Recognizing the Symptoms of Drug Abuse

By The Fix staff 03/05/19

Knowing what to look for can help save lives.

Man and woman sitting apart, looking for signs of drug use

Addiction thrives in secrecy. That’s why people with substance use disorder often go to great lengths to hide their habits from their friends and family members. Despite that effort, the effects of addiction are bound to show up sooner or later. Knowing how to recognize the symptoms of drug addiction can help family members intervene earlier and get their loved one treatment that could save their lives.

Racheal Doll is the intake coordinator at Asana Recovery, which offers detox, residential treatment, and an outpatient program in Costa Mesa, California. She often hears from family members about how they recognized that their loved one needed help and the signs they wish that they had seen sooner. She says that knowing the signs and symptoms of drug addiction can help get people much-needed intervention earlier on, potentially saving their lives.

What Are the Symptoms of Drug Addiction?

It’s easy to think that you would “just know” if someone you love were abusing drugs or alcohol. Often people thinking about addiction picture a person who is unable to function. However, before your loved one gets to the point of being disheveled, stealing or missing work, there are more subtle symptoms that might appear when they are still functioning in their day to day tasks.

Doll says that the first signs of drug abuse often include changes to sleep schedule, friend groups, or appearance. Although these changes are subtle, they are an important warning sign. Over time, friends and family might notice that a person is acting agitated, depressed or unpredictable. Once a person has become physically dependent on drugs, family members might notice seemingly random sicknesses, including sweating, vomiting, or diarrhea, which can all be caused by withdrawal.

Symptoms of Drug Abuse at Different Ages

The signs and symptoms of drug abuse often differ based on the age of the person misusing drugs, Doll says.

“Teens may have more trouble controlling emotions from one extreme to the other from the very beginning, so it may be easier to pick up on the signs and symptoms,” she said. However, the same characteristics that can help loved ones recognize a teen’s addiction can also make teens less likely to listen to family members’ concerns.

“Be cautious when approaching, since these emotions can make the situation much more volatile,” Doll recommends.

Young adults in their 20s or 30s usually have more autonomy and privacy than teens, which can make it hard to recognize symptoms of drug use.

“Twenty-somethings may be able to manage for a period of time and cover up their use,” Doll says. “Look for changes in the people they are spending time with and the friends and family they may be trying to avoid.”

Older adults — who have been hard-hit by the opioid epidemic — often keep to themselves if they are using drugs.

“Middle-aged may be even harder to pick up on the signs and symptoms, especially if they live alone,” Doll says. “They will typically want to isolate more and avoid talking to friends and family.”

Discussing Concerns About Drug Abuse

If you suspect that a family member is abusing drugs or alcohol, it’s important to pay close attention.

“Stay aware of the loved one's behavior and look for the telltale signs,” she says. “Take note of them for future reference if an intervention is needed.”

It may also help to discuss your concerns with someone else, either a trusted family member or a professional. This is especially important when you decide to talk to your loved one about your concerns.

“You want to be cautious when approaching them due to the aggressive and erratic behavior some drugs may induce when the person is approached,” Doll warns. “We suggest having one or more persons with you and do not attempt to detain them, since this may create a very dangerous situation.”

Of course, if you ever believe your loved one is a danger to themselves or others it is important to call authorities right away.

Helping a Loved One Addicted to Drugs

Before talking to your family member about their drug use, take time to prepare. First, Doll suggests doing some research into the drug that you think they might be using. Then, look at treatment options that are available, including detox, inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, or meetings.

Before the conversation, contact a few treatment centers who may be able to help your loved one to find out whether they have availability and if they meet your family member’s needs. That way, you’re able to act quickly after talking to your loved one. Doll even suggests having the phone number of someone in admissions ready when you talk with your family member.

“The window of opportunity to get your loved one some help may be small, so be as prepared as possible for when they are ready,” she says.

Asana Recovery offers residential and outpatient treatment in Costa Mesa, California. Learn more by calling 949-438-4504.

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