Monday March 30th 2015

How to tell if someone is on drugs

How to tell if someone is on drugs

8-10% of adults have substance abuse issues

Friends and families of drug addicts: you are not alone.  If you are an employer, an employee, a teacher, a student, a parent or a friend who has an interest in maintaining a safe environment (and who doesn’t want that?) then you should know the tell-tale signs and symptoms of someone who is under the influence of drugs. Eight percent of full-time employed adults and 10% of part-time employed adults had substance abuse issues, according to the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Don’t let these small percentages fool you; they represent thousands and thousands of people, some of whom you might work with or see everyday!

Of course, everyone has days when their head just isn’t present. It could be due to stress from inside or outside the situation or personal issues and this is excusable from time to time, as we all have those days. However, if these days seem to happen more often than not for someone, that could be a sign of substance abuse.  Keep in mind also that the line between addiction v dependence is very delicate.  And that  even medical use of prescription drugs can be a problem.

Red flags for substance abuse

So, how do you tell the difference between someone having an off day and someone who is abusing drugs or alcohol in the workplace or right before going to work?

The most obvious red flag is if a person is having more ‘off days’ than non ‘off days’ for no apparent reason. Someone who has suffered a loss in the family, for example, is going to have a period of time where they just aren’t fully engaged but that time will pass. For someone with a substance abuse issue, though, a tell-tale pattern of behavior is a constant. It may not be every single day, but it will likely be more than enough to spot a problem. Despite the fact that each drug affects the body differently, a drug abuse problem has some pretty consistent signs and symptoms.

Drug abuse physical warning signs

  • bloodshot eyes, pupils larger or smaller than
  • deterioration of physical appearance
  • falling asleep or passing out at work
  • noticeable change in personal grooming habits for the worse
  • sudden weight loss or weight gain
  • tremors, slurred speech, or impaired coordination
  • unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing

Drug abuse behavioral signs

  • drop in performance or attendance at work
  • getting into trouble at work or outside of work frequently (e.g.: fights, accidents, illegal activities like driving under the influence)
  • secretive or suspicious behavior
  • unexplained need for money or financial problems, often accompanied by asking co-workers to borrow money or stealing from the company

Drug abuse psychological warning signs

  • appears fearful, anxious, or paranoid for no apparent reason
  • lack of motivation, person often appears lethargic or ‘spaced out’
  • sudden angry outbursts, mood swings or irritability
  • unexplained change in personality or attitude, particularly a negative change
  • unusual hyperactivity, agitation, or giddiness for short periods of time

Commonly Abused Drug Warning Signs

Depressants: (including Xanax, Valium, GHB): Contracted pupils; drunk-like state; difficulty concentrating; clumsiness; poor judgment; slurred speech; sleepiness.

Hallucinogens: (LSD, PCP): Dilated pupils; bizarre and irrational behavior including paranoia, aggression, hallucinations; mood swings; detachment from people; absorption with self or other objects, slurred speech; confusion.

Heroin: Contracted pupils; no response of pupils to light; needle marks; sleeping at unusual times; sweating; vomiting; coughing, sniffling; twitching; loss of appetite.

Inhalants: (glues, aerosols, vapors): Watery eyes; impaired vision, memory and thought; secretions from the nose or rashes around the nose and mouth; headaches and nausea; appearance of intoxication; drowsiness; poor muscle control; changes in appetite; anxiety; irritability.

Marijuana: Glassy, red eyes; loud talking, inappropriate laughter followed by sleepiness; loss of interest, motivation; weight gain or loss; excessive snacking or eating at inappropriate times.

Stimulants: (including amphetamines, cocaine, crystal meth): Dilated pupils; hyperactivity; euphoria; irritability; anxiety; excessive talking followed by depression or excessive sleeping at odd times; may go long periods of time without eating; weight loss; dry mouth and nose.

Drug abuse in the workplace is an unfortunate reality, but knowing what to watch for, along with a comprehensive drug testing program, can go a long way toward eradicating it from your workplace.

Is s/he on drugs?

If your child, spouse or someone else you care about is displaying any of this type of behavior or physical signs, they might have a substance abuse issue.  But as long as motivation to quit using drugs is present, recovery is possible.  Please leave your questions about drug use here. We will do our best to respond to you personally and promptly.

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7 Responses to “How to tell if someone is on drugs
7:10 pm August 1st, 2014

Hi there,
I am doing research on illegal drug use and was wondering if you could help me with a question I have. To make a long story short, I ended up in hospital because of paranoia, and after no illegal drugs were found in my blood or urine, they kept on insisting and persisting that I am a user of illegal drugs. My question is, if you pass a blood and urine test, is that not conclusive evidence that one is not taking illegal drugs? I am greatly offended at this false accusation which is why I am doing research on the topic. Thank you.
Kind Regards.

