8 Common Signs of Drug Use and Addiction

Categories: Parent Resources, Substance Abuse
female drug addict with face in her hands

If you suspect your loved one may be addicted to a substance, you’re not alone. More than 24.5 million Americans abuse substances like alcohol and opioids, and many more experience unhealthy relationships with these substances. If you’re trying to determine if your loved one is using or has gone beyond occasional use to full addiction, there are signs and symptoms you can look for. However, the signs and symptoms of drug use and addiction vary a great deal from person to person, but you can spot identifying behaviors which are common in all addicted persons.

In some cases, users will show very few signs, may act and function normally, and may even work or perform at school to a high level. High-functioning addiction is common and while it doesn’t visibly affect users as much, is still detrimental to physical and mental health over time. If your loved one is addicted to a substance, it is crucial that you get them into treatment before repercussions including health problems, legal trouble, deteriorating psychological health, and deteriorating finances impact their lives in ways that cannot be undone.

People use substances to cope with stress, reduce pain, or even to feel normal. Drugs like Vicodin, OxyContin, Xanax, and Ambien are as much abused as heroin and methamphetamine, and equally as dangerous. Recognizing the signs and reacting at the right time can not only help you get your loved one back, it can save lives.

The most common signs of drug use and addiction include:

1. High Levels of Stress or Paranoia

Substance abuse often changes personalities by affecting chemical and neurotransmitter levels in the brain. In most cases, drugs affect the GABA, Dopamine, Serotonin, or Opioid receptors – resulting in a rush of synthetic endorphins stimulating those receptors in the brain. During the ‘high’, the body is relaxed or energized because of a massive increase in chemicals that make the body feel good, awake, or even happy. Over time, the brain adjusts, producing less of these substances naturally in order to balance out the brain. This results in increasing changes to the person when not high, with anxiety, anger, paranoia, and stress being the most common results. For example, when the body produces less dopamine and serotonin, natural stress-relieving drugs, the body is significantly more stressed when not high. People who always suffer mood swings or anxiety may have a mental disorder or problem contributing, but if it is new behavior and not resulting from trauma, it is a potential sign of drug use and addiction.

2. Visible Changes in Behavior

Drugs cause users to change how they feel and often how they act. For example, most opioids have a sedative effect. Users will appear lethargic, half asleep, or even unable to respond. Other drugs create massive episodes of near-mania, where users cannot stop moving, act and behave in completely new ways, or display visually higher levels of energy than normal. While these signs can be contributed to other problems like bipolar disorder, they are a sign of drug use and addiction, especially when in combination with other symptoms.

3. Constant Cold and Flu Symptoms

A long-occurring cold and flu can be the result of a sinus infection or other problem, but it may also relate to drug use, especially opioids and methamphetamine. Long-term injection results in puffy eyes, runny nose, and in some cases, a cough – all of which can mimic a long-running cold. If users are constantly sick and tired with no explanation from a doctor or refusal to go to the doctor, drug use may be contributing.


4. Manipulative Behavior for Money or Stealing

While behavior can change significantly depending on the position the user is in, many people frequently run out of money and then lie or steal or manipulate to get more. For example, a person with frequent unexplained accidents or unexplained lack of money might use stories and half-truths to attempt to illicit money from others. Large borrowers, people who frequently ask for money, or those who manipulate to get money or valuables may be using it for substances.

5. Unexplained Disappearances or Time

Substance abuse requires a significant time investment, and many users will not feel comfortable using around family and loved ones. Instead, they will seek out new places to use, disappearing for hours or even days at a time. People who frequently disappear but who are unable to explain those disappearances or who are lying may be covering up substance abuse. For example, teens who vanish after school but aren’t at a friend’s house as stated may be using the time to go to a secluded area to use.

6. Drug Paraphernalia

Physical evidence of drug use is often easy to find in heavy users, who eventually lapse and fail to properly hide drug use. Paraphernalia can vary a great deal depending on the drug, but pill containers, baggies, small pipes, burnt tinfoil and spoons, pipes, and rolling papers are highly suggestive of drug use.

7. Guilt or Lying About Drug Use

This sign is especially prevalent in users who either use casually and admit to it or those who have prescription medication but who abuse it. For example, a parent who always has pills in their wallet or bag ‘just in case’, or who hides using them is showing suspect behavior. Similarly, a person who frequently goes off into a bathroom or hides drinking or legal drugs probably feels guilty about using them, and is therefore more likely to be abusing them.

8. Very Frequent Drug Use

The single most frequent trait among substance abusers is frequent and uncontrolled drug use. Persons who use frequently will build a tolerance and will become substance dependent, unless using substances which are not addicting. The more frequently a person uses, the higher their chances of being addicted. Many frequent users also begin to show similar traits, such as saying things like “I can quit any time I want” or using excuses to validate how often they are using. This should be a red flag, because non-addicted users will simply put the drug down if they think their usage is getting too high.

Millions of Americans are addicted to substances, and none of them planned it that way. Addiction and substance use disorders are as complex and as multifaceted as the people who are addicted. People become addicted for different reasons, with genetics, raising, emotional behavior, intelligence, environment, stress, trauma, and psychological and psychiatric disorders all playing a role in how and why people become addicted. However, no matter what the root cause of addiction, there is help.

If your loved one is using, their substance abuse is harming their body through liver and gastrointestinal damage, causing poor choices that contribute to malnutrition, increased risk of legal and money problems, and put themselves in danger. While substances vary in danger, your loved one needs help if they are going to recover.

Today’s treatment facilities recognize the multi-faceted nature of addiction, following initial drug detox periods with complex assessments to determine how and why individuals use. Many offer special programs to tackle cooccurring disorders including anxiety and depression. With cognitive behavioral therapy to learn coping skills and unlearn behaviors contributing to substance abuse, as well as family therapy to rebuild relationships and emotional skills, many treatment centers are less about training people not to use and more about building life skills so that addicts can be happy without substances.

If you or your loved one needs help, feel free to contact us today about addiction treatment programs at our affordable drug and alcohol rehab that fit your needs. The Anaheim Lighthouse is a modern and effective addiction treatment center in Southern California.

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