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How Can I Tell if a Loved One Is Abusing Drugs?

There are a variety of signs and symptoms of substance abuse that can help you determine if a loved one has a problem with drugs or alcohol. Recognizing these can ensure you get them the help they need.

It can be difficult to determine if a loved one is abusing drugs or alcohol.

They’re acting strangely, but are they just stressing over school or work? He’s easily irritated, but is he just tired? She often isolates herself, but maybe she’s just going through a phase?

Sometimes substance abuse is the cause for such behavioral changes. Knowing if this is the case can be the difference between life and death. There are some tell-tale signs that can shed light on the issue and may lead to intervention and treatment.

What are Common Signs of Drug and Alcohol Abuse?

People who abuse drugs or alcohol typically display health issues, a neglected appearance, changes in behavior and irregular sleeping patterns. They also make repeated requests for money.

Each drug may also cause unique symptoms when used or abused.


Young man passed out from partying

Some indicators of alcoholism or alcohol abuse include:

If your loved one exhibits these signs and avoids their regular hobbies or routines, such as exercising or attending church, a drinking problem may exist.


Examples: methamphetamine, cocaine, Ritalin

If you believe a family member or friend is abusing stimulants, look for the following signs:

Barbiturates and Benzodiazepines

Examples: Amytal, Valium, Xanax

Barbiturates and benzodiazepines are depressant drugs often used to manage anxiety or insomnia, or mental disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Signs of abuse may include:

Studies indicate that up to 41 percent of individuals battling alcoholism reported using barbiturates or benzodiazepines. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported 15 percent of heroin users also used these drugs.


Examples: codeine, methadone, oxycodone

Those who abuse these drugs may exhibit:


Tattooed man rolling a marijuana cigarette

Clear symptoms of cannabis abuse include:

Pot also can make users feel very hungry, leading to the consumption of unhealthy foods in large quantities. Users also have a distinct smell that is sweeter than cigarettes. Often they mask the scent with fragrances.


Examples: LSD, PCP, salvia

If your loved one is hooked on LSD, they could display:

Phencyclidine (PCP) symptoms include:

Effects of salvia:

Each substance produces short-term, psychedelic “trips” that can be mentally stimulating. But often these highs give way to anxiety and despair.

Long-term use of these drugs can lead to psychosis.


Learning of your loved one’s substance abuse problem can be a devastating experience. If you are confident your friend or family member is abusing drugs or alcohol, an intervention may be necessary. This creates an atmosphere in which loved ones can express their concerns and perhaps motivate the person to make changes in their life.

Help is available. Before selecting an addiction rehabilitation center, be sure it provides services for your loved one’s substance abuse problem. And always offer your love and support. They need it now more than ever.

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