Drug Abuse Symptoms

The symptoms of drug abuse are wide and varied. There are psychological symptoms that manifest in someone’s behavior. There are physical symptoms that can change how we look and how we feel. If you are concerned that someone you know and love is using drugs, you’ll need to know what to look for on a general basis, as well as what to look for based upon specific types of drugs. For instance, stimulant drugs will create different symptoms than central nervous system depressants. Cocaine and methamphetamines, while they are both stimulants, can have different symptoms, as well.

In addition to the overall significance of these types of symptoms, there are other, more physical symptoms that can accompany drug abuse based on the types of drug used.

Behavior Changes

No matter what kind of drug an individual is using, there are generally a few signs that something is not quite right in their life. Behaviors change – from sleep patterns to the company one keeps. According to Medline Plus, some of these signs are:

  • Keeping secrets
  • Changing one’s primary group of friends
  • Lying, cheating and/or stealing
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Changes in activity levels




Drug Addiction Characteristics


There are other signs that are actually part of the definition of drug addiction as presented by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. According to these government experts, addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that has certain characteristics. These characteristics are some of the symptoms of drug abuse, such as:

  • Continued use of drugs despite harmful consequences
  • An incapability to stop using drugs, even if the person wants to
  • An inability to control the amount of drugs taken at any given time
  • Focusing on drug use above anything else, including studies, career and even children or family needs

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Symptoms of Methamphetamine Use and Abuse

Methamphetamine is a stimulant drug that is manufactured in a lab. It is a mixture of volatile chemicals that, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency, was originally created as an ingredient in nasal decongestants and bronchial inhalers. The effects of methamphetamine use can last for up to eight hours and are quite pronounced.

Typical Signs

The symptoms of methamphetamine use include:

  • Wakefulness, alertness and/or hyperactivity
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Increased body temperature and/or excessive sweating
  • Euphoria
  • Lack of appetite
  • Enhanced mood

Methamphetamine increases the brain’s production of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that is responsible for our mood and feelings of reward or pleasure. It is highly addictive, and chronic use of the drug can result in significant changes in behavior and appearance. For instance, chronic use can lead to paranoia, anxiety, convulsions, irritability and uncontrollable tremors (sometimes referred to as “tweaking”). Some individuals who use methamphetamine regularly will begin to exhibit violent tendencies as they become more and more irritable and restless.

Finally, one’s physical appearance will change. Individuals who use methamphetamine tend to lose weight rather quickly, and their skin develops sores. The chemicals found in methamphetamine can also adversely affect the teeth. According to the American Dental Association, the drug can cause dry mouth and, because the effects of the high can last for as long as 12 hours, methamphetamines are prone to very long periods of time without the benefit of oral hygiene. Also, the ADA states that meth users have a tendency to grind their teeth, which can result in breakage. The condition, known as “meth mouth” often results in the teeth being permanently removed as the damage is too severe to repair.

How It’s Abused

Cocaine can be ingested in a variety of ways, and each one can leave behind different symptoms. For instance:

  • Snorted cocaine (ingested through the nose) can create chronic nosebleeds
  • Injected cocaine (injected intravenously with a needle and syringe) often leaves scar tissue from repeated injections, known as tracks
  • Smoked cocaine’s most profound symptoms are the intense craving that can occur after a single use, because the euphoric high lasts only a few moments

Signs of Cocaine Abuse

Cocaine is an addictive drug that is derived from the coca plant. For centuries, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it has been used in its native South America as a stimulant. The chemical version of cocaine has been abused and misused for a period of more than a century. While it is a controlled substance, it is still used in some medical procedures and can be legally prescribed for those purposes. The signs and symptoms of cocaine abuse, however, can range from subtle to fairly obvious.

Because cocaine is a stimulant, some of the symptoms are similar to methamphetamine, such as increased body temperature, higher heart rate and increased blood pressure. In addition to these symptoms, the cocaine user may experience paranoia, anxiety and panic. An overdose of cocaine can result in heart attacks, stokes, seizures and death.

Possible Signs

The symptoms of pain medication abuse, according to the FDA, may include:

  • Increased tolerance to the drug, requiring more doses to achieve the same effects
  • Amplified drowsiness
  • Constipation
  • Depressed breathing

Symptoms of Prescription Pain Medication Abuse

When we visit a doctor because of an illness or injury that causes pain, we often leave with a prescription to treat that pain. Medications, when taken exactly as prescribed, for the duration they are prescribed, can be of great benefit. However, abuse of prescription medications is an easy trap to fall into. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, taking a medication in any manner other than prescribed is abuse. If you take your spouse’s pain medication for an aching back, you are abusing that medication. If you consume two doses of medication rather than one because you feel that you are in more pain than you should be, you are abusing the medication.

These seem like harmless solutions to problems; however, these very decisions can lead to further abuse and eventually, to addiction.

Most pain medications are derived from opium or morphine. Another symptom of excessive use of these types of drugs, according to the University of Maryland, includes itching.

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What Should You Do if You Suspect Drug Abuse?

The first thing you should understand when you suspect that either you, or someone you know, is abusing drugs, is realize you are not alone. There are millions of people affected by drug abuse in the United States every year. While drug addiction is not curable, it is treatable. When you catch drug abuse before it progresses into full-blown dependence and addiction, it is even more likely to be managed successfully.

If you discover that someone you love – a spouse, a child, a parent – is actively abusing drugs, watch for signs of overdose. These symptoms might include an inability to wake if they have been exposed to excessive amounts of depressants or alcohol and an inability to be still should the drug taken be a stimulant. If you suspect that they have overdosed, do not hesitate to act. Take them to an emergency hospital or call for an ambulance immediately.

If the situation is less acute and you are not concerned about an immediate health issue, consider calling us for advice on how to proceed. Services such as an intervention may help your loved one see how damaging their drug abuse has become and provide a means to seek early treatment to avoid the ravages of addiction.

It is easy to do nothing. It can sometimes make us feel better to pretend that nothing is wrong – that something like addiction and drug abuse can’t affect us directly. The truth is, drug abuse does not discriminate. Young and old, male and female, rich and poor – drug abuse can find its way into our lives when we least expect it. Contact us here Alta Mira for an in-depth discussion of how we can help.