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What Are Some Common Signs of Drug Use?

Dillon McClernon

Authored by Dillon McClernon

It can be challenging to tell if someone is using drugs. Many signs are subtle and could easily be mistaken for something else. However, there are some common indicators that drug use is taking place. If you suspect someone you love is using drugs, it is essential to pay close attention to their behavior and look for these signs:

Mood swings

Mood changes are one of the most recognizable symptoms of drug use and abuse. When someone experiences sudden or extreme changes in mood that do not appear to be related to any other factors, it can often be a sign of drug use. This is because drugs can interfere with the brain’s complex chemistry in multiple ways, leading to significant imbalances in neurotransmitters that regulate emotional states.

Personal hygiene changes

A change in personal hygiene is another sign that something is wrong. If someone who normally takes pride in their appearance suddenly stops caring about how they look, it may be a sign that they are using drugs.

This is especially true if, at the same time, they neglect other areas, such as work or school. But you should also be weary when a loved one becomes overly hygienic, as they could be working hard to cover any odor from drug or alcohol use. People who abuse substances may use mints, mouthwash, lotions, sprays, and perfumes to hide substance abuse.

Increasing secrecy and social withdrawal

People who start using drugs often become more secretive and withdrawn. This is because they are ashamed of their habit and don’t want to be found out. They may start withdrawing from recreational activities with friends and family and become more isolated.

They may also begin to lie or make excuses for their behavior. Secrecy or withdrawal may be a sign that they are using drugs. This is especially true if they start hanging out with a new group of friends that you don’t know.

Changes in physical appearance

Another common sign of drug abuse is a change in physical appearance. This can manifest itself in several ways but usually includes a sudden weight loss or gain, changes in sleep patterns, red or glazed eyes, and pupils that are either constricted or dilated. Eating habits may also change, as many drugs can cause cravings or loss of appetite. If someone you love starts to look noticeably different and there is no other explanation, it could be a sign of drug abuse.

Odors on clothing or breath

Many drugs have a distinct smell, so if you notice sudden changes in how someone smells, it could be a sign that they are using. For example, marijuana has a distinct smell often detectable on clothing or breath. Similarly, methamphetamines, alcohol, and cocaine have strong odors as well. If you notice that your loved one smells different and can’t explain why it could be a sign of drug use.


If you find drug paraphernalia in your loved one’s possession, it is a clear sign that they are using drugs. This could include rolling papers, pipes, lighters, syringes, bongs, and pill containers. Even if you don’t know what the paraphernalia is for, it is always best to err on the side of caution and assume that it is related to drug use. People use paraphernalia to use, store or move drugs, so it is always a cause for concern.

Sudden financial problems

Drugs are expensive, so people who start using them often experience financial problems. If your loved one suddenly can’t pay their bills or is always asking for money, it could be a sign that they are spending their money on drugs. They may also start to sell personal belongings or engage in illegal activities to get money to buy drugs.

Withdrawal symptoms

Many drugs cause withdrawal symptoms when someone stops using them. These signs and symptoms can be physical, mental, or emotional and can vary in severity. They may include tremors, sweating, nausea, vomiting, headaches, and fatigue.

If your loved one suddenly complains about such health problems without explanation, it could signify withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms can be highly uncomfortable and lead to relapse if not appropriately managed.

Frequently getting into legal trouble

Many people who abuse drugs also get into legal issues. This may be because they engage in illegal activities to get money for drugs or because their drug use is causing them to behave recklessly. If your loved one is suddenly getting arrested for things like driving under the influence or getting into trouble at work or school, it could be a sign of a drug problem.

What to Do When Your Loved One Shows These Signs of Using

If you notice any of these signs in your loved one, it is essential to take action. Early intervention is key to helping someone with a substance abuse problem. Drug use can lead to various health issues and, in the worst cases, it can become life threatening. In 2021 alone, there were more than 107,000 drug-related overdose deaths in the United States – a good reason to act fast.

And since addiction affects the brain, your loved one might be unable to pull themselves out of the situation. According to the National Institutes on Drug Use, the initial decision to try drugs is voluntary. But with continued use, one’s ability to exercise self-control can become seriously impaired.

Man Drinking

Follow these steps to get your loved one the help they need:

Talk to them about your concerns: Approach your loved one in a non-judgmental way and express your concerns about their behavior. Be prepared to listen to them and try to see things from their perspective.

Encourage them to get help: If they are willing to talk about their problem, encourage them to seek professional help. Offer to go to appointments or help them find a treatment program.

Stage an intervention: If your loved one is unwilling to seek help, you may need to stage an intervention. This is a formal process where you and a group of close friends or family members confront the person about their problem and try to get them to agree to treatment.

Addiction Treatment

If your loved one agrees to seek treatment, several options are available. The best treatment will vary depending on the person’s needs. But in general, most people with a drug problem will need some combination of detox, therapy, and medication.

If your loved one has co-occurring mental health issues, they’ll receive a holistic treatment that addresses both problems. They may also need to join support groups after treatment for continued care. Call us for help now. We are available 24 hours, 7 days a week.

Authored by

Dillon McClernon

Dillon McClernon

Dillon currently serves as the Senior Director of Sales and Marketing at RCA. After his tenure as Chief Communications Officer and senior advisor to RCA, he opted for a full-time position at RCA where he could build a new team linking sales and marketing to directly impact RCA’s mission of saving 1 million lives.


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