Warning Signs of Drug Abuse


Drug abuse has a huge impact on individuals and the society at large. It affects not only the users but also their families, friends, communities, orkplaces, and the general public. Whether you’re an employer, a safety or HR manager, or a loved one, recognizing the signs of drug abuse can help you intervene and assist drug users to healthier and safer living.

This article lists down some of the most common telltale signs that a person may be going through drug abuse. Although this isn’t a definitive list – in the sense that any of these signs may not necessarily be associated with drug abuse – this should help you make an informed decision in case you suspect someone who is abusing drugs.




1. Deterioration of physical appearance
Drug users have little to no concern about how they look. This may come in the form of unkempt appearance or an overall unhealthy look.

2. Bloodshot eyes
Some drugs cause the eyes to appear red or bloodshot. Although there are other causes of red eyes, drug use is one of them.

3. Pupils larger or smaller than usual
The pupils in our eyes dilate or constrict depending on the amount of light that we see. However, chemicals in certain drugs may affect this natural process, leading a drug user’s eyes to appear constricted even if it shouldn’t be.

4. Eye movements that seem involuntary
Uncontrolled eye twitching and eyeball darting may be telltale signs that the person is using drugs.

5. Blurry vision
There are a lot of drugs that cause vision to get blurred. It may be caused by the processing of drug metabolites in the body or a general feeling of drowsiness (especially when taking depressants like alcohol).

6. Sensitive to light
Light sensitivity may be caused by abusing certain substances such as cocaine. People who abuse this drug may be observed to be squinting frequently or wearing sunglasses even in moderately lit areas.


7. Sudden weight loss or weight gain
Depending on the drug used, a person may either gain too much weight or lose too much. Either way, this may be attributed to sudden changes in appetite and eating habits.
8. Skin ulcers or sores
Some drugs cause users to hallucinate, thinking that bugs are crawling under their skin. As a result, they poke and pick at their skins to “get rid” of the crawling critters.
9. Unusual skin color or tone
An abnormally pale or weirdly discolored skin may be a sign of recent drug use. Some of the substances known to do this include NSAIDs and cocaine.
10. Dry or flaky skin
When the body receives an increase in the amount of toxins coming from drugs, it tends to put more effort to flush them out. This causes the skin to dry up. The same may also happen when a person is regularly exposed to smoke coming from illegal drugs.
11. Unusual acne breakout
Whether it’s an increase in bacterial growth coming from a deteriorating immune system or simply poor hygiene, drug abuse may cause a person to experience an abnormal growth of acne.

12. Rotten or heavily discolored teeth
Some substances (such as methamphetamines) contain harsh chemicals that cause discoloration or deterioration of the user’s teeth.
13. Mouth cancer
The harsh components of some illicit drugs may be carcinogenic, which increases the likelihood of mouth cancer.
14. Chapped or dry lips
Drug abuse may cause dehydration due to the body’s efforts to take away drug toxins, and this may lead to dry lips. In addition, some drugs taken orally have corrosive components that increase the risk of chapped lips.
15. Sudden abdominal pain
This may be caused by several factors such as stomach ulcer and gastrointestinal decay, all of which may happen as a result of ingesting illicit drugs.
16. Frequent constipation
Some prescription drugs affect the digestive system, and abusing them may lead to irregular bowel movement and constipation.

17. Tremors or involuntary shaking
This condition occurs either due to the body’s natural processing of the drug metabolites, or a withdrawal symptom after a sudden drug use cessation.
18. Severe itching
The body’s natural metabolism to process drug compounds may cause itching, possibly from an allergic reaction. Frequent use of heroin and certain opioids may lead to this feeling of itchiness.
19. Frequent dizzy spells
Dizziness is a common result of abusing certain drugs such as methamphetamines and inhalants.
As the addiction continues, dizzy spells become more frequent than usual.

20. Sensitive to loud sounds
Being sensitive to loud noise may be caused by several factors such as hyperacusis or autism. However, it may also be due to drug abuse, most especially when using cocaine.
21. Slurred speech
Drug metabolites may affect proper brain functioning, which may affect a user’s speech. Slurring may be a sign of drug abuse.

