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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.

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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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18 Responses to “How to tell if someone is on drugs
Tony
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!

Cindi
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?

Anon
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: http://drug.addictionblog.org/child-visitation-and-monitoring-services-interview-with-cherishing-my-moments/

carolyn
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.

freddy
1:51 am May 13th, 2015

I tell myself to quit meth. Or i let myself know why i should quit and my response is i know. I try to plan out a weekend that i can just sleep it off but for one reason or another it doesn’t happen. I feel like that day is coming closer. Am i doing the right thing or am i just fooling myself, and what should i do to better my chances of quitting this crap. Ive been using for less than a year. I really want to stop.

12:47 pm May 15th, 2015

Hi Freddy. One of the signs of addiction to a drug is the inability to stop use despite being aware of the numerous risks and damages, and despite truly wishing to stop use. You can call the helpline number displayed on our page to revise your options and set up a treatment plan that fits your needs.

Cathy
12:29 pm January 16th, 2016

Hello I’m concerned about my 30 year old daughter if she’s doing drugs or not. The issues are she’s lacking on bills don’t provide for her kids very in responsible selfish use folks to get what she want she has gotton evicted haven’t paid rent 5 mos have no money . she spends her income only on her her husband family has a history of drug use I wonder if my daughter got cought up I’m so confused. Blams everyone for her fsults but her.Thank you..😔

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
7:03 pm February 1st, 2016

Hi, Cathy. Have you found some evidence that your daughter is using it? If not, maybe she has other problems. I suggest you talk with her without bringing conclusions right away.

Carolyn
3:18 am February 14th, 2016

Hi. I have an “Ex”, my childs father who has changed dramatically over the years. I know he smokes pot & drinks, but he is constantly not showing up when supposed to, hours late, extreme mood swings, sweats alot, is doing very poorly…I’m very concerned that he has an addiction to something more than Pot or Alchohol, which is already a problem…Any thing particular I should look for? He also often has pen writing on his legs…

bess
3:03 pm February 18th, 2016

Hi
My husband has started making very out of character choices in his business. He is under huge financial strain but i cant work out where all the money is going. He is working away lots and i have been through his phone and found a name and message asking a guy for tickets. His sleep is all over the shop and he is very unpredictable goes from happy to angry and his sentences dont make sense a lot of the time.
Do u think its a drug problem

Connie
10:21 am March 16th, 2016

Hi there..my husband told me that he is using the so called shabu. And as per him husing it for more than a year..his behavior change and always thinking that im cheating on him.. he always suspected me that i am having another guy. And that affects our relationship even my kids and his wor. What shall i do? I really badly your advise. Hoping for you response immediately.thank you

1:05 pm March 23rd, 2016

Hi Connie. Shabu is a slang term for methamphetamine. Meth is referred to as “shabu” typically in Japan, Hong Kong and Indonesia. He needs professional meth addiction treatment. You can call the free helpline displayed on our site to get in touch with our trusted treatment providers and get the needed information on where to start.

Mimi
2:55 am May 2nd, 2016

I believe my boyfriend is hooked on drugs. He told me he use to sell and use drugs when he was younger but doesn’t do drugs anymore. I’m confused because he acts weird every week when i see him he gets agitated and snaps at me and his Kids and doesn’t stop moving and cleans non stop. He has light eyes so i can see his pupils which are extra constricted. The number one thing that bothers me is that he makes almost 70,000 a year and is always broke. He doesn’t have food in the house, all his furniture looks like he found it on the side of the road. He has a ripped futon in his livingroom and doesn’t even have a bedroom set. I’m confused because how can make so much money and can’t afford milk and cereal for his Kids? He’s a grown man over 40 and has a body of a boy….he is extra skinny and he says because he smokes and works all day without lunch. His snappy erratic behavior has pushed me to decide to leave him. His moods are too much crying one minute and yelling the next. Am i in denial and could be still using drugs?

Dee
1:40 am May 23rd, 2016

I suspect a work colleague of taking cocaine. She’s always a hundred miles an hour,she’s had a constant blocked nose (from January since she started)! She’s always complaining she hasn’t any money but is always working overtime,her pupils are dilated most of the time and she is the life and soul one minute and the next she’s as flat as a pancake. I know that the company she keeps take it every weekend also as one of them is a school friend from years ago and have heard talk of a couple of her friends deal

Rosalie
10:26 am May 25th, 2016

Hello there,theres something id like to consult to you.. I had a common law partner now and I think he’s using drugs but not sure what it is…I always observed him and everytime his friend came around.i noticed him he cleaned the house like a frick and very alert and fast to move and not even sleeping the normal hour.than his normal routine he always sleep that he doesnt want to get up to bed, and he doesnt want to work in the house like hes very tired during the day…to think that he just looking after for our baby only…and everytime I asked him what happened to him why he didn’t sleep he always said that he slept all day with the baby.he does that too in a regular basis but he still can sleep during night..are those the symptoms that he’s under drugs?or im just paranoid and thinking that he is doing it? Please help me clear my mind dont know what to do its affecting me and my baby in my womb cuz everytime I saw him not sleeping I cant go back to sleep too :( hoping for ur reply…
Thanks a lot and more powers!

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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.

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