Know the Signs: The First Step in Recognizing Drug Abuse

  • recognizing drug abuseProblems at school or work – frequently missing school or work, a sudden disinterest in school activities or work, or a drop in grades or work performance
  • Physical health issues – lack of energy and motivation
  • Neglected appearance – lack of interest in clothing, grooming or looks
  • Changes in behavior – exaggerated efforts to bar family members from entering his or her room or being secretive about where he or she goes with friends; or drastic changes in behavior and in relationships with family and friends
  • Spending money – sudden requests for money without a reasonable explanation; or your discovery that money is missing or has been stolen or that items have disappeared from your home, indicating maybe they’re being sold to support drug use.

Recognizing signs of drug use or intoxication
Signs and symptoms of drug use or intoxication may vary, depending on the type of drug. Below, you’ll find several examples.

Marijuana, hashish & other cannabis-containing substances

People use cannabis by smoking, eating, or inhaling a vaporized form of the drug. Cannabis often precedes or is used along with other substances, such as alcohol or other illegal drugs, and is often the first drug tried.

Signs and symptoms of recent use can include:

  • A sense of euphoria or feeling “high”
  • A heightened sense of visual, auditory and taste perception
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Red eyes
  • Dry mouth
  • Decreased coordination
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering
  • Increased appetite
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Paranoid thinking

Long-term (chronic) use is often associated with:

  • Decreased mental sharpness
  • Poor performance at school or at work
  • Reduced number of friends and interests

Synthetic cannabinoids and substituted cathinones

Two groups of synthetic drugs – synthetic cannabinoids and substituted cathinones – are illegal in most states. The effects of these drugs can be dangerous and unpredictable, as there is no quality control and some ingredients may not be known.

Synthetic cannabinoids, also called “K2” or “Spice,” are sprayed on dried herbs and then smoked, but can be prepared as an herbal tea. Despite manufacturer claims, these are chemical compounds rather than “natural” or harmless products. These drugs can produce a “high” similar to marijuana and have become a popular but dangerous alternative.

Signs and symptoms of recent use can include:

  • A sense of euphoria or feeling “high”
  • Elevated mood
  • Relaxation
  • An altered sense of visual, auditory and taste perception
  • Extreme anxiety or agitation
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion

Synthetic cannabinoids, also called “K2” or “Spice”

Synthetic cannabinoids are sprayed on dried herbs and then smoked, but can be prepared as an herbal tea. Despite manufacturer claims, these are chemical compounds rather than “natural” or harmless products. These drugs can produce a “high” similar to marijuana and have become a popular but dangerous alternative.

Signs and symptoms of recent use can include:

  • A sense of euphoria or feeling “high”
  • Elevated mood
  • Relaxation
  • An altered sense of visual, auditory and taste perception
  • Extreme anxiety or agitation
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion

Substituted cathinones, also called “bath salts,”

Substituted cathinones are psychoactive substances similar to amphetamines such as Ecstasy (MDMA) and cocaine. Despite the name, these are not bath products such as Epsom salts. Substituted cathinones can be eaten, inhaled or injected and are highly addictive. These drugs can cause severe intoxication that results in dangerous health effects or even death.

Signs and symptoms of recent use can include:

  • Euphoria
  • Increased sociability
  • Increased energy and agitation
  • Increased sex drive
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Chest pain
  • Paranoia
  • Panic attacks
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium
  • Psychotic and violent behavior

Barbiturates and benzodiazepines

Barbiturates and benzodiazepines are prescription central nervous system depressants. They’re often used and abused in search for a sense of relaxation or a desire to “switch off” or forget stress-related thoughts or feelings.

Phenobarbital, amobarbital (Amytal) and secobarbital (Seconal Sodium) are examples of barbiturates. Examples of benzodiazepines include sedatives, such as diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax, Niravam), lorazepam (Ativan), clonazepam (Klonopin) and chlordiazepoxide (Librium).