22. Impaired movement coordination
When normal brain functions are affected by drug abuse, drug users tend to have poor balance and hand-eye coordination. This may be dangerous especially if the person abusing drugs is driving a
vehicle or operating heavy machinery

23. Staggering gait
This specific manner of walking involves a person whose legs seem to be stiff and
whose toes seem to be dragged. Abuse of depressants may cause this kind of gait.

24. Unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing
Certain drugs emit a weird odor that may stick on the user’s clothes. Meanwhile, drugs taken orally may leave a bad smell in the mouth. Also, drug use may cause chemical reactions that may generate unpleasant body odors.
25. Excessive sniffing and runny
Drugs that are snorted may irritate the nasal passage, which may cause the user to sniff excessively. The irritation may also create more mucus, resulting in a runny nose that isn’t caused by colds or flu.

26. Nasal congestion, not attributable to a cold
Inhaling or snorting drugs may block the nasal passage, leading to congestion that isn’t related to the common cold. It may be due to nasal irritation or blockage of drug components within the mucus membrane.

27. High incidence of bloody nose
The irritation caused by snorting drugs may injure the nasal passage and mucus membrane. The injury may be deep enough to tear nasal tissues, leading to an open wound where blood may flow out.
28. Rashes around the nose and mouth
Some people experience allergic reactions when using drugs, especially when used in high frequency or large amounts. For others, the rashes may be caused by harsh chemicals that adhere to the nose and mouth when the drug is inhaled or snorted.
29. Looking pale or undernourished
A number of drugs may cause the skin to look more yellow than usual. Meanwhile, others exhibit clammy or pale skin due to either metabolism of the drug compounds in the body or poor health condition.

30. Clothes do not fit the same
This may be attributed to poor weight management, which may be caused by drug abuse. In some drug abuse cases, the user may eat too much or too little. Either way, it results to ill-fitted clothes especially when the drug abuse has become long-term.
31. Complaints of a sore jaw (from teeth grinding during an ecstasy high)
Taking ecstasy increases the likelihood of the user to grind his own teeth. This causes a strain on the jaw, and may even make it sore.
32. Breathing too slowly
Downer drugs or depressants may cause a slower metabolic rate in the users. This may lead to slower breathing, sometimes reaching a point when the person looks like he is dead.
33. Irregular heartbeat
Frequent and uncontrolled drug use may affect the normal functioning of the heart, leading to cardiovascular issues such as irregularities in the beating of the heart.

34. High blood pressure
In similar fashion as heartbeat irregularities, a spike in blood pressure may be traced back to substance abuse. However, it would be best to check with the doctor, so that you can confirm whether the high blood pressure is caused by drug abuse or a physiological issue.


35. Abnormally high fever
While this may be caused by an infection, some people burn up from the inside due to drug abuse. The fever may become so severe to the point that it may cause convulsions and cardiovascular irregularities.

36. Needle marks on lower arm, leg or bottom of feet
When you see needle marks on a person’s extremities, this may be a sign that the person is abusing drugs. On the other hand, the needle marks may be associated with dialysis, especially if you know that the person undergoes the procedure.

37. Nausea and vomiting
The natural dizzying effect of certain drugs may lead a person to vomit or feel nauseated. For others, the hallucinations produced by drug use may subside later on, and may cause nausea and vomiting in the person.

38. Blood in vomit
Vomiting blood is a sign of gastrointestinal problems, which may be caused by drug abuse. This is especially common in people who abuse alcohol (through excessive or binge drinking).

39. Skin abrasions or bruises
Bruises on the skin may be caused by several factors, but an abnormally high number of bruises and abrasions may be a sign that a person is abusing drugs.


40. Excessive sweating
If you know the person, you should probably know the level of sweat that he/she produces. Using drugs such as marijuana, heroin, and certain inhalants may cause excessive perspiration.

41. Difficulty in eating or talking
Snorting drugs may cause some nasal tissues to get damaged, especially the one separating the nose.

42. High frequency of muscle cramps
Drug abuse may lead to a higher incidence of cramps in the stomach and other muscle groups.

