Characteristics and Symptoms of Drug Addictions

When you suspect that your loved one is using drugs, one of the most frightening and frustrating parts is the uncertainty. You know in your heart that something is wrong, but you don’t know exactly what they are using and your questions  are met with denial or minimization. It is very common for families of people with drug addictions to be unaware of the true nature of their loved one’s addiction or to only see a small portion of their drug use, leaving them feeling helpless in the face of unknown danger. Understanding the symptoms produced by different types of drugs may help point you towards your loved one’s possible addiction. However, be aware that many people use multiple drugs at once, which can make the situation, and the observation of symptoms, much more complicated.

Physical symptoms are only a part–there are many other ways addiction can negatively affect your loved one’s life. If you believe your loved one is struggling with any form of drug addiction, we invite you to contact us at any time to discuss your concerns and options for treatment.


Benzodiazepines are prescription anti-anxiety medications that are typically taken orally, but may also be injected or snorted. Benzodiazepines bind to the same receptor in the brain as alcohol, so the symptoms can be similar to drinking. Signs of benzodiazepine use include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Amnesia
  • Poor coordination or unsteadiness
  • Reduced inhibitions
  • Hostility and irritability


Cocaine is typically snorted, although some users inject or ingest it. Symptoms of cocaine use include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Runny nose or nosebleeds
  • Extreme confidence and excitement
  • Irritability, restlessness, and anxiety
  • Paranoia and delusions

Crystal Meth

Crystal meth, an amphetamine also known as speed, is typically smoked or injected, but can also be snorted. Signs of meth use include:

  • Increased focus, activity, and talkativeness
  • Decreased appetite
  • Skin picking
  • Skin crawling sensations
  • Paranoia or psychosis
  • Tooth decay
  • Hair loss


Marijuana is usually smoked or vaporized, but may also be ingested in edible goods such as cookies, brownies and candy. Symptoms of marijuana use include:

  • Bloodshot eyes and dilated pupils
  • Unusual hunger
  • Poor coordination
  • Memory impairment
  • Distorted perceptions


Opiates can take many forms and include both illicit drugs like heroin and prescription medications like fentanyl, OxyContin, and Percocet. Depending on the form, opiates may be injected, smoked, snorted, or used transdermally.  Symptoms of opiate use include:

  • Small pupils
  • Shortness of breath
  • Disorientation
  • Slurred speech
  • Sedation
  • Weight loss
  • Possession of paraphernalia such as syringes, aluminum foil, and straws with burn marks

Prescription Stimulants

Stimulants, such as Ritalin and Adderall, are typically prescribed for conditions such as ADHD and administered in pill form. These pills may be swallowed or crushed and snorted. Symptoms of prescription stimulant use include:

  • Increased energy and focus
  • Dilated pupils
  • Decreased appetite
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Reduced social inhibitions
  • Mood swings, irritability, and agression
  • Paranoia and delusions

Polysubstance Use

Exclusive use of a single drug is the exception, not the norm. Most people who struggle with drug addiction use multiple types of drugs, sometimes simultaneously. For example, opiates and benzodiazepines, cocaine and crystal meth, and alcohol and cocaine are often used together to heighten the effects of the drugs. In other cases, one type of drug is used to temper the comedown from another, such as taking benzodiazepines to ease withdrawal from cocaine. Polysubstance use can have unpredictable effects and significantly increases health risks.

Getting Help

If you suspect that your loved one is struggling with drug addiction, we encourage you to contact usto discuss your concerns. Our addiction experts are here to answer any questions you may have to help you understand what your family member is experiencing and what you can do to guide them toward treatment. We are always available to provide you with the support and advice you need during this difficult time and to help you connect with the resources you need to move forward.