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Article Summary

Ultimate Guide To The Signs And Symptoms Of Drug Use

Most drug addicts delve into the depths of misery from the moment they experiment with substances in social situations. With time, such drug use becomes frequent, making it hard for the addict to stop. However, the risk of addiction, as well as the speed of dependence, varies from one drug to the other. As such, some drugs carry higher risks and cause greater dependency faster than others.

With time, you will require larger doses to feel the same effects. As you continue using the drugs, you will increasingly have a hard time going without the substance you are addicted to. Instead, trying to stop the use might end up causing even more intense cravings, in addition to experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

Since drug use affects everyone - irrespective of their socioeconomic status and lifestyle choices - it is imperative that you understand the common signs and symptoms of such use.

Similarly, a vast majority of drug abusers can only break free from the hold that addiction wields on their lives. Even if you are not an addict, it is important to understand the signs and symptoms of drug use. It might be the only thing you can go on when you need to know whether someone you love and care about is addicted, or walking on the road to addiction.

Signs Of Drug Abuse And Addiction

Some people use prescription and recreational drugs without getting hooked or experiencing any negative consequences. For most, however, substance use and abuse might lead to a slippery slope from which it is hard to extract themselves.

Whereas drug addicts often agree that they started using to cope with one problem or the other, time eventually shows that such use only aggravates existing problems, while creating new ones of its own. These issues include feelings of shame, helplessness, and isolation.

In case you are worried if you, a friend, or a member of your family is hooked on drugs, it is vital that you seek help as soon as possible. A great way to do is by understanding the nature of drug use and addiction, how and why it develops, the common signs and symptoms it displays, and why it tends to have a powerful hold on the user. With time, you will be better placed to learn how to deal with such a problem.

That said, below are some of the common signs of drug use:

a) Changing Appearance

Most drug users and addicts experience severe deterioration and changes in physical appearance and hygiene. They stop showering, wear dirty clothes, and appear slovenly both privately and in public.

b) Continuous Use

Despite the negative consequences drugs cause, drug users and addicts have a hard time stemming the habit. These problems include, but are not limited to, problems in relationships, at work, and on one's health and hygiene.

c) Cravings

Drug users tend to experience deep cravings and urges for the drug they are hooked to, especially as the addiction develops.

d) Unhealthy Relationships

In most cases, once someone starts using new drugs, they will be more likely to spend time with people who share the same habits. This means that they might even start hanging out with new groups of people - particularly those who encourage their new unhealthy behavior.

e) Drug Seeking

Drug users also spend excessive amounts of energy and time looking for and getting their hands on the substances they like.

f) Family History

People who have a family history of drug use also tend to have a higher likelihood of developing a similar problem in their teens and adulthood.

g) Financial Trouble

Drug users spend most of their money to get their hands on their preferred substance. They might even go over and beyond their budgets, and drain their accounts to buy drugs.

h) Isolation

Most users withdraw from society and isolate themselves. Whereas some do this to hide their substance use and abuse from family and friends, others become isolated on account of paranoia, anxiety, depression, and perceived stigma arising from their addiction.

i) Limited Control

Addicts are highly likely to lose their control over the volume of drugs they take. As such, they might end up taking more than they wanted to, for far longer than they had anticipated. This is in spite of the fact that they'd told themselves that they would stop.

j) Neglected Responsibilities

A classic sign of drug use occurs when the addict opts to get and use substances over meeting their personal and work obligations. Others will spend less time on those activities that were once important to them - including exercising, hanging out with friends and family, as well as pursuing their interests and hobbies.

k) Physical Dependence

Drug addicts are dependent on the substances they take. This dependence grows especially after the user becomes accustomed to the persistent influence and presence of the drug. As their physiology changes, the drug leaves them feeling bad, as well as functioning below par especially when they don't have the drug in their system.

l) Poor Judgment

After addiction, most people will do anything within their power to obtain their drug of choice. Some even go so far as to adopt such risky behavior as selling drugs, engaging in unsafe sexual congress, lying, stealing, and getting involved in illegal activities. This poor judgment becomes even more pronounced with the passage of time - a situation that is not uncommon among many people who use drugs often or have been doing so for long.

m) Relationship Problems

People who struggle with drug use and abuse have been known to act out against their loved ones randomly and anyone who is close to them - socially and professionally. This mostly happens when the loved one tries to address the substance abuse problem. As such, they might receive complaints from classmates, friends, teachers, supervisors, neighbors, and coworkers.

n) Secrecy

Since drug users know the consequences and social stigma attached to these substances, they are more likely to go out of their way to hide the amount of illicit substances they are consuming or the activities they engage in while taking drugs. This often leads to unexplained accidents and injuries.

o) Tolerance

After prolonged use, many addicts become more tolerant to the substances they are hooked to. This means that they need more of it to feel the desired effects. Tolerance happens because their bodies have adapted to the drugs, to such a point that they have to take even more to get the same reaction.

p) Withdrawal Symptoms

Some addicts experience serious withdrawal symptoms, particularly after they've decided and tried to stop their drug use. These symptoms also manifest themselves when they attempt to wean themselves off the substance after a given period. The presence of the withdrawal syndrome shows that they are physiologically dependent.