8:32 pm August 1st, 2014

Hi Tony. Paranoia is a symptom of abuse of stimulants like cocaine, methamphetamines, or ADHD drugs. I’d suggest that you speak with a psychiatrist about your concerns and seek a diagnosis for a possible underlying mental health disorder that has gone unnoticed until now. All the best!

3:52 pm November 2nd, 2014

Hello, I have been put in a very awkward position as a co-worker has confided in me that she is addicted to pills. She has contacted a doctor who she said have her a prescription to get off the drug as an out patient. I recommended she also go too NA. Anyway, my problem is do I say anything to the HR Dept or keep this to myself? I feel a certain responsibility to my company and she does have access to others personal information and credit card numbers, etc. What do I do?

4:08 pm November 6th, 2014

Hi Cindi. You are in a tough spot. I’d suggest that you follow your gut instinct. Perhaps find out whether your company supports people in addiction treatment by referring them to rehab…and/or what kinds of consequences disclosure would have. Is there an employee handbook that you can consult?

5:25 pm November 19th, 2014

hi there. i am in a difficult situation, and was hoping for some help. my ex had a complete personality change about 2 1/2 years ago. we’d been married for a decade, and had a 15 month old daughter at the time. suddenly he was cagey, and kept claiming that i didn’t trust him when i tried to discuss his erratic behavior. ultimately, he found a girlfriend and moved out, and has stayed out of our lives ever since, until now. in that time, he never even so much as called to check on his child a single time. he is incredibly angry, doesn’t feel he has done anything wrong, and now wants to be a part of our daughter’s life. i’m concerned. i don’t want to deprive my daughter of her father, but i know he has changed. he no longer takes care of himself. he has gained weight, doesn’t appear to be properly groomed, and has no ability to interact with others in a normal manner (he mostly just sits there without speaking). he has a job but no vehicle and doesn’t pay support, which makes me wonder where his money is going. he claims to be broke, and when asked why, only provided the answer, “because life sucks.” i fear for my daughter to learn from his anger and attitude. she’s 3 now, and she’s very bright, and is soaking up life like a sponge. soon, we’ll have to get divorced (he just walked away from his life, no final conversations, no divorce, no contact)…. and the courts will have a say so in how much visitation he can receive. i DO NOT want to entrust my daughter to him, and i’m afraid for her… if he takes her overnight, will she eat when she’s hungry? will she be exposed to drug abuse? will she be faced with his anger problem, if say she has trouble spending the night away from her mommy, or doesn’t get to the potty on time? so my question for you is, is there enough evidence of a drug problem to keep from sharing custody? i do not seek to keep him out of her life entirely, but i don’t want him taking her out of my sight. he has already shown control issues (making her say please before he’ll put her down – she hasn’t seen him for 2 1/2 years and he is virtually a stranger!) in dealing with her. now the courts will have a say, and i’m so scared that they’ll give him parental rights! what can i do? is there sufficient cause to ask for a drug test? if he passes, is this conclusive proof that he’s not doing drugs? can i request a psychiatric evaluation? i cannot discuss this with him, due to his anger problem. frankly, i don’t want to be on the evening news, and YES i fear his anger issue is that volatile. he seems like a barely controlled ball of rage, and if he acts like that in front of me, how will he act when he’s got her alone? are there any steps i can take to deescalate the situation if he starts to get out of hand? any recommendations for how to deal with this? does this sound like drugs are involved, or am i likely on the wrong track? please help… and thank you.

6:53 pm November 19th, 2014

Hello Anon. It sounds like your instincts are spot on; seek help through the social services or state department of health in your state. Speak with a social worker, a psychotherapist, a community leader, or anyone in the know…and figure out the steps you need to take to maintain custody and require supervision during his visits. We just did an interview from a child visitation and monitoring service that you might find helpful:

2:36 am January 29th, 2015

Hello, I am new to my job and I am trying to fit in the best I can. I have a co worker who is a nice enough guy but I have a really hard time getting in a work groove with him. It’s very busy and we work with patients. He seems to space out at work, gets really quiet and his eyes are super dilated. There are times I ask a question and I swear I cannot understand what he is saying. This usually happens mid afternoon, right after lunch. He doesn’t talk to me much so I really don’t know anything about him. I’m still learning and I really need his help. I don’t feel comfortable talking with any other co workers about this. There are times I really need him to snap out of it and help. We were having a small crisis the other day and he just wasn’t there for me. What do you think his issue is? I don’t think it’s normal.

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About Lena Butler

Lena Butler is a mom, health blogger and customer service representative for TestCountry. TestCountry is a San Diego based point of service diagnostic test service provider that offers a wide range of laboratory and instant testing kit solutions including drug tests, metal toxicity, DNA paternity, food and water tests and hundreds more. TestCountry's tests are easy to use and can be performed at your home or workplace.