Warning Signs Someone We Love Has a Substance Abuse Problem

by Marie Rodriguez

Someone can use drugs without being addicted. That’s not to say that the recreational use of illegal drugs is okay or should be encouraged, especially for those with a genetic predisposition for the disorder, those vulnerable to developing mental health disorders, or those with economic challenges.   Substance abuse addiction is a disorder that can be treated with the right course of treatment, like behavioral therapy and even medication.   Going to addiction recovery centers can be a life-saving choice that alters an addict’s life for the good. Their healing may not be linear or perfect, but we can at least help them open the door to a joyful and productive life of sobriety and recovery.

Substance Abuse Problem

It’s never too late to spot the symptoms and extend help. Here are some warning signs your loved one may be suffering from a substance abuse problem.

Physical signs and symptoms

Here are the changes in their bodies or physical appearances that you need to watch out for:

  • Their eyes might often be red, bloodshot, or dilated.
  • Their skin looks a bit washed out, and their face might have some form of abnormal puffiness.
  • Some drug abusers might have physical tics like persistent itching in some parts of their bodies, slurred speech, wearing long sleeves, pulling them down to hide injection marks, and frequent sniffling.
  • There is a visible weight change, especially for those who use drugs that can cause appetite suppression.
  • Sudden lack of interest in personal hygiene or grooming, especially if that was never a problem for them before.

While the above points are not necessarily clear-cut signs that someone is addicted, they can be clues that something is wrong with your loved one and it’s time to (lovingly) ask some important and challenging questions.

Equipment or paraphernalia

If you visit their place and see the following items, it may be a sign that they’re using their home to do drugs:

  • Surfaces that can be cut—like pieces of glass or a mirror
  • Cigarette wrapping papers
  • Razor blades
  • Pipes
  • Bongs
  • Syringes
  • Burnt bottle caps or spoons
  • Rolled up banknotes
  • Lighters
  • Cut-up straws
  • Soiled cotton swabs

Not every drug of choice needs the above, but those are some of the most common paraphernalia for users. Another item you need to watch out for is medicine bottles because it may be a clue that the person is abusing prescription drugs.


The following are behaviors that might indicate that your loved one is abusing drugs or alcohol:

  • They struggle with limits and boundaries. If they tell you they have a self-imposed limit on how much they can drink or use but never seem able to control or stop themselves, this may be a cause for concern. They never know when to stop drinking during parties or when they’re alone—to the point that it’s affecting their ability to function normally daily.
  • Many substances can impair users’ ability to properly manage and handle their emotions—mainly when they use them heavily. Their mood swings give everyone and themselves a whiplash. Your loved one might swing from sudden misery to incredible joy, to being extremely upset, suddenly being withdrawn and wanting to isolate, and having disproportionate responses to minor inconveniences. Suppose your loved one is ordinarily calm or serene or rational, and they’re suddenly having these bouts of overwhelming emotions. In that case, it may be indicative of substance abuse or comorbidity like a mental health disorder.
  • They tend to be defensive when asked about their behavior. They respond with wariness or hostility when we bring up a topic they might be uncomfortable with, like their drinking. They might try to hide their addiction by distracting the person they’re talking to or being aggressive to turn the tables on the person who confronted them.
  • They are self-isolating or being reclusive. They spend extended periods locked in their bedroom and never leave their private space. They never share details about where they go and who they’re meeting, and they tend to shut down when asked questions that might expose their secret.

If you see some of these signs in someone you love, don’t hesitate to consult with medical professionals or intervention specialists. Ask for help from professionals, and remember that you don’t need to be alone in your quest to help your struggling loved one. The last thing you want is to get in the way of their recovery by misunderstanding or trying to control them.

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