Common withdrawal symptoms attached to drug use include headache, loss of appetite, fatigue, irritability, depression, insomnia, vomiting and nausea, sweating, trembling and shakiness, jumpiness, and anxiety, among others.

Teen Drug Use: Common Warning Signs

Although experimenting with drugs and other addictive substances does not automatically lead to full addiction, early use is one of the main risk factors for developing a serious problem later on.

The risk of drug use also tends to increase during periods of transition - such as moving, a divorce, breaks in the family, and changing schools. As a parent, therefore, it is imperative that you learn how to tell the difference between the usual and typically volatile upheavals of teenage from the less obvious red flags of drug use.

Understanding these signs will make it easier for you to tell whether someone you love - a child, your sibling, your spouse, a partner, or even someone at work - has a drug abuse problem. To this end, these signs are great for pointing out potential problems, dealing with substance users, and eventually helping to prevent the problem from becoming even more serious.

These include, but are not limited to:

  • Anger
  • Apparent loss of interest in old activities, interests, and hobbies
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Changing friends, and groups of friends
  • Declining grades
  • Demand for more privacy
  • Depression
  • Dilated pupils
  • Frequent use of eye drops
  • Getting into unexplainable trouble at school
  • Isolation
  • Locking doors
  • Lying
  • Missing prescriptions, valuables, and money
  • Secretiveness about new peers
  • Skipping classes
  • Sneaking around
  • Withdrawal

As you watch out for the signs we've listed above, you still need to understand the main symptoms of drug abuse. These symptoms usually come about immediately after using a given substance, or after the drug use turns from a fun, recreational activity into a compulsive and obsessive need.

Common Symptoms Of Drug Use

Most drug users are not proud that they are addicted. To this end, they tend to go to extreme lengths to try and hide their predicament because they fear the judgment of loved ones and associates alike.

In some cases, the use and abuse will go unnoticed for many years. This is particularly because the addict might be a family person with a steady job and a position of respect in society and the community.

However, there is no denying that drugs affect people from all social classes and walks of life. As such, even highly functioning addicts will eventually exhibit certain cracks on their heavily-guarded facade.

If you suspect that a loved one is abusing drugs and other substances, you need to investigate. The first step would be to look for changes and anything out of the ordinary in the personality and appearance. You should also check whether there are unexplained disruptions in their normal, everyday routine.

The following symptoms will help you discern whether someone you love and care about has been using and abusing drugs:

1. Physical Symptoms

In most cases, the noticeable symptoms of definite drug use affect the inner workings of the body. For instance, if you are an addict, your body will start tolerating the substance you are abusing especially after you've done so for a long time. This means that you will need increased strengths and quantities to feel high.

This inherent desire for an intense high - which you achieve by taking more of a drug - is dangerous. It is one of the reasons why so many addicts end up dying from substance overdose.

Although all drugs manifest themselves differently on the human body, there are some common indications of use. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Abrupt changes in weight
  • Bruises, and other physical signs at the points where the drug enters the body
  • Changes in dietary habits
  • Excessive talkativeness
  • Extreme hyperactivity
  • Frequent, repeated jaw twisting
  • Hacking cough
  • Infections
  • Keeping irregular hours
  • Loss of sleep
  • Poor physical coordination
  • Poor physical health and hygiene
  • Puffy face, paleness, and blushing
  • Red and watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Staggering or slow walk
  • Tremors in the head, feet, and hands
  • Unusually small or large pupils

Long term drug use and abuse lead to disruptions in the normal functioning of the brain. Similarly, the user's personality changes and they start experiencing severe organ and heart dysfunction.

The signs above will vary from one person to another, mostly based on the substance they are abusing.

2. Behavioral Symptoms

Repeated drug use has an adverse effect on the addict's habits and behavior. As you become more dependent on a substance foreign to your body, the drug will start altering your ability to form and focus on coherent thoughts.