Signs and symptoms of recent use can include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Lack of coordination
  • Euphoria or an exaggerated feeling of well-being
  • Problems concentrating or thinking
  • Memory problems
  • Involuntary eye movements (nystagmus)
  • Lack of inhibition
  • Slowed breathing and reduced blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Depression

Meth, cocaine and other stimulants

Stimulants include amphetamines, meth (methamphetamine), cocaine and methylphenidate (Ritalin). They are often used and abused in search of a “high,” or to boost energy, to improve performance at work or school, or to lose weight or control appetite.

Signs and symptoms of recent use can include:

  • Feeling of exhilaration and excess confidence
  • Increased alertness
  • Increased energy and restlessness
  • Behavior changes or aggression
  • Rapid or rambling speech
  • Dilated pupils
  • Delusions and hallucinations
  • Irritability or changes in mood
  • Changes in heart rate and blood pressure
  • Nausea or vomiting with weight loss
  • Impaired judgment
  • Nasal congestion and damage to the mucous membrane of the nose (if snorting drugs)
  • Insomnia
  • Paranoia
  • Depression as the drug wears off

Club drugs

Club drugs are commonly used at clubs, concerts and parties. Examples include Ecstasy or Molly (MDMA), gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB), flunitrazepam (Rohypnol, or roofie) and ketamine. These drugs are not all in the same category, but they share some similar effects and dangers, including long-term harmful effects.

Because GHB and Rohypnol can cause sedation, muscle relaxation, confusion and memory loss, the potential for sexual misconduct or sexual assault is associated with the use of these drugs.

Signs and symptoms of use of club drugs can include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Dilated pupils
  • Chills and sweating
  • Involuntary shaking (tremors)
  • Behavior changes
  • Muscle cramping and teeth clenching
  • Reduced inhibitions
  • Heightened or altered sense of sight, sound and taste
  • Decreased coordination
  • Poor judgment
  • Memory problems or loss of memory
  • Reduced consciousness
  • Increased or decreased heart rate and blood pressure

Hallucinogens

Use of hallucinogens can produce different signs and symptoms, depending on the drug. The most common hallucinogens are lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and phencyclidine (PCP).

LSD use may cause:

  • Hallucinations
  • Greatly reduced perception of reality, for example, interpreting input from one of your senses as another, such as hearing colors
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Rapid shifts in emotions
  • Permanent mental changes in perception
  • Rapid heart rate and high blood pressure
  • Tremors
  • Flashbacks, a re-experience of the hallucinations – even years later

PCP use may cause:

  • A feeling of being separated from your body and surroundings
  • Hallucinations
  • Problems with coordination and movement
  • Aggressive, possibly violent behavior
  • Involuntary eye movements
  • Lack of pain sensation
  • Increase in blood pressure and heart rate
  • Problems with thinking and memory
  • Problems speaking
  • Impaired judgment
  • Intolerance to loud noise
  • Sometimes seizures or coma

Inhalants

Signs and symptoms of inhalant use vary, depending on the substance. Some commonly inhaled substances include glue, paint thinners, correction fluid, felt tip marker fluid, gasoline, cleaning fluids and household aerosol products. Due to the toxic nature of these substances, users may develop brain damage.

Signs and symptoms of use can include:

  • Possessing an inhalant substance without a reasonable explanation
  • Brief euphoria or intoxication
  • Decreased inhibition
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Involuntary eye movements
  • Appearing intoxicated with slurred speech, slow movements and poor coordination
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Tremors
  • Lingering odor of inhalant material
  • Rash around the nose and mouth

Narcotic painkillers

Opioids are narcotic, painkilling drugs produced from opium or made synthetically. This class of drugs includes, among others, heroin, morphine, codeine, methadone and oxycodone. Some people who’ve been using opioids over a long period of time may need physician-prescribed temporary or long-term drug substitution during treatment.

Signs and symptoms of narcotic use and dependence can include:

  • Euphoria or feeling “high”
  • Reduced sense of pain
  • Drowsiness or sedation
  • Slurred speech
  • Problems with attention and memory
  • Constricted pupils
  • Lack of awareness or inattention to surrounding people and things
  • Problems with coordination
  • Depression
  • Confusion
  • Sweaty, clammy skin
  • Constipation
  • Runny nose or nose sores (if snorting drugs)
  • Needle marks (if injecting drugs)