Signs and symptoms of drug or alcohol addiction

When a loved one is struggling with an addiction, the family and the other important people in their life need quick information on how they can help. That is the purpose of this article, and we hope to help you know if a loved one’s drug or alcohol use has become a serious problem and it is time to intervene.

Often, people who use drugs or alcohol are not aware of their dependencies or, if they are aware, do their best to hide their behavior. The burden of identifying drug or alcohol abuse often falls on nearby people. Unfortunately, a drug or alcohol abuse problem can go unnoticed for long periods of time, taking friends and family members by surprise when the addiction is finally apparent. After all, how can an addiction not be detected by those living with the addict in the same home?

Couples are often the first to suspect a substance abuse problem, but they may feel guilty in imagining a scenario in which a loved one could have an addiction. Others may need proof or confirmation before being prepared to discuss the issue, which may not happen if the couple actively hides their use of drugs or alcohol.

There are some obvious signs of substance abuse or addiction, even if the person using drugs or alcohol is trying to hide them. These signs can be physical, behavioral or psychological. Other signs are specific to each type of drug, which means they tend to occur only when a person takes a specific type of substance (cocaine or alcohol).

The primary signs of substance abuse or addiction

The following are the possible signs of substance abuse or addiction. If your partner, father, mother, son or daughter is showing several of these symptoms, you may have a problem with drugs or alcohol. Sometimes, these symptoms are the result of an underlying mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety, and the individual may be trying to self-medicate in order to deal with those problems.

  • Physical signs
  • Behavioral signs
  • Psychological signs
  • Additional signs

Physical signs

  • Sudden changes in appetite or weight. Some medications cause people to eat more and gain weight. Others suppress appetite and increase metabolic rates, resulting in noticeable weight loss.
  • Changes in sleep patterns. Drugs and alcohol can make someone wake up frequently in the middle of the night, have insomnia or sleep much more than normal.
  • Changes in hygiene habits. Complacency or lethargy can cause the addict not to shower, shave, brush their teeth, wear makeup, or take care of their appearance.
  • Impediments An important sign of substance abuse is a temporary physical impairment. This may be the appearance of difficulty speaking, difficulty walking, poor coordination, or even shaking and trembling.
  • Lethargy or hyperactivity. Drugs and alcohol can alter the energy levels of people, making them feel relaxed and lethargic or energized and hyperactive. Each substance is different, and some of the effects vary from person to person.
  • Eye changes Both drugs and alcohol can cause eye changes such as bloodshot eyes or changes in pupil size.
  • Changes in the nose Sniffing a substance can cause frequent nosebleeds.
  • Injection marks Skin tags are telltale signs of drug use, especially when the marks appear on the arms, legs or lower torso.
  • Frequent itching Scratching frequently is commonly associated with drug use, especially due to the release of histamine in the body or due to the perception that there are worms or insects under the skin.
  • Changes in skin color. Some substances, such as alcohol, can cause skin discoloration, due to liver damage or other internal problems.
  • Seizures Seizures are a side effect of many prescription medications, illicit drugs or alcohol. Unexplained seizures without a history of epilepsy may indicate a substance abuse problem.
  • Find evidence of drug or alcohol use. One of the most obvious signs of substance abuse is finding traces or packaging of drugs, bottles of alcohol, etc. in the trash or in hidden places.

Behavioral signs

  • Suspicious Behavior A couple or family member who has an addiction may have reserved or suspicious behavior. You can lock yourself in a room for long periods of time or be very private in your actions or intentions.
  • Monetary changes Maintaining an addiction costs money. The loved ones of an addict can observe withdrawals of money from the accounts without knowing it. You can also see that money disappears, and that bills are not paid on time. Finally, the family member who is abusing a substance can start borrowing from friends, selling valuable items, or stealing to get enough money to buy drugs or alcohol.
  • Personality changes Drugs and alcohol can significantly affect a person’s personality. It is not uncommon for people who have an addiction to experience large and rapid mood swings.
  • Decreased interest in hobbies or social activities. Favorite interests or hobbies may now be in the background. People with substance abuse problems may appear apathetic or indifferent towards hobbies or friendships.
  • Changes of friendships. A couple can spend less time with their close friends and start new relationships or rekindle some old friendships. These can be people who also abuse substances or people who allow the substance to be supplied.
  • Sudden reduction of motivation levels. People with addictions may suddenly be less motivated to go to work, go to school, or aim for goals.
  • Peer and superior criticism. A person who goes to college or works for someone can start receiving complaints from teachers, co-workers and bosses because of poor results, tardies or absences at work or at school.
  • Disputes and containment with others. Substance abuse can lead to extreme responses. A person may notice that their loved one is easily irritable or suddenly has “explosions of anger.” Drug and alcohol abuse can also lead to mismanagement of feelings, resulting in physical fights or heated arguments.