Drugs also tend to interfere with the brain, leading to profound changes in emotions and moods. These changes, on their part, lead to alterations in behavior, including but not limited to:

  • Asking for money
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in attitude
  • Changes in attitude
  • Changes in hangouts and hobbies
  • Changes in personality
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Chronic dishonesty
  • Involvement or perpetrating in criminal activity
  • Depression
  • Deteriorating relationships
  • Deterioration of personal grooming habits and physical appearance
  • Dilated or constricted pupils
  • Dramatic changes in priorities and habits
  • Drop in performance and attendance at school and work
  • Engagement in suspicious and secretive behaviors
  • Financial problems
  • Forgetfulness
  • Frequently getting into problematic situations, accidents, and fights
  • Impaired coordination
  • Inattentiveness
  • Increased irritability and aggression
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of self-esteem, energy, and motivation
  • Slurred speech
  • Sudden changes in socialization
  • Sudden, unexplained weight gain or loss
  • Temper tantrums
  • Tremors
  • Unusual odors on clothing, body, and breath
  • Wardrobe changes

Learning to recognize both the behavioral and physical signs of drug use will prove useful when the time comes for you to prevent the problem from developing further. However, you need to keep in mind that most drug addicts tend to downplay the problem or conceal their symptoms. As such, you need to be watchful and ever vigilant - around the clock, if necessary.

3. Psychological Symptoms

Drug abusers often experience and display the following changes and alternations in how their mind works:

  • Anxiety
  • Appearing lethargic and spaced out
  • Fearfulness
  • Lack of motivation
  • Paranoia
  • Periods of unusual giddiness, agitation, and hyperactivity
  • Sudden angry outbursts, irritability, and mood swings
  • Unexplained changes in attitude and personality

Signs And Symptoms By Drug/Substance

As mentioned above, the common symptoms and signs of drug use and abuse vary. This mostly depends on the substance that the addict is hooked to or eventually becomes addicted to.

Below are some of the most common examples:

1. Heroin

After using heroin, you will experience chemically-enforced euphoria. This is a dreamlike state that is quite similar to sleep where you drift off for minutes/hours at any given time.

Long-term abusers, on the other hand, experience the effects of heroin in the same way they would a stimulant. As such, they are more likely than not to perform normal routines. However, some will feel powerless to be productive.

In case you are concerned that a loved one seems to have used heroin, it is highly likely that this will because you have noticed that they no longer honest with you. At this point, you need to become more vigilant and try to figure out if they are using heroin - one of the most addictive and damaging of all drugs.

Some of the health risks that heroin poses include:

  • Heart problems
  • Kidney failure
  • Lung damage
  • Poor thinking capacity

As a fast acting opiate, when heroin is injected it causes a surge in euphoria within a couple of seconds. However, those who have been using it might not feel this rush. Others will develop a dry mouth and flushed skin.

The drug also causes the pupils to constrict, and the user will feel dopey and heavy while fading in and out of consciousness. As such, abusers tend to nod off suddenly, as well as breathe slower - which is how a heroin overdose kills.

While awake, the user's thinking will appear disjointed and unclear. Some will also experience memory loss and deteriorated self-control and decision-making.

Other common signs of certain heroin abuse include vomiting, nausea, and itching, as well as constipation, skin infections, and lowered immunity. You should also look out for the following additional signs:

a) Paraphernalia

Check for:

  • Burnt spoons
  • Dark, sticky residue
  • Rubber tubing
  • Small glass pipes
  • Syringes
  • Tan powdery residue
  • Tiny baggies
  • Whitish powdery residue
b) Appearance

Look out for the following changes in appearance:

  • Flushed skin
  • Runny nose
  • Sleepy eyes
  • Slow breathing
  • Tendency to suddenly nod off
  • Tiny pupils
c) Actions

You might want to observe the suspected addict/user to see if they display the following changes out of the ordinary:

  • Complaints of constipation
  • Complaints of nausea
  • Covering their arms with long sleeves
  • Failure to eat
  • Neglect of grooming
  • Scratching
  • Slurred speech
  • Vomiting

2. Prescription Opiates

Prescription opiates cover a wide variety of commonly used drugs, such as morphine, codeine, fentanyl, oxycodone (Percocet and Oxycontin), and hydrocodone (Lortab and Vicodin). At their most basic, opiates are derived naturally from the active narcotic substances in opium poppy.

