If you have a suspicion that your friend or family member is using substances, it’s unlikely that you’ve come to this serious conclusion without any evidence. In the vast majority of cases of substance use disorders, there will be visible signs of drug addiction.

Despite a person’s attempt to conceal a drug dependency, the nature of addiction means that behaviors will change and become apparent to those nearby. If you’re concerned about a loved one’s hidden habits, it’s normal to feel like you’re in a tricky spot. You might worry that calling out an addiction could worsen the situation, or that trust will be broken.

To help you verify your inkling that drugs are in the picture, check out this guide to recognizing the signs of addiction. In your efforts to support your loved one, it’s important to first understand the problem and related behaviors. You’ll be surprised how many physical signs of drug addiction can be identified without ever actually seeing the drug itself.

Read on to learn about the most common signs of drug addiction so you can support your loved one in finding sobriety.

Physical signs of drug addiction

Different substances will present with different symptoms, but overall, common physical signs of drug addiction can include the following.

  • Lack of personal hygiene and care in appearance – If your loved one is especially private about substance use habits, a change in appearance may be the first thing you notice. Your loved one may neglect personal hygiene, wear inappropriate or dirty clothes, lose weight quickly or present with a lingering odor.
  • Exhaustion – Numerous drugs impact a person’s daily sleep and wake cycle, causing a person to feel sleepy or alert and awake through the night. This physical sign of drug addiction may be difficult to control and lead to irregular patterns such as insomnia, constant napping or difficulty waking.
  • Appetite changes – Substance use also negatively impacts metabolic functioning, resulting in a possibly dramatic appetite decrease. You may notice your loved one skipping meals, avoiding commitments around mealtimes or doesn’t enjoy food the way he used to.
  • Bloodshot eyes – The long-term effects of drug and alcohol use can include unhealthy-looking eyes. Eyes appearing bloodshot, glazed or dilated are common among substance users. The whites of a person’s eyes may also develop a yellowish tint.
  • Other physical signs – The appearance of behaviors like pulling down their sleeves to hide signs of injections, frequent itching, slurred speech and impaired coordination might point to drug use. These behaviors are always worth addressing, even if their origin is different than substance abuse.

While it is important to avoid feelings of paranoia and falling into the temptation of assuming every out-of-the-ordinary behavior is an indication of drug use, it’s also helpful to know the physical signs of drug addiction to look for when you suspect the destructive habit of addiction.

Behavioral signs of drug addiction

After consumption, the chemicals in drugs quickly travel to the brain, causing changes in a person’s neurochemistry. These changes can be short-term or long-term, and over time can lead to extreme changes in behavior and cognition. These changes are likely to manifest in the following ways.

  • Mood swings – One of the hallmark signs of drug addiction is rapid and extreme changes in moods. This is one of the primary reasons that people seek drugs (for the initial mood boost). However, a person trapped in addiction will also experience a depressive crash, anger or loneliness often accompanied by withdrawal. Changes in mood might also manifest in irritability, erratic behavior or even aggressive outbursts.
  • Loss of interest – Many people start recognizing the signs of drug addiction because their loved one withdrawal from activities that were previously enjoyed together. If your friend seems to lose interest in hobbies or even social groups that were previously enjoyable, this may indicate a substance use disorder. As drug dependency builds, everything else will take a back seat. 
  • Engagement in dangerous behaviors – Activities like driving under the influence, stealing, using dirty needles and engaging in reckless sexual behavior can indicate a shift in mindset from prudent choices to impulsive, feel-good decisions, common in those utilizing drugs. 
  • Defensiveness around the topic of substance use – If you bring up the topic of substance use around someone you fear is involved with drugs and they become defensive, it might be an indicator of drug use and their own confused thoughts and feelings on the matter.
  • Large amounts of time spent in private – It is not uncommon for drug use to occur in private, or in the company of others who also use drugs. If you notice behaviors like disappearing into a private room for long periods of time, or a sudden shift in one’s friend groups or hangout places, drug use could possibly be involved.

If you do notice signs and have cause to suspect drug use, consider having an open discussion and gently asking questions before jumping to conclusions. 

Helping your loved one seek treatment

The goal of recognizing signs of drug abuse is never to snoop or accuse, but to help your loved one find healing and happiness in the long run. When you’ve identified clear signs of substance use (or identified the same signs numerous times) you can be reasonably certain that drug use or another serious issue is causing difficulty.

The best way to encourage your friend or family member to heal from drug use is to explain the signs you’ve noticed, and the dysfunction that has resulted and express your wish for him or her to seek professional substance use disorder treatment. While this conversation can be emotional, uncomfortable or met with confrontation, an outside perspective can help your loved one see the damage drugs have caused even if it’s hard to swallow at first.

If you’re eager to support your loved one in healing from addiction, reach out to Real Recovery. Connect your loved one with the support he or she deserves.