43. Inability to feel pain
When abused, some substances make a person feel physically numb to pain. This particular effect is one of the reasons why some people turn to substance abuse to feel relaxed and to escape emotional pain.

44. Signs of tiredness and fatigue
It’s pretty common for drug users to feel body malaise or weakness, as a result of the body’s natural processing of drug compounds. For other drug users, sleep deprivation caused by drug abuse may cause them to feel tired.

One reason behind this is that their primary objective is to get hold of the drug, regardless of the method of procurement or the feelings of other people.




45. Neglected appearance / poor hygiene
Due to the focus on pleasure and euphoric sensation, some users neglect their physical appearance. A person who looks good in the past may appear unkempt and physically unclean when under the influence of drugs.

46. Unexplained change in personality or attitude, particularly a negative change
Abusing drugs may cause a person to suddenly shift his/her personality towards the negative.

47. Secretive or suspicious behavior
When a person frequently abuses drugs, it increases their likelihood of engaging in suspicious activities. They are also more likely to become secretive, since they don’t want their dirty deeds discovered by others, much more their loved ones and law enforcers.

48. Frequent use of secret words and codes when talking to others
Due to the strict enforcement of drug laws, some drug manufacturers and frequent users have concocted street names for selected substances so that these won’t be detected by the authorities easily. If you sense that a person that you know is using a lot of codes and secret words when communicating, he/she may be talking about drugs.

49. Poor decision making
The effect of drug abuse on brain functioning may lead a person to make wrong decisions. This may involve gambling on huge life decisions or making wrong decisions on mundane activities (say, speeding up on the highway in spite of a stop light flashed in front).

50. Frequent conflicts with several people
The drive of drug users is satisfaction, no matter the cost. This may include having to quarrel with other people just to gain access to their drug of choice. In addition, the physiological effects of certain drugs may cause users to become irritable and psychologically unstable, leading them to instigate conflict with others.

51. Blank stare
If you see a person with glassy eyes or an empty stare, that could be a clear sign of drug abuse. Some drugs cause people to hallucinate or feel numb, hence the blank stare.

52. Temporary blackouts
Abusing substances like alcohol increases the likelihood of losing consciousness or experiencing a temporary blackout. This is related to the drug’s effect on the brain’s normal functioning.

53. Having difficulty doing
routine or mundane tasks A person who abuses drugs may find it difficult to do – and finish – activities that seemed easy when he/she didn’t take drugs yet. If you see your co-workers struggling with their normal job routine, this may be a sign that they are abusing drugs.

54. Missing commitments and important engagements
A drug user’s priorities will gradually shift to the procurement and use of the drug, leaving everything else disregarded. This is the same case with a drug user’s commitments and plans – they’re all bound to be forgotten because the person’s focus has already shifted towards drugs.

55. Dirty or disorganized home
Although you may chalk this up to a person’s laziness, some drug users don’t have enough focus or concern on cleanliness. In severe cases, drug users live in houses where animal waste and used diapers haven’t been cleaned up.

56. Unusual hyperactivity for
short periods of time Bursts of energy may look normal in some people, but people who abuse drugs will appear to be unusually hyperactive. This heightened energy level will soon die down, leaving the drug user to become extremely fatigued or in low spirits.

57. Inappropriate and uncontrolled laughter
Use of certain drugs may lead a person to lose control of his emotions, and this includes the inability to stop laughing. The same can be said for people who cannot seem to stop crying or yelling – these may be telltale signs of drug abuse.

58. Unusually low activity
When abused, depressants cause a person’s energy level to go down. This leads the user to slow down in his movements and activities.

59. Sudden change in social behavior
A person who is exuberantly sociable may become isolated and introverted when he/she abuses drugs. This change in social attitude may be caused by either the drug’s effect on psychological health or the person’s tendency to keep actions and intentions in secret.

60. Sudden shift of hobbies
Engaging in drug abuse may lead people to forego their original fields of interest to focus on strategies to get their preferred drugs. For instance, a person who previously likes to play basketball may prefer to stay at home in order to enjoy drugs.