One of the major indicators of the certain use of prescription opiates is repeated use, even after the addict observes and understands the negative consequences resulting from such use.

a) Physical Signs

To tell if someone has been using prescription opiates, you should watch out for the following:

  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Constricted pupils
  • Drowsiness
  • Euphoria
  • Intermittent nodding off
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Marked sedation
  • Noticeable elation
  • Slowed breathing
b) Other Signs

Additional signs include, but are not limited to:

  • Additional pill bottles showing up in the trash
  • Doctor shopping
  • Getting multiple prescription medications from different doctors
  • Isolation
  • Shifting and dramatically changing moods
  • Social withdrawal
  • Sudden financial problems
c) Withdrawal Symptoms

If the user tries to stop, they will experience withdrawal symptoms similar to flu symptoms. These include:

  • Anxiety
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Inability to sleep
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting

3. Meth

Although meth isn't the most abused drug, it is highly addictive and greatly destructive. As such, you need to be careful to check whether there's someone in your family or immediate social/professional circle who might be using methamphetamine.

The drug is smoked, injected, snorted, and swallowed. If you are searching for traces of use, to this end, it is imperative that you look for small bags with white crystals and powder, and syringes.

Users often leave behind soda cans with holes on the side, shafts of ball point pens, and crumpled aluminum foil.

Some of the signs of definite meth abuse include:

  • Aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Behavior changes
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Changes in heart rate
  • Changes in mood
  • Damaged mucous membrane
  • Delusions
  • Depression
  • Dilated pupils
  • Excess confidence
  • Exhilaration
  • Hallucinations
  • Impaired judgment
  • Increased alertness
  • Increased energy
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nasal congestion
  • Nausea
  • Nervousness
  • Paranoia
  • Rambling speech
  • Rapid speech
  • Restlessness
  • Unusual activity
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss

4. Cocaine

When people use cocaine and try to hide it, they will disappear for a while and come back in an entirely altered mood. After they return, they will appear more confident and excited and exhibit a great sense of well-being. They will also be talkative and sexually excited.

Since the effects of the drug only last for around a hour, they might leave again to use more cocaine.

Common signs of cocaine use include:

  • Burned fingers
  • Aggressiveness
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Apathy
  • Burned lips
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Confusion
  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Decreased sexual drive
  • Delusions
  • Depression
  • Dilated pupils
  • Enlarged Heart
  • Euphoria
  • Exhaustion
  • Fast heart rate
  • Hallucinations
  • Heart attacks
  • Impaired thinking
  • Intense cravings
  • Irritability
  • Long sleep periods
  • Loss of appetite
  • Need for a higher dose
  • Nosebleeds
  • Overconfidence
  • Panic attacks
  • Paranoia
  • Poor judgment
  • Restlessness
  • Runny nose
  • Scratching
  • Short temper
  • Sleeplessness
  • Suspiciousness
  • Talkativeness
  • Track marks
  • Unusual excitement

5. Crack

Crack is quite similar to powder cocaine in the sense that it leads to most of the same symptoms and signs. Since people smoke crack cocaine, you might find tiny plastic bags, and small glass pipes left behind by the user.

When the user is high, they will behave in the same way as someone who is high on cocaine. However, the high feeling will not last quite as long. This means that they are more likely to look for an excuse to go out and use more of the drug - after 10 to 15 minutes, or thereabouts.

Crack users display the following signs and symptoms:

  • Burned fingers
  • Burned lips
  • Disorientation
  • Delusions
  • Paranoia
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Aggressiveness

People who get hooked to crack cocaine will be driven to start using even more of the drug. As such, this will become their top priority in life - over and above their health, work, career, and family.

Common signs of crack use include:

  • Burned fingers
  • Aggressiveness
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Apathy
  • Burned lips
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Confusion
  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Decreased sexual drive
  • Delusions
  • Depression
  • Dilated pupils
  • Enlarged Heart
  • Euphoria
  • Exhaustion
  • Fast heart rate
  • Hallucinations
  • Heart attacks
  • Impaired thinking
  • Intense cravings
  • Irritability
  • Long sleep periods
  • Loss of appetite
  • Need for a higher dose
  • Nosebleeds
  • Overconfidence
  • Panic attacks
  • Paranoia
  • Poor judgment
  • Restlessness
  • Runny nose
  • Scratching
  • Short temper
  • Sleeplessness
  • Suspiciousness
  • Talkativeness
  • Track marks
  • Unusual excitement

6. Marijuana

People use marijuana by inhaling, eating, and smoking it. The drug is used alongside or precedes other substances such as alcohol and other illegal drugs. For most addicts, this is the first experimental drug in their life.

