Symptoms of Drug Use

Behavioral Characteristics

  • Abrupt changes in work or school attendance, quality of work, work output, grades, discipline.
  • Unusual flare-ups or outbreaks of temper.
  • Withdrawal from responsibility.
  • General changes in overall attitude.
  • Deterioration of physical appearance and grooming.
  • Wearing of sunglasses at inappropriate times.
  • Continual wearing of long-sleeved garments particularly in hot weather or reluctance to wear short sleeved attire when appropriate.
  • Association with known substance abusers.
  • Unusual borrowing of money from friends, co-workers or parents.
  • Stealing small items from employer, home or school.
  • Secretive behavior regarding actions and possessions; poorly concealed attempts to avoid attention and suspicion such as frequent trips to storage rooms, restroom, basement, etc.

Physical Signs

  • Loss of appetite, increase in appetite, any changes in eating habits, unexplained weight loss or gain.
  • Slowed or staggering walk; poor physical coordination.
  • Inability to sleep, awake at unusual times, unusual laziness.
  • Red, watery eyes; pupils larger or smaller than usual; blank stare.
  • Cold, sweaty palms; shaking hands.
  • Puffy face, blushing or paleness.
  • Smell of substance on breath, body or clothes.
  • Extreme hyperactivity; excessive talkativeness.
  • Runny nose; hacking cough.
  • Needle marks on lower arm, leg or bottom of feet.
  • Nausea, vomiting or excessive sweating.
  • Tremors or shakes of hands, feet or head.
  • Irregular heartbeat.

Signs, Characteristics, and Information on the use of Specific Substances

Click to go to specific Drug or Substance
Alcohol Marijuana Stimulants Depressants Narcotics Inhalents Hallucinogens PCP

Alcohol Beer, Wine, Whiskey, Vodka, Gin, Scotch

  • Odor on the breath.
  • Intoxication.
  • Difficulty focusing: glazed appearance of the eyes.
  • Uncharacteristically passive behavior; or combative and argumentative behavior.
  • Gradual (or sudden in adolescents) deterioration in personal appearance and hygiene.
  • Gradual development of dysfunction, especially in job performance or school work.
  • Absenteeism (particularly on Monday).
  • Unexplained bruises and accidents.
  • Irritability.
  • Flushed skin.
  • Loss of memory (blackouts).
  • Availability and consumption of alcohol becomes the focus of social or professional activities.
  • Changes in peer-group associations and friendships.
  • Impaired interpersonal relationships (troubled marriage, unexplainable termination of deep relationships, alienation from close family members).

Marijuana Marijuana, Hashish, Hash Oil

  • Rapid, loud talking and bursts of laughter in early stages of intoxication.
  • Sleepy or stuporous in the later stages.
  • Forgetfulness in conversation.
  • Inflammation in whites of eyes; pupils unlikely to be dilated
  • Odor similar to burnt rope on clothing or breath.
  • Tendency to drive slowly - below speed limit.
  • Distorted sense of time passage - tendency to overestimate time intervals.
  • Use or possession of paraphernalia including roach clip, packs of rolling papers, pipes or bongs.

Marijuana users are difficult to recognize unless they are under the influence of the drug at the time of observation. Casual users may show none of the general symptoms. Marijuana does have a distinct odor and may be the same color or a bit greener than tobacco.

Stimulants Crack, Powdered Cocaine, Methamphetamine

  • Dilated pupils (when large amounts are taken).
  • Dry mouth and nose, bad breath, frequent lip licking.
  • Excessive activity, difficulty sitting still, lack of interest in food or sleep.
  • Irritable, argumentative, nervous.
  • Talkative, but conversation often lacks continuity; changes subjects rapidly.
  • Runny nose, cold or chronic sinus/nasal problems, nose bleeds.
  • Use or possession of paraphernalia including small spoons, razor blades, mirror, little bottles of white powder and plastic, glass or metal straws.

Depressants Methaqualone, Valium, Phenobarbital, Xanax

  • Symptoms of alcohol intoxication with no alcohol odor on breath (remember that depressants are frequently used with alcohol).
  • Lack of facial expression or animation.
  • Flat affect.
  • Flaccid appearance.
  • Slurred speech.

Note: There are few readily apparent symptoms. Abuse may be indicated by activities such as frequent visits to different physicians for prescriptions to treat "nervousness", "anxiety"," stress", etc.


As the name implies, depressants interact to depress the activities of the central nervous system. Depressants have three categories; hypnotics which induce sleep; sedatives which do not induce sleep but produce a relaxing effect to help one fall asleep, and tranquilizers, such as Valium and Xanax, which are used to alleviate anxiety, tension, and relax muscles. Depressants can be synthesized, or occur naturally in the plants such as belladonna and curare.

Synthetic depressants are derived from barbituric acid. Barbiturates were first is covered by German chemist Adolph Von Bayer. This 1864 discovery was named "barbiturate" by Bayer, after the patron saint of artillery officers, Saint Barbara. The first barbiturate "Veronal" was marketed in 1903. Phenobarbital was later introduced in 1912. Of the 2500 varieties of barbiturates known, roughly fifty of these are marketed for a variety of medicinal applications. Of the these fifty, only a little over a dozen are predominately used.

There are also non-barbiturate based depressants such as Methaqualone , Noludar, and Doriden. These have multi-properties such as sedative, anti convulsing, local anesthetic, and cough suppressant.

The effects of barbiturates are similar to alcohol, and range from very short to very long acting. The abuser can develop a high tolerance which creates the need for escalating dosages to maintain the desired high. Barbiturates also have a high potential for dependency.