61. Feeling of invincibility, and heightened sense of taking risks
Taking in certain drugs may cause a person to throw caution out the window and follow what he/ she feels is exhilarating. This may lead them to feel invincible, as if they can take on anything. That may include engaging in highly risky activities such as climbing trees without protective gear or driving under the influence.


62. Losing touch with reality
Hallucinogens and other similar drugs affects how the brain works, giving the person a false sense of reality. If the drug use goes out of control, the user may eventually prefer to stay in the fake world created by the drug instead of dealing with realworld scenarios.

63. Lack of self-control
Because of the negative effects of some drugs on the human mind, some drug users may have lower inhibitions. This may cause them to do things without their knowledge, making them lose control over their emotions and primal drive.

64. Repetitive speech patterns
With the effect of some drugs on a person’s brain, this may cause uncontrolled speech patterns that sound repetitive. Some drug users repeat a phrase over and over again or have regular episodes of screaming.


65. Unable to stop talking
Along with the loss of self-control is a potential inability to stop talking. This is especially evident when a person abuses stimulants or drugs that heighten senses.

66. Frequently talking about drugs and drug use
When a person engages in drug abuse, he/ she tends to talk about their preferred drugs in practically any conversation. Discussions may revolve around how to get the drug, what the drug does to the person, and why others need to accept drug use in society.

67. Abnormally loud voice
Aside from not being able to stop talking, people who abuse drugs may tend to have louder voices than usual. This may come in the form of shouting or increased modulation, as though they feel that their voices cannot be heard.

68. Change in appetite and eating habits
People who abuse drugs may find satisfaction in the drug already, or they may not feel the pain of hunger anymore. Either way, drug abuse may cause a drastic change in the amount of food that a person is eating or the frequency of eating.

69. Intense food cravings
Some drugs create a craving that seems insatiable. Although some people turn to their drug of choice to fulfill this need, others prefer to fill their cravings with food. When food cravings intensify, this may lead to obesity.

70. Unexplained need for money, often accompanied by asking people to borrow money
Most illicit drugs are scarcely available and sold in secret, and these make the drugs unreasonably expensive. People who abuse drugs may become so addicted to them that they have the urge to buy beyond their own financial means. As a result, they suddenly have the need for money and even go to great lengths such as borrowing from others.

71. Unable to fulfill financial commitments
Unpaid bills and loss of assets are examples of a person’s inability to fulfill commitments, which may be traced to drug abuse. Addiction to drugs will drain a person’s income, leading them to forget payment of bills and other financial commitments.

72. Changes in sleep patterns
Some substances rewire a person’s mind and may lead him/her to have hallucinations even during their sleep. This may cause interruptions in their normal sleeping patterns, leading to insomnia or poor quality of rest.

73. Getting involved in criminal activity
Desperation in procuring their drug of choice may cause drug abusers to steal from others or engage in a life of crime. Add to the mix the possibility of feeling invincible and a lack of self-control, and you get a lethal mix of criminal attitude.


74. Disorderly conduct
The lack of awareness in their behavior may push drug users to become rowdy in public. Meanwhile, others may become a menace to the community, especially when they’re under the influence of illicit drugs.



75. Frequent involvement in vehicular accidents
Driving under the influence of drugs increases the likelihood of vehicular accidents. When you observe that a person figures in car accidents frequently, this might be a sign that he/she is abusing drugs.
76. Difficulty in paying attention
Some drugs cloud a person’s judgment and attention, and this may affect their attention span. Some drug abusers are too focused on getting pleasure out of their preferred drugs, while others are simply too stoned to pay attention.
77. Forgetfulness or poor memory
As some drug compounds affect a person’s mind, this may cause temporary amnesia or inferior memory. Situations of forgetfulness – say, not remembering where they car keys are or what time the next appointment will be – may be considered signs of drug abuse, especially if the person isn’t forgetful in the past.
78. Poor analytical thinking
When under the influence of drugs, a person may not be able to think clearly. This is critical for people who are required to analyze situations to achieve a particular objective. Failing to carry out proper analytical thinking may lead to accidents or loss.