Psychological signs

  • Unable to pay attention. People with substance abuse problems may have difficulty concentrating on a single topic or having a conversation.
  • Paranoia. Some people are paranoid. This is best described as an irrational fear or concern that does not remit.
  • Defensive attitude. Loved ones who know they have a drug or alcohol problem, but hide, can get defensive when asked about something related to addiction.

People who are aware that their loved ones are using drugs or abuse alcohol may wonder how to discern the use of an addiction. When a person becomes physically or emotionally dependent on a substance, additional signs may be present. These red flags indicate that the person may need the help of a drug or alcohol treatment center.

Additional signs:

  • Express cravings for drugs or alcohol
  • Attempts without success to stop using a substance
  • Losing control, using more drugs or alcohol than expected
  • Prioritize the purchase of drugs or alcohol over other needs, such as food
  • Lend money or withdraw from savings accounts to pay for a substance
  • Take extreme measures to obtain a substance, such as theft or sale of valuables
  • Use a substance to deal with stress or to handle problems
  • Put the health and life of other people at risk for drug use
  • Put the health or life of other people at risk during the use of a substance (such as driving under the influence of alcohol)
  • Excessive expenditure of time and energy for the acquisition and use of a drug or alcohol
  • The continued use of a substance despite negative consequences

Signs of substance abuse

In addition to the main signs of substance abuse or addiction, some warning signs may indicate a problem with a specific substance. Substance abuse may include legal and illegal substances; It is important to pay attention to physical, behavioral or psychological symptoms that may indicate a problem.

  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • Heroin
  • Methamphetamine
  • Prescription drugs
  • Ecstasy and other club drugs
  • Hallucinogens
  • Inhalants


Alcohol is a substance that is consumed, mainly because it is legal and easy to obtain. Excessive alcohol consumption is the cause of approximately 88,000 deaths each year in the United States and more than 100,000 in Europe. Many people consume alcohol with some regularity, so it is less obvious when someone has a problem with this substance.

Some of the signs of alcohol addiction include:

  • Frequent hangovers
  • Drink and drive
  • Drinking too much frequently (five or more drinks)
  • Smelling alcohol constantly
  • Being rarely without a glass of alcohol at home, at the restaurant, or at parties
  • Making alcoholic non-alcoholic beverages, by adding alcohol, especially in inappropriate settings, such as family gatherings or at work


Although it is not a drug to which a physical addiction can be developed, the use of marijuana is dangerous because it is a drug that leads to the consumption of other dangerous drugs.

Some of the signs of marijuana use are:

  • Red eyes
  • Speak out loud, inappropriate laughter followed by drowsiness
  • Loss of interest or motivation
  • Weight gain or gain


Heroin is a highly addictive substance that is normally injected. The use of this substance has steadily increased in recent years. In September 2014, an increase of almost 8 percent in heroin use was reported between 2012 and 2013. With 669,000 people who took heroin that year (in the US), it represented an increase of almost 80 percent. in use compared to previous years.

Signs of heroin abuse include:

  • Healing due to needle marks
  • Collapse of the veins
  • Inflammation of the skin near the injection sites
  • Dry mouth
  • Disorientation
  • Respiratory insufficiency
  • Aluminum foil or burnt spoons
  • White powder waste
  • Remains of heroin use, such as plastic bags, needles, syringes and tubes
  • Wearing clothes out of season, in an effort to hide needle marks and scars
  • Loss of the menstrual cycle
  • Skin infections


Methamphetamine, which is known in the street as “met,” is often associated with club drugs. Many people use this stimulant to feel energized. There are many different types of methamphetamine – illegal or available by prescription – including crystal methamphetamine, cocaine and prescription medications such as Adderall.

