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signs of drug use

Drug Addiction: Signs of Substance Abuse

Drug addiction occurs when the repeated use of a substance produces certain changes in the brain in a region known as the pleasure center. Even without developing a full-blown addiction, people who use drugs regularly can develop signs of substance abuse. Let’s look at some of the potential signs of substance abuse in both adults and teenagers.

Drug Addiction vs. Abuse

Every time you consume an addictive drug, the substance changes the chemical balance inside your brain’s pleasure center. In fact, the alteration of chemical levels in this brain is responsible for the euphoria that often encourages drug intake. Over time, your brain will get used to the changes in its chemical makeup. When this occurs, taking more of the drug will be necessary to feel “high.” At a certain point, your brain will consider a drug-altered state as normal. This tipping point is the onset of addiction.

The term drug abuse is used in a couple of ways. First, it describes any consumption of a street drug or a mind-altering medication. Doctors and addiction specialists also use the term to describe a pattern of excessive drug or medication intake that sets the stage for the eventual development of drug addiction.

Signs of Substance Abuse

There are a broad range of outward signs that may point to the presence of serious substance abuse. Things to look for include:

  • A level of substance use that frequently leads to intoxication
  • Recurring use of a substance in a setting that presents an obvious danger to the person using or other people
  • Reliance on substance use as a favored recreational activity
  • Frequent use of a mind-altering street drug
  • Excessive consumption of a mind-altering medication, prescription or otherwise
  • Association with a social group that uses drugs
  • Absences from work or job loss as a result of substance use
  • Repeated intake of any combination of mind-altering substances, including alcohol
  • Reliance on substance use for stress relief
  • Hiding of substance use from others
  • Relationship problems caused by substance use
  • Concern from loved ones regarding level of substance intake
  • Anger or defensiveness when confronted with issues of substance use
  • Social isolation
  • Spending money earmarked for bills or other financial obligations on substance use
  • Recurring involvement in substance-related behavior that could result in arrest
  • Recurring run-ins with the law as a result of substance use

Signs in Teenagers

The signs of substance abuse in teenagers may differ substantially from the signs associated with adults. Parents should look for a number of potential issues, including:

Behavioral Changes

  • Unusual moodiness
  • Withdrawal from family activities
  • Unusual involvement in risky behaviors (e.g., speeding or unprotected sex)
  • Declining levels of personal motivation
  • Unusual sluggishness or clumsiness
  • Rare sleepiness or sleeplessness
  • Unexplained disappearances
  • Unexplained depressed or sullen moods
  • Abnormal use of lies and excuses

Changes in Appearance

  • Declining personal hygiene
  • Lack of concern over personal appearance
  • Physical signs of drug use (e.g., track marks or fingertip burns)
  • Unexplained bruises, scratches or abrasions

Changes in Typical Habits

  • Unusual locking of bedroom or bathroom doors
  • Sudden frequent use of breath fresheners, mints or gum
  • Uncommon food binges (i.e., the “munchies”)
  • Unusual attempts to hide incoming or outgoing phone calls
  • Unexplained or sudden requests for money
  • Unusual avoidance of eye contact
  • An abnormal tendency to stay out late at night

Health-Related Changes That Can’t Be Explained Otherwise

  • Frequent illness
  • Changes in body weight
  • Runny nose or nosebleeds
  • Sweatiness
  • Increased involvement in accidents

Problems at School or Work

  • Declining grades
  • Loss of interest in involvement in afterschool activities
  • Skipping school
  • Reports of concern from teachers or bosses
  • Obvious intoxication while working or in class

Other Possible Signs

  • Unexplained disappearance of medications or alcohol in the household
  • Mysterious disappearance of cash or expensive items
  • Odd smells in your vehicle or your teen’s vehicle
  • The discovery of drug paraphernalia (e.g., lighters, rolling papers or pipes)

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction that is affecting your life, Promises Treatment Center can help. Our highly experienced staff of medical and behavioral health professionals are here for you. Call us today at 888-502-8410 for a free, confidential consultation.

Posted on September 22, 2016 and modified on April 10, 2019

Krisi Herron

Medically Reviewed by

Krisi Herron, LCDC

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