If you have a friend, family member or loved one you suspect is doing drugs, it can be incredibly upsetting. There are ways you can help someone if they have an addiction to drugs, but of course, you want to handle the topic with sensitivity, and avoid jumping to conclusions. So how do you know if someone is doing drugs? How can you tell the signs and symptoms of drug use and drug addiction? The following outlines some of the physical and also behavioral signs that someone could be using drugs.

Article at a Glance:  

  • Drug use often begins with social experimentation or after being prescribed certain medications.  
  • Physical signs of drug use include sleeping problems, hyperactivity, slurred speech, and weight changes.  
  • Behavioral and psychological signs of drug use include secretiveness, a change in hobbies, and attendance problems.  
  • There are certain signs of misuse that are characteristic of common drugs. 
  • Don’t jump to conclusions if you notice these signs but learn more about the behaviors and consider professional care. 

How Drug Use Starts

For many individuals, substance abuse begins when they start socially experimenting with various substances. This is often the case with drugs such as amphetamines, alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs.

Research studies such as ones conducted by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, reported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, shows that some children begin abusing drugs as early as 12 or 13.

The initial stages of substance use and ultimately abuse often start with tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana, and also prescription drugs which can include anti-anxiety medication and sedatives.

Then, use can progress to other drugs in some cases.

Opioids abuse often begins differently. People who become addicted to opioids are often prescribed prescription drugs, such as painkillers, often following something like an accident or surgery. They will then start taking higher doses of those prescription drugs which can lead to abuse, and also the use of cheaper forms of opioids, such as heroin.

When someone begins using drugs of any kind they may start feeling as if they need larger and more frequent doses, even with something that started as social experimentation.

Common Physical Signs Someone is On Drugs

When you’re wondering how to tell if someone is using drugs, physical signs can be your first indicator. Some of the most common symptoms, physically, that someone could be on drugs or abusing drugs include:

  • Sleeping problems, such as difficulty falling asleep, being awake at odd times, or falling asleep at strange times.
  • A general sense of lethargy, or also excessive energy, depending on the drug.
  • Changes in eating habits, such as a loss of appetite or an increased appetite.
  • Pupils that are either larger or smaller than normal.
  • Watery or bloodshot eyes.
  • Strange smells
  • Extreme talkativeness or hyperactivity.
  • Slurred speech
  • Tremors or impaired coordination.
  • A sudden change in weight, including gain or loss
  • A change in grooming habits or a decline in personal appearance.
  • Clenching of the jaw
  • Tremors
  • Flushing, or paleness in the face

Common Behavioral and Psychological Signs a Person Is On Drugs

While there certainly tend to be some physical symptoms present when someone is on drugs, it’s also important to look for signs of substance abuse that are behavioral and psychological.

  • One of the first signs of drug abuse and addiction that’s often noticed by other people are changes in behavior that can’t be attributed to any other reason. General and sudden personality shifts may indicate someone is on drugs or abusing drugs.
  • Another one of the first signs of drug abuse is often a change in attendance or performance at school or work.
  • Secretiveness can indicate someone is abusing drugs.
  • If you’re looking for common signs of drug abuse, you’ll often see changes in the people they hang out with or the hobbies they participate in suddenly.
  • Attitudes that seem combative or defensive, as well as moodiness or irritability may reflect drug abuse.
  • Dishonesty, a lack of motivation, paranoia, anxiety or nervousness, or outbursts are all behavioral signs of substance abuse in many cases.
  • Lack of interest in social interactions tends to become prevalent in people who are using drugs, as can an overall sense of apathy and disinterest in friends, family, activities and interests the person held before abusing drugs.

While the above behavioral signs of drug abuse are some of the initial red flags to look out for, these behaviors can also worsen or increase as drug abuse grows. For example, along with general dishonesty, one of the signs someone might have a substance abuse problem can include stealing money or pills.

As someone’s drug addiction continues, it often becomes more severe, and their behavior will be almost entirely focused on obtaining their next dose of drugs, and maintaining their high.

Signs of Drug Use for Specific Drugs

Above is a general overview of some of the signs and symptoms of drug abuse and addiction, but there are also specific symptoms that may be present depending on the type of drug.

Some of the signs of misuse of the most common drugs include:

  • Marijuana: Glassy, red eyes, lack of motivation, and periods of laughter followed by tiredness can be signs of marijuana abuse.
  • Stimulants including cocaine, meth, and crack: With stimulants, signs of abuse often include extreme euphoria and periods of hyperactivity, as well as talkativeness. Then, this can be followed by excessive sleeping or depression.
  • Heroin: Heroin abuse can display itself with physical symptoms including needle marks, as well as sweating, vomiting, and twitching. It can also lead to a loss of appetite and the desire to sleep at strange times.
  • Depressants including barbiturates and tranquilizers: The symptoms of depressant abuse are often similar to alcohol use. They can include coordination problems, slurred speech, lack of judgment and general tiredness.
  • Hallucinogens: Hallucinogens such as LSD can lead to many behavioral symptoms. Some of the signs of hallucinogen abuse can include paranoia, aggression, or confusion. People using hallucinogens also tend to have dilated pupils.

If someone you love is starting to seem as if they might be using drugs, it’s important to look for the common warning signs of substance abuse. If some or all of the signs of drug abuse are present, there are options that can be utilized to receive help.

While it can be troublesome to see the signs of drug abuse, it’s also important to realize you shouldn’t jump to conclusions. Instead, you should try to learn more about signs of abuse, and then explore professional care options.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.