Signs of methamphetamine abuse include:

  • Periods of intense alertness
  • High self-esteem
  • Sense of well-being
  • Rotten teeth
  • Spasms
  • Violence and aggression
  • High body temperatures
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Panic attacks
  • Disorientation or lack of balance
  • Euphoria, followed by periods of depression
  • Fast speaking

Prescription drugs

Prescription medications are widely abused. Like alcohol, they are legal if they are prescribed by a doctor. Together, prescription medications and over-the-counter medications are the third most commonly abused substances by people over the age of 14 in the world because they are perceived to be less dangerous. Others prefer prescription medications, as they are convenient and often have a strong effect on the central nervous system.

There are a multitude of abused prescription drugs

The different types of prescription drugs that are frequently abused are antidepressants, anxiety medications and pain relievers. As of 2010, the most commonly abused prescription medications were opioids, followed by tranquilizers, such as benzodiazepines. Other commonly used medications include stimulants and sedatives.

Signs that a person may be abusing medications include:

  • Visit several doctors for a diagnosis of pain, mental health disorder, or insomnia
  • Take prescribed medications not classified by a doctor
  • Have unknown pills
  • Have prescription medication bottles on behalf of another person
  • Stealing medications from other family members
  • Drowsiness
  • Low blood pressure or slow breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Low sensation of pain
  • Constipation

Ecstasy and other club drugs

Club drugs in the form of liquids, powders and pills are not commonly used by adults in committed relationships, but anyone can develop a dependency on them. These are: ecstasy, and ketamine are often used to achieve a feeling of euphoria and to lower inhibitions in club or parties.

It is estimated that about 800,000 adolescents and adults have consumed ecstasy in the last month alone in the Americas and many more people in Europe. Many of these people end up in hospital emergency services due to side effects or overdoses.

Signs that a loved one may have problems with a club drug:

  • Decrease of inhibitions
  • Lack of judgment
  • Symptoms that mimic those of methamphetamine


More than one million people use hallucinogens such as PCP and LSD for the first time each year in the Americas. And as of 2007, more than 9 percent of the total population of adolescents and adults has used LSD more than once.

Signs that accompany the use of these drugs include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Bad perception of reality
  • Retrospective scenes of previous hallucinations
  • Delusions


If a loved one is using an inhaler more than necessary, he or she may be doing so to have a state of ecstasy. Inhalants are generally everyday items, such as aerosols, gasoline and cleaning products. The effects of inhalants are generally brief, but they are very dangerous chemicals and represent the fourth most abused substances in the world.

Signs of inhalant abuse include:

  • Excessive amounts of household cleaning products, empty containers, aerosol containers, etc.
  • Rags hidden in the car, office or bedroom.
  • Smell of chemicals in the breath or clothing.
  • Stains or sores surrounding the mouth.
  • Sickness.
  • Dizziness.
  • Crying eyes.
  • Paint stains on hands, face or clothing.

Warning signs of drug abuse in adolescents

Teenagers are a special category that deserves more attention and while a young man’s drug experimentation does not automatically lead to drug abuse, early use is a risk factor for developing a drug addiction. The risk of drug abuse also increases considerably during periods of change, such as changing schools, moving to another city or country, or divorcing parents. The challenge for parents is to distinguish between the normal, often volatile, phases of adolescence and the red flags of drug or alcohol abuse.

Signs include:

  • Red eyes or dilated pupils; The use of eye drops to mask these signs.
  • Missing classes; decrease in grades; Get in trouble at school.
  • Disappearance of money, valuables.
  • Acting unusually isolated, withdrawn, angry or depressed.
  • Leave a group of friends for another; being reserved when talking about the new group of friends.
  • Loss of interest in hobbies of age; Lying about your new interests and activities.
  • Demand greater privacy; lock the doors; avoiding eye contact.

Observing some or most of these symptoms means that it is time to do something to prevent your loved one from destroying itself. You should talk to him/her openly to find out why he started using drugs or alcohol. Explain that you need help and then you should find a rehabilitation center. An addiction can be stopped without the help of a professional if the drugs taken are not dangerous (in the case of alcohol or marijuana). If your loved one is using more dangerous drugs (such as heroin or cocaine) it is recommended to seek specialized help, because withdrawal symptoms can be difficult to bear and can create many problems.

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