Recognizing Signs of Substance Abuse

Symptoms and signs of substance abuse and dependence vary depending on the type of drugs being used.  Most substance abuse starts with occasional or social use, eventually becoming habitual.  It may be result from self-medicating to dull the emotional aftermath of trauma, or to dull physical pain.  Over time, it becomes increasingly difficult to function without the drug or alcohol.   Addiction symptoms, both physical as well as psychological, can produce a wide array of behaviors.

The more someone’s life seems to be controlled by drugs or alcohol, the more likely it is that he or she has crossed the line into substance abuse and addiction.  Trust your instincts.  If you think there’s a problem, there very likely is--and you need help. 

Symptoms and Signs of Substance Abuse


  • Feeling that you need the drug to deal with your problems.
  • Driving or engaging in risky behavior when you're under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Hiding how much and how often you use drugs from everyone in your life.
  • Continued use despite increased depression, loss of memory, blackouts and physical risks.  
  • Feeling that you must use the drug regularly either daily or several times a day.
  • Failing in your attempts to stop using the drug.
  • Pain level increases with repeated use of pain medication.
  • Need for increasingly higher doses of pain medication as your drug tolerance increases and your body becomes unable to fight pain naturally.
  • Doing things to obtain the drug that you normally wouldn't do, such as stealing.
  • Frequent problems at work and decline in job performance.
  • Frequent problems at home with spouse, children, friends and loved ones.
  • Carelessness in personal appearance and hygiene.
  • Insomnia or major disruptions in sleep patterns.
  • Dramatic weight gain or loss, bloodshot eyes, dilated pupils.
  • Frequent changes in mood; increasingly angry and anxious.
  • Increasingly isolated from family, friends and co-workers.
  • Abusive behavior toward spouse or children.
  • Disappearance of alcohol or prescription drugs from home.
  • Increased and unusual spending habits.