How to spot if someone is using drugs

There are several signs, both physical and behavioural, to look out for when suspecting that a loved one, a friend or a co-worker is using drugs. Each drug manifests differently in the body, but the following are some general indications that a person might be using drugs:

Drug Abuse Physical Warning Signs

  • Red, watery or glazed eyes, pupils unusually large or small
  • Sudden weight loss or weight gain
  • Tremors, slurred speech, or impaired coordination
  • Keeping irregular hours, loss of sleep
  • Extreme hyperactivity; excessive talkativeness
  • Slow or staggering walk
  • Worsening hygiene or physical health
  • Bruises, infections, or other physical signs at the drug’s entrance site on the body.
  • Blushing, pale or swollen face

Drug Abuse Behavioral Signs

Drugs can cause profound changes in moods and emotions. The following behavioural changes may indicate drug abuse:

  • Changes in personality and overall attitude, particularly negative ones
  • Person often appears lethargic or ‘spaced out’
  • Dramatic changes in habits/priorities
  • Appears fearful, anxious, or paranoid for no apparent reason
  • Sudden angry outbursts, mood swings or irritability
  • Unusual hyperactivity, agitation, or giddiness for short periods of time
  • Asking for money
  • Drop in performance at work and school
  • Chronic dishonesty
  • Inattentiveness; forgetfulness
  • Loss of motivation, energy, and self-esteem
  • Secretiveness, unusual demand for privacy
  • Sudden oversensitivity; temper tantrums
  • Loss of interest in friends and family

Commonly Abused Drug Warning Signs

  • Depressants: (including Xanax, Valium, GHB): Contracted pupils; drunk-like state; difficulty concentrating; clumsiness; poor judgment; slurred speech; sleepiness.
  • Hallucinogens: (LSD, PCP): Dilated pupils; bizarre and irrational behaviour including paranoia, aggression, hallucinations; mood swings; detachment from people; absorption with self or other objects, slurred speech; confusion.
  • Heroin: Contracted pupils; no response of pupils to light; needle marks; sleeping at unusual times; sweating; vomiting; coughing, sniffling; twitching; loss of appetite.
  • Inhalants: (glues, aerosols, vapours): Watery eyes; impaired vision, memory and thought; secretions from the nose or rashes around the nose and mouth; headaches and nausea; the appearance of intoxication; drowsiness; poor muscle control; changes in appetite; anxiety; irritability.
  • Marijuana: Glassy, red eyes; loud talking, inappropriate laughter followed by sleepiness; loss of interest, motivation; weight gain or loss; excessive snacking or eating at inappropriate times.
  • Stimulants: (including amphetamines, cocaine, crystal meth): Dilated pupils; hyperactivity; euphoria; irritability; anxiety; excessive talking followed by depression or excessive sleeping at odd times; may go long periods of time without eating or sleeping; weight loss; dry mouth and nose.

If your child, spouse or someone else you care about is displaying any of this type of behaviour or physical signs, they might have a substance abuse issue. But as long as motivation to quit using drugs is present, recovery is possible.

If you suspect a loved one is using, talk with them before jumping to conclusions. If you do find evidence of drug abuse, lend them a hand by helping them seek the treatment they need. Once addiction has taken hold, it’s critical that they receive professional care to reverse the damage substance abuse has caused. It will take time, patience, and compassion to help a friend or family member acknowledge and deal with their disease.