illicit drugs

Is Your Family Member on Drugs? 8 Signs They Are Using Illicit Drugs

Last updated on July 15th, 2019 at 12:23 pm

Did you know that over 19 million Americans suffer from drug and alcohol addiction? We never think that it could happen to someone we love— but it can. 

8 Signs of Illicit Drug Use

Is your teenager, sibling, parent, or friend showing signs of substance abuse? If so, know that early diagnosis allows your loved one to get help sooner. But, how can you tell if your loved one is using illicit drugs?

Some signs of substance abuse are physical and others are behavioral. Keep an eye out for the following eight signs that your loved one is using drugs:

1. Physical Changes

There are some obvious physical changes that the body endures when it has drugs in its system. To start, users often get bloodshot or glassy eyes. The pupils may even shrink (constrict) or get enlarged (dilate).  

Weight fluctuation is also common with different drugs. There may also be a loss of hair and general tiredness.

Your loved one may also experience a constantly runny nose. If the substance he or she is abusing is alcohol, look out for the “alcoholic nose.” This is where the bulb of the nose swells or looks flushed.

Some heavy drugs, like meth and heroin, can cause wounds to the skin, either from picking and scratching or from injecting needles.

2. Changes in Routine

The user’s typical routine gets disrupted during drug use. Some users might develop insomnia or start sleeping in excessive amounts.

Personal hygiene habits also get disrupted when getting and using drugs becomes the user’s biggest priority. Users may neglect to take care of their teeth, skin, or body. You may notice your loved one’s clothes are often dirty and he or she has strong body odor.

Moreover, arriving at meetings, work, school, and appointments on time might happen less. Your loved one may start showing up late, or not at all, to obligations.

3. Social Changes

A person who is usually social and personable may become solitary on drugs. You might notice your loved one withdrawing from friends and peers.

Your loved one may even be spending more time with a crowd you don’t know. Users tend to spend social time with people who enable their addictive habits.

This could also mean that your loved one is withdrawing from family.

When users try to hide their addiction, they may isolate themselves from people who love them. They either don’t want to get forced to stop or don’t want to disappoint the people they love.

4. Neglecting Responsibilities

Is it your loved one’s turn to pick up the kids from daycare? Has he or she stopped showing up for work? Or school?

Neglecting responsibilities is a sign of illicit drug use.

Intoxication can make users forget about their obligations and commitments. At that moment, they only care about getting high.

If the user in question is a parent, the situation becomes especially critical. Addiction can harm kids and other dependents. After all, neglect is a form of child abuse.

5. Financial Problems

Addiction is an expensive habit. To maintain daily use, some users pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars each week for their supply of illicit drugs.

If your loved one has started asking to borrow money more frequently, it could be a sign of illicit drug abuse. This is especially true if your loved one promises to pay you back but never does.

Do an experiment: the next time your loved one asks to borrow money, decline the request. How does your loved one react? If he or she gets upset or tries to pressure you further, stand your ground.

It’s important not to enable users by supplying the money they use to buy their drugs. Enabling addictive behaviors don’t help them get clean or seek help. Your support of a healthy, clean life is more influential.

6. Unpredictable Mood Swings

Users take drugs for a variety of reasons. Some use illicit drugs to cope with trauma or escape conflict. Others started off using drugs as meaningless experimentation that wound up causing a physical dependence.

Whatever the case, the vast majority of users don’t want to be addicted.

The unhappiness and discontent your loved one may feel as a result of addiction can cause erratic mood swings. Plus, the drugs themselves could also cause mood swings by affecting the user’s brain chemistry.

Sometimes, mood swings are normal, even for sober people. So, be sure to make note of the intensity and frequency of your loved one’s mood swings.

7. Defensiveness

Have you already approached the topic of addiction with your loved one? If so, he or she probably responded with defensiveness and negativity.

This is a normal response from someone who is struggling with an addiction to illicit drugs.

Some users are fearful that admitting their addiction means that they can’t use drugs anymore. There’s also the fear of upsetting and disappointing those they love.

Others are in complete denial that they have an addiction at all. They may even believe that they have total control over their habit. This makes it very difficult to convince them to get help.

If your loved one gets defensive when you broach the subject of addiction, stay calm. Remind your loved one how much you care.

8. Withdrawal from Interests

Another sign that someone you love is using illicit drugs is a sudden withdrawal from favorite activities. When people excel at something or have a passion for it, they will do everything they can to continue doing it. However, drugs make people lose sight of their interests and goals, resulting in shortsightedness and personality changes.

For example, a student who excels at sports may stop going to practice if he or she has become addicted to illicit drugs. Alternatively, a successful business person may stop going to work in favor of using drugs. Even parents may lose interest in playing with their children because of illicit drug addiction.

If your loved one stops doing things that he or she usually loves, then this could be a sign of illicit drug addiction. Try to find out what’s replacing those favorite activities. It could be a new group of peers, illicit drugs, or both.

Is Your Loved One Using Illicit Drugs?

The physical and behavioral changes in someone using illicit drugs are alarming. And, sometimes, getting help for our loved ones can be a struggle, especially if they’re in denial about the addiction.

Addiction Treatment Services can help. We can connect you to experienced and qualified intervention specialists. For more information, please contact us.

Article Reviewed by Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPA

Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPADr. Keerthy Sunder, MD is an accomplished and internationally recognized expert in the field of addiction. He has earned diplomates from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, the American Board of Addiction Medicine, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.