Another danger of barbiturates is the potential for automatism. Automatism is the phenomenon where the abuser takes a barbiturate, forgets they have taken it, then takes another. This cycle can be repeated until the abuser overdoses.

Barbiturates also can have the effects of potentiation and synergism. This is were the effects of a combination between two or more depressants is greater than their proportionate amount. An example would be an abuser takes together depressant "A", which has effects normally last one hour, and depressant "B", which has effects normally lasting 3 hours. When taken together, the combined effects of "A" & "B" has the potential to last much longer than the anticipated 4 hours. Additionally, barbiturate "A"'s and barbiturate "B"'s normal effect on the user may be greatly enhanced as a result of the two drugs being taken together.

If the effects of barbiturates seem severe, the withdrawal aspects are even worse. The withdrawal from depressants, and especially barbiturates, is very hazardous and potentially lethal, sometimes taking from five to eight days. These withdrawal effects include delirium, hallucinations, anxiety, tremors, weakness, abdominal cramps, nausea, delirium, spatial and time disorientation, seizures, respiratory failure, heart failure, and finally death.

Narcotics Heroine, Methadone, Opium, Dilaudid, Codeine, Morphine

  • Lethargy, drowsiness.
  • Constricted pupils fail to respond to light.
  • Redness and raw nostrils from inhaling heroin in power form.
  • Scars (tracks) on inner arms or other parts of body, from needle injections.
  • Use or possession of paraphernalia, including syringes, bent spoons, bottle caps, eye droppers, rubber tubing, cotton and needles.
  • Slurred speech.

While there may be no readily apparent symptoms of analgesic abuse, it may be indicated by frequent visits to different physicians or dentists for prescriptions to treat pain of non-specific origin.

In cases where patient has chronic pain and abuse of medication is suspected, it may be indicated by amounts and frequency taken.

Inhalents Glue, Vapor Producing Solvents, Propellants

  • Odor on the breath.
  • Substance odor on breath and clothes.
  • Runny nose.
  • Drowsiness or unconsciousness.
  • Watering eyes.
  • Poor muscle control.
  • Prefers group activity to being alone.
  • Presence of bags or rags containing dry plastic cement or other solvent at home, in locker at school or at work.
  • Discarded whipped cream, spray paint or similar chargers (users of nitrous oxide).
  • Small bottles labeled "incense" (users of butyl nitrite).


Inhalants are a common substance of abuse among teenagers. Their popularity is largely a matter of availability. Inhalants, which include certain glues, aerosols, and solvents, are easily and cheaply obtained at a local hardware store. But the most common source of inhalants are the abuser's own residence. Though it is illegal to breath inhalants, it is not illegal to possess or purchase them. The abuse of inhalants can have extreme health consequences to the abuser.

Commonly abused inhalants include a few types of model cement, cooking sprays, hair spray, deodorant, liquid paper, aerosol sprays, paint, paint thinner, gasoline and solvents. Inhalants are used by spraying, or pouring the inhalant onto a rag, which is placed into a bag or sack. The abuser then places the bag or sack over their face and breaths in the vapors emitted by the inhalant. This induces a short-lived light headed euphoric state in the abuser.

The effects of inhalant abuse can include severe headaches, nausea, fainting, accelerated heart beat, and vomiting. Side effects can include damage to lungs, liver, kidneys, bone marrow, and can cause suffocation, choking, anemia, and stroke.

Hallucinogens LSD, PCP, Peyote, Psilocybin, Mushrooms

  • Extremely dilated pupils.
  • Warm skin, excessive perspiration and body odor.
  • Distorted sense of sight, hearing, touch; distorted image of self and time perception.
  • Unpredictable flashback episodes even long after withdrawal (although these are rare).
  • Mood and behavior changes, the extent depending on emotional state ofthe user and environmental conditions

Hallucinogenic drugs, which occur both naturally and in synthetic form, distort or disturb sensory input, sometimes to a great degree. Hallucinogens occur naturally in primarily two forms, peyote cactus and psilocybin mushrooms. Several chemical varieties have been synthesized, most notably LSD, MDA, STP, and PCP.

Hallucinogen usage reached a peak in the United States in the late 1960's, but declined shortly thereafter due to a broader awareness of the detrimental effects of usage. However, a disturbing trend indicating a resurgence in hallucinogen usage by high-school and college age persons nationwide has been acknowledged by law enforcement.

With the exception of PCP, all hallucinogens seem to share common effects of use. Any portion of sensory perceptions may be altered to varying degrees. Synesthesia, or the "seeing" of sounds, and the "hearing" of colors, is a common side effect of hallucinogen use. Depersonalization, acute anxiety, and acute depression resulting in suicide have also been noted as a result of hallucinogen use.

No firm evidence has come to light indicating possible physical addiction as a result of using this type of drug, though some psychological dependency cases have been noted.

PCP Angel Dust

  • Unpredictable behavior; mood may swing from passiveness to violence for no apparent reason.
  • Symptoms of intoxication.
  • Disorientation; agitation and violence if exposed to excessive sensory stimulation.
  • Fear, terror.
  • Rigid muscles.
  • Strange gait.
  • Deadened sensory perception (may experience severe injuries while appearing not to notice).
  • Pupils may appear dilated.
  • Mask like facial appearance.
  • Floating pupils, appear to follow a moving object.
  • Comatose (unresponsive) if large amount consumed. Eyes may be open or closed.

Note: PCP drug has stimulant, depressant, hallucinogenic and analgesic effects. Which of these will be most pronounced is unpredictable and depends on users personality, psychological state and the setting at time of use.

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