Psychological, Behavioral and Physical Signs of Substance Abuse

Recognizing signs of substance use disorder in yourself isn’t particularly challenging. You might notice changes of habit in your life, such as who you spend time with or where your money is spent. But recognizing these signs in the lives of others can be more challenging, even in those who are close to us. 

However, recognizing the signs of substance use in a loved one can be an important step in getting them the help they need. 

Signs of substance use disorder 

Depending on the particular substance being abused, you might notice certain symptoms linked particularly to certain drugs, but you are more likely to notice general changes in behavior, physical appearance and psychological well being linked to substance use.

Behavioral changes

Changes in the brain occur as a result of excessive amounts of chemical substances, negatively impacting one’s behavior in ways your loved one might not realize, including: 

  • Withdrawal – If you’re using addictive substances, it’s likely you’re not going to broadcast it publicly. People battling substance use disorder (SUD) often begin to withdraw from social circles, family and friends, in order to keep addiction secret.
  • Financial difficulties – Alcohol and drugs cost a lot of money, and as one’s tolerance increases, the need to use more and more of a particular substance also increases. To compensate, individuals might ask to borrow money.
  • Neglecting responsibility – For an individual struggling with an SUD, life begins to revolve around when and how they can use the substance, in addition to where they can acquire it. This one-track-mindedness inevitably leads to neglecting responsibilities like work, school or even childcare.
  • Increased risk taking As life becomes centered around substance use, individuals are likely to begin taking more and more risks in order to maintain the disorder and avoid withdrawal symptoms. Certain risky behaviors may include driving under the influence, engaging in promiscuous behavior and lawbreaking activities.

You might also notice other behavioral irregularities in a loved one battling a substance use disorder, depending on their personality and your relationship with them. And while changes in behavior do not immediately signify substance use disorder, it still is important to know what to look for if you’re concerned about the wellbeing of a loved one. 

Psychological changes 

As the composition of the brain changes in response to substance use, psychological changes also occur as a response. From an outsider’s perspective, you can’t know exactly how another person’s brain is changing. However, you may notice outward signs manifesting as a result of internal changes. These changes might include:

  • Mental health Conditions like depression and anxiety might set in as a result of substance use disorder, or the SUD might exacerbate any pre-existing mental health condition. Outward visible signs may include withdrawing from social circles, ceasing to engage in previously enjoyed hobbies and irregular sleeping and eating patterns.
  • Mood swings – Certain substances are likely to increase the chances of inconsistent behavior. Substance addiction typically causes individuals to act in erratic ways, from hyper agitation or irritability, to more aggressive outbursts of anger or moodiness. This may be caused from chemical imbalances in the body or as a symptom of withdrawal.
  • Lacking motivation An individual struggling with SUD is highly motivated when it comes to obtaining and using substances, but may lack motivation in other areas, like work, school, upkeep of personal appearance, etc.

Again, the presentation of these signs does not immediately signify SUD. However, inconsistent psychological behaviors might be an indicator of some other mental health condition and should be addressed accordingly. 

Declining physical appearance  

Lastly, you might notice changes in the physical appearance of your loved one as a result of battling with a substance addiction. These changes could include:

  • Fluctuating weight – Certain drugs might suppress or stimulate one’s appetite, and, when combined with other symptoms like depression or anxiety, this can lead to sudden weight loss or increase. 
  • Ignoring personal hygiene Tied to a lack of self-esteem, an individual combatting a substance use disorder is likely to neglect their personal appearance and hygiene. This can worsen self-esteem, which, in turn, can worsen personal appearance, all as a result of substance use. 
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia Depending on the substance being used, as well as the presence of other co-occurring disorders like depression, an individual might suffer from insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping all the time).
  • Bloodshot eyes Bloodshot, watery, quivering or dilated eyes tend to be a telltale sign of drug use, as the excessive release of adrenaline or endorphins, as well as other chemical responses, cause reactions in the eyes
  • Signs on the skin Discoloration of the skin, like yellowing or excessive paleness, track marks from injections, acne, bruising and scars are all possible signs of substance abuse.

If you see physical signs of a substance use disorder in conjunction with other behavioral or psychological signs, consider asking your loved one about their story. Find ways to gently raise your concerns.

Reaching out for help facing substance use challenges

If you are concerned about the signs of substance use in a loved one, consider contacting Mazzitti & Sullivan Counseling. Our professional clinicians will not only walk with you while you navigate this yourself; they will also provide counseling services to your family member or friend when they are ready to seek treatment.

Speak to a counselor today when you call 1-800-809-2925.