used in large enough quantities, they can essentially turn people into zombies. People who are addicted to opioids generally go slack after ingesting a dose of their drug of choice, and they may have difficulty standing or speaking. Since these drugs also cause digestive issues, opioid abusers may experience constipation. Opioids essentially create a barrier between the user and the world, and opioid users may experience severe anxiety if they do not receive their usual dose.

3. Methamphetamine

Alongside opioids, methamphetamine is one of the most popular and dangerous drugs in America today. This drug is a stimulant, and common signs of methamphetamine abuse include jerky or quick movements and rambling, incoherent, and fast speech. Methamphetamine abusers often become prone to complex and semi-creative ideations, but they quickly devolve into manic paranoia if they are triggered by perceived threatening circumstances that are often hallucinatory in nature. Methamphetamine addiction brutally attacks every part of the body. Unhealthy weight loss and loss of teeth are other common indicators of addiction to this toxic substance.

4. Hallucinogens

Addiction to hallucinogens is rare, but these drugs can still be abused. LSD users may experience tremors or report seeing or hearing things that aren’t there. Users of psilocybin mushrooms or mescaline, which is a peyote derivative, may experience nausea or muscle twitching. People who are on the synthetic hallucinogen PCP may display intolerance to loud noise or believe that they are invincible due to their inability to feel pain. The major threat of hallucinogen abuse is that users may misread sensory impressions that would otherwise help them avoid dangerous situations.

Intervene Earlier Rather Than Later

The sooner that a user seeks out recovery at a qualified addiction treatment center, such as Arrow Passage Recovery, the more likely it is that they’ll be able to get back to living a normal life. If a person stays addicted to drugs for too long, their addiction can have such a serious physiological and psychological toll that they may find it hard to reintegrate into society. If you suspect that someone you care about has a problem with drugs, the time to intervene is now. By acting quickly, you may be able to save their life.

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