How Do I Know If My Loved One Is Abusing Drugs?
Nobody is happy to entertain the possibility that someone who they love has been abusing drugs. But if you fear that that unfortunate situation is a loved one’s reality, it may be your responsibility to determine whether your loved one has indeed been abusing substances and what action you now need to take to protect their safety and well-being.
Some signs of a substance use disorder are the same across different kinds of drugs. These signs of addiction include poor performance at school or work, unexplained personality changes or mood swings, sudden change in eating or sleeping patterns, unexplained weight loss, uncharacteristic secretiveness, and unexplained withdrawal from social life.
Other signs differ depending on the type of substance involved. For example, if someone is struggling with an addiction to a legal drug like alcohol or a medication that was initially prescribed to them, you may notice a pattern of escalating use, as a few drinks with dinner or an occasional Xanax to wind down gradually becomes a more constant intoxication.
But if someone is abusing an illegal drug or a medication that was never prescribed to them, they are more likely to try to hide their drug use completely, especially if they suspect you will disapprove.
Other signs of drug abuse that can differ depending on what drug someone is abusing have more to do with the specific symptoms of intoxication that tend to occur with different drug types.
Classes Of Drugs And Common Symptoms
One type of commonly abused drugs are stimulants, a class which includes illegal drugs like cocaine and amphetamines as well as some prescription drugs commonly used in the treatment of ADHD, like Adderall, Ritalin, and Concerta.
Since these drugs rev up the nervous system, someone who is high on them will likely appear wired, restless, and hyperactive. They can appear more talkative, energetic, and confident than usual but can also display frightening psychological symptoms like aggression, paranoia, and loss of touch with reality. Stimulant use can also come with the risk of physical complications from overdose like seizures and heart failure.
Depressants are another class of drugs that can foster addiction that work in an almost opposite way, slowing down thought and bodily processes in a way that those who abuse them find relaxing. This category includes alcohol as well as some prescription drugs like benzodiazepines and opioid painkillers, plus some illegal drugs like heroin.
You’re probably familiar with the behavior of someone who is drunk, but someone who is using opiates or sedatives is likely to appear more zoned-out and lethargic, though also perhaps strangely euphoric. You also might notice dilated pupils, slower breathing, or slurred speech. If someone who you suspect has been abusing depressants appears unresponsive, you should seek medical attention immediately in case of an overdose.
Last but not least, there are hallucinogens, which tend to be less addictive than stimulants or depressants but can still indicate a serious substance problem. Some commonly abused hallucinogens include LSD, PCP, ketamine, and psilocybin. These drugs work by altering someone’s awareness of the world around them, either by causing a state of dissociation or by invoking hallucinations that take them into another world entirely.
You can recognize someone who is high on a hallucinogen if they appear to be seeing things that are not there, out of touch with or detached from reality, or speaking in a way that does not make sense. Depending on the drug used, they also may appear paranoid, aggressive, or even entirely immobilized. Some of these drugs also come with physical indicators, like an increased heart rate or dilated pupils.
It’s also worth noting that some drugs, like marijuana and ecstasy, have qualities of more than one “class,” as well as that many people who abuse substances have issues involving more than one drug, a condition known as “polydrug abuse.”
Withdrawal from many of these drugs also comes with its own psychological side effects, like irritability, anxiety, or lethargy, that could be hard to differentiate from intoxication. Thus, any confusing mixture of symptoms that could potentially be attributed to substance abuse might be worth investigating further.
However, it’s also important to remember that drug use is not the only possible explanation. Some mental illnesses, like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or even severe depression, could present similarly to abuse of certain substances. Either way, though, if your loved one is sufficiently incapacitated, they may need your help in obtaining appropriate treatment for their condition.
What To Watch Out For
Aside from the behavioral signs of drug abuse, you may be able to figure out that your loved one is abusing drugs if you catch them with the physical drugs themselves. Be on the lookout for strange powders, liquids, or substances, or perhaps for a baggies of unmarked pills or a pill bottle with someone else’s name on it.
Your suspicions about your loved one’s drug abuse might also be given more credence if you find drug paraphernalia. Drugs that can be smoked could be indicated by the presence of rolling papers, lighters or pipes. And drugs that can be snorted might be signaled by the presence of rolled up dollar bills or straws to snort through, or a razor blade or credit card used to move powdered substances into lines.
For drugs that can be injected, besides the obvious syringes, you may also want to look for lighters and burnt spoons used to heat up substances before injection, or something that might have been used as a tourniquet to tie off an injection site, like a belt, rubber band, or shoelace.
Snorting or smoking drugs can also cause upper respiratory symptoms that could be a tip-off to your loved one’s drug use. And the surest sign that someone has been injecting them is the presence of track marks, usually on the person’s non-dominant arm but occasionally on other body parts as well. Someone who is constantly wearing long sleeves, even in warm weather, may also be making an effort to cover up these marks.
Some drugs also have a distinct smell, and you might notice either the scent itself or your loved ones’ efforts to disguise it; for example, an alcoholic might frequently chew gum or suck on mints to hide the stench of liquor on their breath.
Help Your Loved One Using The Marchman Act
If you are able to ascertain that your loved one does indeed have a drug problem, your next move will depend on how severe the problem is and whether or not your loved one is willing to seek help themselves. But if they are not, and they are clearly causing serious harm to themselves, your hands are not tied.
Though such a measure should be a last resort given its potential to cause lasting damage to you and your loved ones’ relationship, the Marchman Act is a Florida statute that allows for someone whose substance abuse has made them a danger to themselves or others to be involuntarily committed to a treatment program. To learn more about filing the Marchman Act and how one of our skilled intervention counselors can help you through the process, feel free to contact us anytime at 833-497-3808.