Signs and Symptoms of Drug Abuse and Addiction

Although different drugs have different physical effects, the symptoms of addiction are similar. If you recognize someone with the following signs and symptoms of substance abuse and addiction, talk to a professional immediately about any worrying signs and symptoms.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Drug Abuse

at school, work, or home (e.g. flunking classes, skipping work, neglecting your children).

such as driving while on drugs, using dirty needles, or having unprotected sex.

such as arrests for disorderly conduct, driving under the influence, or stealing to support a drug habit.

such as fights with your partner or family members, an unhappy boss, or the loss of friends.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Drug Addiction

You need to use more of the drug to experience the same effects you used to attain with smaller amounts.

If you go too long without drugs, you experience symptoms such as nausea, restlessness, insomnia, depression, sweating, shaking, and anxiety.

You often do drugs or use more than you planned, even though you told yourself you wouldn’t. You may want to stop using, but you feel powerless.

You spend a lot of time using and thinking about drugs, figuring out how to get them, or recovering from the drug’s effects.

such as hobbies, sports, and socializing, because of your drug use.

It’s causing major problems in your life—blackouts, financial issues, infections, mood swings, depression, paranoia—but you use anyway.

Types of Warning Signs for Identification of Drug Use

Drug abusers often try to conceal their symptoms and downplay their problem. If you’re worried that a friend or loved one might be abusing drugs, look for the following warning signs:

Physical Warning Signs

Physical Warning Signs

  • Bloodshot eyes, pupils larger or smaller than usual
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Sudden weight loss or weight gain
  • Deterioration of physical appearance, personal grooming habits
  • Unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing
  • Tremors, slurred speech, or impaired coordination
  • Behavioral Warning Signs

    Behavioral Warning Signs

  • Drop in attendance and performance at work or school
  • Unexplained financial problems; borrowing or stealing
  • Engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors
  • Sudden change in friends, favorite hangouts, and hobbies
  • Frequently getting into trouble (fights, accidents, illegal activities)
  • Psychological Warning Signs

    Psychological Warning Signs

  • Unexplained change in personality or attitude
  • Sudden mood swings, irritability, or angry outbursts
  • Periods of unusual hyperactivity, agitation, or giddiness
  • Lack of motivation; appears lethargic or "spaced out"
  • Appears fearful, anxious, or paranoid
  • Warning signs of commonly abused drugs

    Marijuana: Glassy, red eyes; loud talking, inappropriate laughter followed by sleepiness; loss of interest, motivation; weight gain or loss.

    Stimulants (including amphetamines, cocaine, crystal meth): Dilated pupils; hyperactivity; euphoria; irritability; anxiety; excessive talking followed by depression or excessive sleeping at odd times; may go long periods of time without eating or sleeping; weight loss; dry mouth and nose.

    Inhalants (glues, aerosols, vapors): Watery eyes; impaired vision, memory and thought; secretions from the nose or rashes around the nose and mouth; headaches and nausea; appearance of intoxication; drowsiness; poor muscle control; changes in appetite; anxiety; irritability; lots of cans/aerosols in the trash.

    Hallucinogens (LSD, PCP): Dilated pupils; bizarre and irrational behavior including paranoia, aggression, hallucinations; mood swings; detachment from people; absorption with self or other objects, slurred speech; confusion.

    Heroin: Contracted pupils; no response of pupils to light; needle marks; sleeping at unusual times; sweating; vomiting; coughing, sniffling; twitching; loss of appetite.

    In recent years, prescription drug abuse has become an escalating problem, most commonly involving opioid painkillers, anti-anxiety medications, sedatives, and stimulants. Many people start taking these drugs to cope with a specific medical problem taking painkillers following injury or surgery, for example. However, over time, increased doses are needed to achieve the same level of pain relief and some users can become physically dependent, experiencing withdrawal symptoms if they try to quit. One of the earliest warning signs of a developing problem is going through the medication at a faster-than-expected rate. In other cases, people start abusing medication not prescribed for them in order to experience a high, relieve tension, increase alertness, or improve concentration.

    To avoid developing problems with prescription medication, it’s important to take it only as directed, use the lowest dose for the shortest period possible, and to talk to your doctor about other methods of treating the problem. Being aware of any signs of dependency can help identify prescription drug problems at an early stage and help to prevent them progressing into an addiction.

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