79. Unable to focus
Whether it’s caused by the impact of drug metabolites on the brain or by a lack of proper rest, an inability to focus may be a telltale sign of drug abuse.
80. Chronic dishonesty
Engaging in drug abuse increases the likelihood of a person to become secretive and isolated. This
may cause drug abusers to lie about their lives, and this may create a habit of chronic dishonesty.

81. Unable to stop using the drug
Due to the addictive nature of some substances, some people may lose control over their drug-using habits. They may promise to stop using the drug, but long-term use will make it difficult for them to turn around.
82. Unable to set limits
While some people can still set their own limits on drug intake, excessive long-term drug use may cause them to abandon self-control for the sake of pleasure and satisfaction. If you observe that your loved one doesn’t seem to have limits – whether on drug or on any other aspect of life – he/she may be engaging in drug abuse.

83. Avoiding eye contact
Drug abuse may cause people to be ashamed of their dirty habit, making them feel guilty and unable to look into other people’s eyes. For others, avoiding eye contact is involuntary, and is instead caused by the drug’s adverse effect on the brain.
84. Going out every night
If you observe your friend or family member suddenly having the urge to go out at night more frequently than before, it may be a sign of drug abuse. People who abuse drugs don’t want to buy in broad daylight, and so evenings are perfect for them.
85. Running away from home
Although some teens run away from home for the sake of independence, others leave the house because they cannot continue to use drugs at home. If a family member expresses interest in leaving the house for good, try to ask him/her the reason behind running away.
86. Traveling to different places
Unless they have work commitments elsewhere or a penchant for travel, people who travel to different places may be looking for opportunities to buy drugs at cheap prices. If you observe someone going to different locations – most of which may not be known as tourist destinations – it’s a good idea to suspect drug addiction or abuse.
87. Having an urge or compulsion to take
more of a particular prescribed medication It’s normal for some people to receive a prescription for a particular health condition. However, if you observe that they’re taking more than what is prescribed, this may already be a symptom of drug abuse.
88. Looking through other people’s medicine cabinets
People who abuse prescription drugs have a tendency to get hold of medication in any way possible. This includes going to other people’s homes and taking a peek at their medicine cabinets.

89. Taking prescription medication in combination with alcohol or other substances
Prescription drugs may be designed for relief or treatment, but mixing them with
alcohol or illicit substances may be a sign that the person is engaging in drug abuse.

90. Refusal to undergo a drug test
No drug user wants to get caught in terms of their drug habits. When a random drug test is required, a person who abuses drugs may naturally refuse to subject himself to a drug test. The refusal may be in the form of verbal communication or a sudden absence during the drug testing procedure.
91. Falling asleep or passing out at work or in school
Aside from temporary blackouts, general drowsiness is also common for people who abuse drugs (especially depressants, downers, and alcohol). There are other medical factors for frequent loss of consciousness but take note that drug abuse is one of them.
92. Drop in performance at work or in school
One of the reasons why companies conduct workplace drug testing is to protect work productivity. This is because drug abuse affects a person’s quality and amount of work done.

93. Increased number of absences
Apart from medical reasons, a high rate of absenteeism may be a sign that an employee or student is abusing drugs. The absence may be due to lower physical energy or the person’s tendency
to look for means to buy drugs.

94. Getting into trouble at work or outside of work frequently
Drug abusers have a higher likelihood of engaging in fights, accidents, and illegal activities like driving under the influence. If someone at work seems to get into trouble regularly, your suspicion
of drug abuse of that person may be true.

95. Hiding when called for a workplace drug test
Drug abusers don’t want to get caught redhanded, especially when it comes to testing for drugs. If a person suddenly goes missing after an announcement of a workplace drug test, that may be a signal that the person is abusing drugs.


96. Appears fearful, anxious, or paranoid for no apparent reason
Drug abuse affects a person’s psychological makeup, which may cause unreasonable and inexplicable episodes of fear, anxiety, and paranoia. Most drug addicts cannot control their thoughts and emotions, leading them to experience these things more frequently than others.
97. Depression
Depression may be one of the primary psychological results of abusing drugs. In the case of people who are already diagnosed with depression, drug abuse may aggravate the negative feeling and emotions.

