Signs and symptoms of drug abuse

Signs and symptoms of drug abuse
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It is important to know the signs and symptoms of drug abuse and addiction. Be aware of your own use of alcohol, recreational drugs and prescription medications. Parents or guardians should also know the warning signs of teen drug use.

Signs and symptoms of drug abuse and addiction

Most people do not intend to abuse drugs or become addicted to them. They may experiment with a recreational drug and then find themselves wanting it again and again. Or they may become physically dependent or addicted to a medication prescribed to them by their doctor.

How do you know if someone is abusing drugs?

  • Drug addicts will find it increasingly important to use the drug regularly – even several times a day and even if it puts them in danger.
  • Drug addicts may spend a lot of time getting, using or recovering from using the drug.
  • People who are abusing drugs may start neglecting the things that were once important to them. These include: friends and family, work, school and other commitments, and recreational and social activities.
  • Drug abusers may become secretive, especially about how they spend money. They will continue buying drugs even when they know they cannot afford them.
  • People abusing drugs may do risky or even illegal things they would not normally do, such as driving dangerously or stealing money.
  • They may have difficulty remembering things and following through with commitments.

Additional common symptoms and physical signs of drug abuse include:

  • blood-shot eyes
  • decreased appetite
  • nausea and vomiting
  • changes in sleep patterns

Drug use in teenagers

Strong, open relationships between parents or guardians and children decrease the likelihood that teens will abuse drugs. As a parent, it is important to talk to your children about drugs and alcohol. Start early and keep the lines of communication open.

It is good to know the symptoms of drug use among teenagers. Keep in mind that some signs of drug use overlap with very common teenage behaviours (such as moodiness and withdrawal).

Signs that may indicate your teen is using drugs:

  • problems at school – missing class and getting poor grades,
  • increased secrecy about possessions, friends and activities,
  • use of incense, room deodorant, or perfume to hide smoke or chemical odours,
  • new interest in clothes that reference drug use,
  • increased need for money, or
  • missing prescription drugs – especially narcotics and sedatives.

Did you know?

Last year, over 80,000 Canadian teenagers used prescription drugs to get high, even though it can be very dangerous.

Parents or guardians may also find items in their teen’s room that indicate drug use. These include:

  • drug paraphernalia (such as bongs, pipes, needles and rolling papers),
  • inhalant products (such as hairspray, nail polish, correction fluid or common household products),
  • rags and paper bags, which may be used as accessories with inhalants, and
  • eye drops, which may be used to mask bloodshot eyes and dilated pupils.

Do you see some of the above changes in your teenager? Talk to your teen. Ask them for explanations about what you have observed. You may also want to talk to your family physician, pediatrician or your teenager’s school counselor.

Get help

Are you struggling with drug abuse? Is someone you care about having a problem? Help is available, whether you need it for yourself, a friend, or a family member.


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