Warning Signs

Symptoms of Drug Abuse

Personal Signs:  constricted pupils, slurred speech, flushed skin, mood swings, irritability, excessive energy, sleepiness or avoiding sleep, sweating, loss of appetite, forgetfulness, clumsiness, secretiveness, loss of interest, personal appearance, borrowing money, having extra cash, not doing well in or skipping school/classes/work, jaw jacking, itching or digging all the time, sniffing, rubbing the nose all time, nose bleeds, discoloration of fingers/hands, sores on hands, feet, arms, wearing long sleeves in warm weather

Signs Around the House

Things you may find around the house are pieces of cotton or cigarette filters taken apart, unfamiliar pills, empty containers of cough/cold medications,missing money, valuable items, or medications, splatters of blood on walls, ceilings, or surfaces where drugs are abused.  Often abusers will use common household items for drug use:  you may find head bands/pony tail holders broken, ink pens taken apart, bent aluminum cans, pieces of aluminum foil, open or empty cans of spray paint, gas caps removed from lawn mowers to inhale the fumes,  screens from faucets, chore boy (grill cleaner) missing or open, tire gauges, baking soda, and spoons that may be missing or appear burned.

Warning signs that a friend or family member is abusing drugs

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

Physical warning signs of drug abuse

  • 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 signs of drug abuse

  • Drop in attendance and performance at work or school
  • Unexplained need for money or financial problems. May borrow or steal to get it.
  • 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 of drug abuse

  • 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, with no reason

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.
  • Depressants (including Xanax, Valium, GHB): Contracted pupils; drunk-like; difficulty concentrating; clumsiness; poor judgment; slurred speech; sleepiness.
  • 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.

Warning signs of teen drug abuse

While experimenting with drugs doesn’t automatically lead to drug abuse, early use is a risk factor for developing more serious drug abuse and addiction. Risk of drug abuse also increases greatly during times of transition, such as changing schools, moving, or divorce. The challenge for parents is to distinguish between the normal, often volatile, ups and downs of the teen years and the red flags of substance abuse. These include:

  • Having bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils; using eye drops to try to mask these signs
  • Skipping class; declining grades; suddenly getting into trouble at school
  • Missing money, valuables, or prescriptions
  • Acting uncharacteristically isolated, withdrawn, angry, or depressed
  • Dropping one group of friends for another; being secretive about the new peer group
  • Loss of interest in old hobbies; lying about new interests and activities
  • Demanding more privacy; locking doors; avoiding eye contact; sneaking around

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