The symptoms and signs of recent marijuana use include, but are not limited to:

  • Euphoria
  • Feeling "high"
  • Heightened sense of taste, auditory, and visual perception
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Red eyes
  • Dry mouth
  • Decreased coordination
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty remembering
  • Increased appetite
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Paranoid thinking

Chronic use, in the long term, of marijuana is typically associated with the following:

  • Decreased mental sharpness
  • Poor performance at work and school
  • Reduced interests
  • Lower number of friends and associates

7. Hallucinogens

Using hallucinogens tends to produce many different symptoms and signs. These, of course, depend on the drug that has been used. Currently, phencyclidine (PCP) and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) are the most commonly abused hallucinogens.

a) LSD

Using LSD causes the following:

  • Flashbacks and re-experiencing hallucinations
  • Hallucinations
  • High blood pressure
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Permanent mental changes (in perception)
  • Rapid emotional shifts
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Reduced perception of reality
  • Tremors
b) PCP

On the other hand, PCP leads to the following signs and symptoms:

  • A feeling of separation from your surroundings and body
  • Aggressiveness
  • Coma
  • Hallucinations
  • High blood pressure
  • Impaired judgment
  • Increased heart rate
  • Intolerance to deafening noise
  • Involuntary eye movements
  • Lack of pain sensation
  • Memory issues
  • Movement problems
  • Possibly violent behavior
  • Problems speaking
  • Problems with coordination
  • Problems with thinking
  • Seizures

8. Club Drugs

Mostly used at parties, concerts, and clubs, examples of club drugs include MDMA (Molly) or Ecstasy, GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyric acid), ketamine, and flunitrazepam (roofie or Rohypnol).

However, these drugs are not in the same category. Still, they share similar dangers and effects, especially when used over the long haul. Since Rohypnol and GHB can cause memory loss, confusion, muscle relaxation, and sedation, the potential for sexual assault and sexual misconduct is high among people who use these drugs.

That said, below are some of the common signs and symptoms of such drug use:

  • Behavior changes
  • Chills
  • Decreased coordination
  • Dilated pupils
  • Hallucinations
  • Heightened and altered sense of taste, sight, and sound
  • Increased/decreased blood pressure
  • Increased/decreased heart rate
  • Loss of memory
  • Memory problems
  • Muscle cramping
  • Paranoia
  • Poor judgment
  • Reduced consciousness
  • Reduced inhibitions
  • Sweating
  • Teeth clenching
  • Tremors (Involuntary shaking)

Getting Help For Drug Use And Abuse

If you experience any of the above signs and symptoms, it is imperative that you seek help. The sooner you do this, the higher your chances of recovering over the long haul. If possible, therefore, talk to a mental health provider or your primary doctor, an addiction specialist, or a licensed drug and alcohol counselor.

You should, to this end, schedule an appoint to see your doctor if:

  • You have a hard time stopping your use of the drug
  • Your drug use and abuse leads to unsafe behavior, such as unprotected sex or sharing needles
  • You are experiencing serious withdrawal symptoms especially if you have tried to stop using the drugs

Similarly, you should seek emergency help if you have (or someone you know has) taken a drug and:

  • Might have overdosed
  • Are showing changes in full consciousness
  • Have trouble breathing
  • Experience concussions and seizures
  • Display signs of a potential heart attack, including chest pressure and pain
  • Display any other worrying psychological or physical reaction to drug use

Drug Use Addiction Treatment Options

Whereas many people struggle with drug use and abuse, a large majority will deny they have a problem until it seeps from fun and games and leads them on the path to full addiction and dependence. Others will be very reluctant to seek treatment because they fear they cannot afford it, or lack the support to take the first step.

However, after overcoming all the reservations and feel ready to seek treatment, there are many options available. Most of these are offered through a residential/inpatient program, or on outpatient basis. It all depends on the severity of addiction and the level of dependence.

If you sign up for outpatient treatment, you will need to go for the therapies, detoxification, counseling, and medication at a treatment center or clinic. This option will allow you to continue with your life and stay at home while receiving treatment. Outpatient centers also give you the flexibility you need to continue taking care of your other responsibilities - such as your family, work, and/or school.

That said, treatment for drug use will often take the form of:

  • Detoxification
  • Group therapy
  • Individual therapy
  • Medication management
  • Ongoing support (after treatment)
  • Relapse prevention education

Overall, however, most people who use drugs have a hard time fighting their urges on their own. If you, or a loved one, have such a problem, it is imperative that you seek treatment as early as possible. This is the only way you will combat the problem before it sinks you further and causes you to lose all that you hold dear.

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