Signs and Symptoms of Drug Abuse

Signs of substance abuse include smelling like alcohol or other drugs, getting in trouble, blacking out. Changes in behavior and appearance are also common. People who use drugs tend to do things they wouldn’t normally do while sober.
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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 Abuse 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:
    • Repeatedly blacking out — failing to remember the previous night due to heavy drinking
    • Denying any drinking
    • Drinking alone or when stressed
    • Driving under the influence
    • Legal problems, such as stealing, stemming from alcohol
  • Neglecting responsibilities

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:
  • Inability to manage responsibilities at work, home or school
  • Changes in appetite
  • Hostility or anger
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability or anxiety

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:
  • Slurred speech
  • Lack of coordination
  • Involuntary eye movements
  • Slowed breathing
  • Drowsiness
  • Memory problems

Studies indicate that up to 41 percent of individuals battling alcohol addiction 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:
  • Attention and memory problems
  • Lack of awareness
  • Constant confusion
  • Clammy skin
  • Nose sores
  • Needle marks


Tattooed man rolling a marijuana cigarette

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Uncontrollable talking or giggling
  • Red or glassy eyes
  • Slowed reaction time

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:
  • A manipulated perception of reality
  • High blood pressure
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Inability to control emotions
  • Tremors

Phencyclidine (PCP) symptoms include:
  • Coordination and movement problems
  • Volatile behavior
  • Impaired judgement
  • Intolerance to loud noises
  • Out-of-body experiences

Effects of salvia:
  • Focus on childhood memories
  • Overlapping realities
  • Sensations of motion
  • Two-dimensional visions
  • Uncontrollable laughter

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.

Medical Disclaimer: aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a 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 provider.

Matt Gonzales
Content Writer,
Matt Gonzales is a writer and researcher for He graduated with a degree in journalism from East Carolina University and began his professional writing career in 2011. Matt covers the latest drug trends and shares inspirational stories of people who have overcome addiction. Certified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in health literacy, Matt leverages his experience in addiction research to provide hope to those struggling with substance use disorders.

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