Indian Health Service The Federal Health Program for American Indians and Alaska Natives
Warning Signs of Drug Abuse and Addiction
Drug abusers often try to hide their symptoms and downplay their problem. If you're worried that a friend or family member may be abusing drugs, look for the following warning signs:
Physical warning signs of drug abuse
- Bloodshot eyes, pupils larger or smaller than usual
- Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
- Deterioration of physical appearance, personal grooming habits
- Runny nose or sniffling
- Sudden weight loss or weight gain
- Tremors, slurred speech, or impaired coordination
- Unusual odors on breath, body, or clothing
Behavioral warning signs of drug abuse
- Using causes difficulties in one's relationships
- Engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors
- Frequently getting into legal trouble, including fights, accidents, illegal activities, and driving under the influence
- Neglecting responsibilities at work, school, or home, including neglecting one's children
- Sudden change in friends, favorite hangouts, and hobbies
- Unexplained need for money or financial problems. May borrow or steal money.
- Using drugs under dangerous conditions (driving while using drugs, using dirty needles, having unprotected sex)
Behavioral warning signs of drug addiction
- Increased drug tolerance (the need to use more of the drug to experience the same effects one used to achieve with smaller amounts)
- Using drugs to avoid or relieve withdrawal symptoms (nausea, restlessness, insomnia, depression, sweating, shaking, anxiety)
- Loss of control over drug use (using more than intended, unable to stop)
- Life revolves around drug use (always thinking of using, figuring how to get more, or recovering from use)
- Abandoning enjoyable activities(hobbies, sports, and socializing) to use drugs
- Continuing to use regardless of negative consequences (blackouts, infections, mood swings, depression, paranoia)
Psychological warning signs of drug abuse
- Appearing fearful, anxious, or paranoid, with no reason
- Lack of motivation; appearing tired or "spaced out"
- Periods of unusual increased energy, nervousness, or instability
- Sudden mood swings, increased irritability, or angry outbursts
- Unexplained change in personality or attitude
Adapted from: HelpGuide.org
Warning Signs of Commonly Abused Drugs
Signs of addiction or abuse often depend what substance is being used. If you suspect someone you know may be addicted to substances, and one or more of these addiction signs are present, you can locate treatment options for detox and rehabilitation with the Indian Health Service Treatment locator.
Depressants (including Xanax, Valium, GHB): Contracted pupils; drunk-like; difficulty concentrating; clumsiness; poor judgment; slurred speech; sleepiness.
Inhalants (glues, aerosols, vapors): Watery eyes; impaired vision, memory and thought; secretions from the nose or rashes around the nose and mouth; headaches and nausea; appearance of intoxication; drowsiness; poor muscle control; changes in appetite; anxiety; irritability; lots of cans/aerosols in the trash.
Hallucinogens (LSD, PCP): Dilated pupils; bizarre and irrational behavior 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.
Marijuana: Glassy, red eyes; loud talking, inappropriate laughter followed by sleepiness; loss of interest, motivation; weight gain or loss.
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
Adapted from: HelpGuide.org
Recognizing When a Loved One Has a Drug Problem
If you suspect that a friend or family member has a drug problem, here are a few things you can do:
Speak up. Talk to the person about your concerns, and offer your help and support, without being judgmental. The earlier addiction is treated, the better. Don't wait for your loved one to hit bottom. Be prepared for excuses and denial by listing specific examples of your loved one's behavior that has you worried.
Take care of yourself. Don't get so caught up in someone else's drug problem that you neglect your own needs. Make sure you have people you can talk to and lean on for support. Stay safe by not putting yourself in dangerous situations.
Avoid self-blame. You can support a person with a substance abuse problem and encourage treatment, but you can't force an addict to change. You can't control your loved one's decisions. Let the person accept responsibility for his or her actions, an essential step along the way to recovery for drug addiction.
- Attempt to punish, threaten, bribe, or preach.
- Avoid making emotional appeals that may only increase the user's feelings of guilt and compulsion to use drugs.
- Cover up or make excuses for the drug abuser, or shield them from the negative consequences of their behavior.
- Take over their responsibilities, leaving them with no sense of importance or dignity.
- Hide or throw out drugs.
- Argue with the person when they are high.
- Take drugs with the drug abuser.
- Feel guilty or responsible for another's behavior.
Adapted from: The National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information, SAMHSA
Patients utilizing prescription drugs to manage chronic pain may find more information at the IHS Pain Management website.