98. Lack of motivation, often appearing lethargic or ‘spaced out’

Abuse of depressants and similar drugs may bring down the energy and enthusiasm of users, and may even leave them less motivated than before. In some cases, drug abusers look apathetic or
appear like they don’t care about the world.

99. Suicidal thoughts or attempts

In severe cases, drug abuse may cause a person to have suicidal thoughts. Combined with the lack of self-control and lower inhibitions, these thoughts may push a drug abuser to attempt suicide.

100. Irritability

People who abuse drugs are more prone to become irritable. Their irritation may be triggered by different kinds of sources such as noise, human interaction, memory of past experiences, and frustrations.

101. Angry outbursts

Drug abuse affects the user’s psychological and emotional stability, and this may cause him/her to exhibit unreasonable fits of anger. Many of them won’t be able to control their anger, regardless of the situation or time that they are in.

102. Violent tendencies

I n extreme cases, people who abuse drugs tend to be violent. This may be caused by either an angry outburst, lack of inhibition, or desperation to get hold of drugs.


103. Sudden mood swings

The psychological impact of drug abuse may cause the user to experience mood swings that he/she cannot control. These mood changes may not be triggered by anything except the body’s reaction to the drug.

104. Episodes of confusion

Drug abusers tend to get confused over any kind of situation, either mundane or complicated. Drug compounds affect the user’s brain functioning, which may affect their perspective on things.

105. Too focused on getting the drug, using the drug, or recovering from the effects of the drug

A drug user’s life revolves around their drug of choice, and this is evident through the conversations that they start, the priorities that they set, and the decisions that they make.

106. Emotional instability

A person’s emotional stability may be affected by drug abuse, to a point where the user experiences fluctuations in emotions such as uncontrolled laughing followed by episodes of crying.

107. Feeling the need to rationalize their unusual actions

Guilt and the need for acceptance may lead drug users to explain why they are acting the way they do. Instead of accepting their faults, drug users tend to justify their actions.

108. Tendency to blame others for behavior or experience

In some cases, people who abuse drugs tend to put the blame on circumstances or other people for their wrong actions and attitudes. In other words, they refuse to take full responsibility for the things that they do wrong.

109. Overly defensive when asked about drug use

Probably because of guilt, drug users put up a wall of defense whenever you ask them about substance use. They may try to hide their bad habit or make an excuse for their drug use. For instance, they may say that they’re prescribed to take the drug for a particular condition even though it has already been cured.

110. Presence of unusual number of spray cans in the trash

Unless the person is a spray paint artist or a hair salon owner, finding a lot of empty spray cans in the person’s trash bin may be a sign that he/she is abusing inhalants.

111. Presence of unusual number of eye drops at home

Some drugs cause eye redness, swelling, or irritation. Having a lot of eye drops may be a sign of drug abuse.

112. Abnormally high inventory of glue, paint thinners, or cleaning fluids

These substances may be used for construction and home improvement, but they are also being abused by people who find pleasure in inhalants. If you discover that someone has an unusually high
stock of these substances, it may be safe to say that the person is abusing them.

113. Missing prescription pills in the house

While it’s not unusual to have a considerable amount of prescription medication at home, a sudden disappearance of these substances may be a sign that someone in your house is abusing them.

114. Possession of drug paraphernalia

Items associated with drugs may vary depending on the substance being abused. However, some of the most common ones include small spoons, bongs, metal and glass pipes, lighters, and cigarette paper and foil.

115. Locked doors and higher demand for privacy

Unless a person instantly becomes introverted or traumatized, a sudden need for privacy may be a sign of drug abuse. People who abuse drugs at home tend to lock their rooms and demand to be isolated, so that they can enjoy their drugs.

116. Hidden stashes of alcohol or drugs

Discovering hidden booze and other questionable substances inside a person’s room is one of the clear signs of drug abuse and addiction.

117. Family history of substance abuse

This situation may increase the likelihood that a person become predisposed to abuse drugs. Although family history may aggravate the chances of drug abuse, a person can always refuse to continue the longstanding drug history.