12 Ways on How to Tell If Someone Is on Drugs


Around the holidays, it’s not uncommon to feel concerned that a loved one – a child, sibling, or close friend – is using or experimenting with drugs. The holidays are a stressful time, and addiction counselors see an increase in drug-related admissions during the cold season.

But before making assumptions, make sure you know the signs of drug use. Read on for 12 ways on how to tell if someone is on drugs.

Behavioral Indicators

When it comes to the signs of drug use, there are two categories to consider: behavior and physical. In this first section, we discuss behavioral clues, which relate to changes in personality, habits, or mood. 

1. Self-Destructive Behavior

If your loved one has recently begun making bad decisions, such as drinking heavily or petty theft while shopping, take note: these types of behavior changes may signal drug addiction.

People using drugs have impaired decision-making abilities due to chemical changes in the brain. Self-destructive behaviors are a red flag you should watch out for. 

2. Damaged Relationships

On occasion, all of us start petty fights or say things we don’t mean. But if an individual is suddenly losing friends or upsetting superiors (like bosses or teachers), it’s possible that he or she is using drugs.

Lying is another clue too. If you’ve begun to catch a loved one telling white lies (about money or who they’re spending time with), then take heed.

3. New Relationships

Just as the damage of old relationships should be considered, so too should the formation of new friendships.

As we begin new jobs or schools, we’re likely to make an influx of new friends. But if the new friendships seem odd given the situation, it may be a sign of drug use.

Particularly if these new friends have any drug usage signs listed here, consider whether these individuals may be supporting unhealthy habits in your loved one.

4. Skipping Class or Work

Is your loved one normally responsible for work and school commitments? If this has fallen by the wayside, it’s time to ask a few questions. 

Particularly in the middle- to upper-class, prescription drug abuse (ex: opioids like OxyContin or Vicodin) is often known to cause declines in work or school performance. Ask teachers and coworkers if they’ve seen issues on the job. 

5. Mood Swings

We all have bad moods, and sometimes they are related to external circumstances: hormonal changes, grieving a breakup, or losing a pet. But some mood changes like hyperactivity, agitation, or paranoia are not as common. 

Lack of motivation is another thing to watch for. If your normally driven loved one has lost his or her desire to achieve goals, it may be a sign of drug use.

6. Changes in Sleep or Eating Habits 

Stimulants like cocaine or methamphetamine might cause individuals to stay awake all night, go on binges, or stop eating for hours or even days.

Prescription medicines can be very helpful in some scenarios, such as MAT for recovery from addiction, but this isn’t always the case. Abuse of anti-anxiety medicines, such as Xanax, may cause drowsiness or persistent fatigue and become addictive in the long run. 

7. Slurred Speech 

If your loved one is using inhalants like glues and aerosols or hallucinogens, such as mushrooms and LSD, some clues to watch for are hallucinations, incoherent speech, or confusion.

Abuse of anti-anxiety medicine may also cause some individuals to appear drunk or slur their speech.

How to Tell If Someone Is on Drugs Based on Physical Signs

Certain physical clues, in conjunction with behavioral clues as noted above, may provide further indication that a loved one is using drugs.

8. Eyes 

Our eyes tell a lot about us, including our fatigue levels and overall health. If a person’s pupils are larger or smaller than normal, this could be a sign of drug usage. Some stimulants, such as Ritalin or Adderall, may result in dilated pupils.

Bloodshot or watery eyes are also one of the primary signs of marijuana usage. If a loved one refuses to make eye contact or covers up with sunglasses, this could be a red flag.

9. Skin Changes

Secretions from the nose, or a rash below the nostrils, may indicate cocaine or inhalant usage in an individual. Needle marks on the inside of a person’s arms may be a sign of heroin usage.

Scratching and sores may indicate methamphetamine use. These are known as “meth mites” and cause users to scratch their skin due to a false belief that they’re being bitten by bugs.

10. Weight Gain or Weight Loss

There are many normal reasons for weight gain or weight loss, including pregnancy and dieting. But paired with other behavioral or physical clues of drug use, this is yet another sign to watch for. 

Fluctuations in weight are often the result of other indicators listed here, such as drinking heavily or staying up for several nights without eating.

11. Changes in Physical Hygiene

Foul smells on a loved one’s breath, body, or clothing should be taken seriously. This can offer clues about whether the drug is alcohol, marijuana, or something even more serious.

Similarly, if an individual stops basic hygiene practices (like brushing teeth or hair), this may be a sign of impairment. 

12. Nausea and Vomiting

Many drugs cause nausea and/or vomiting as the body makes an attempt to eliminate toxins. Pay close attention if an individual complains of frequent nausea that can’t be attributed to other reasons, such as illness or early pregnancy.

Vomiting is even more concerning if a loved one is attempting to hide it from others, or if they lie about it afterward. Any attempt at deception is yet another clue of potential drug usage.

Drug Abuse Clues Should Be Taken Seriously

If you’re concerned after reading about how to tell if someone is on drugs, seek professional guidance. A specialist can show you how to handle the situation so your loved one doesn’t distance themselves from you. There are many “next steps” to consider, including the possibility of drug rehab.

For more on improving yourself, your relationships, and the wellness of those you care about, check out the rest of our site today.