Drug Use Symptoms & Indicators

Drug abusers typically display symptoms indicating that they are abusing. Common signs and symptoms can be found in their physical appearance and behavior. Learning what these signs and symptoms are and what you should look for will help keep you, your friends and family, or your workplace safe.

Known indicators are the more common and easily observable signs and symptoms of drug use by an individual. If you already know a family member, a friend, a coworker, or a schoolmate is using drugs, they need help. If you care about them, talk to them. If you are not completely sure they are abusing drugs, then your personal observation of the symptoms discussed here may help give you the confidence to approach them and talk with them about the help they need.

Major categories of drug use/abuse indicators are:

We recommend understanding these four indicators so you can make educated decisions to help you determine whether someone is using drugs. This will enable you to be on the lookout for these signs and symptoms and to recognize them in your home, your workplace, or your school. By getting involved and helping those you love and care for, you may prevent drug problems before they reach the crisis level.

First, an important caveat: while the following in combination represent known indicators of drug use, they certainly do not prove drug abuse. For example, a few of these indicators can be attributed to newly-acquired emotional stress (death in the family, job loss, a divorce, etc.). Frankly, a few of them are also identical to symptoms a person exhibits when they simply have the flu. You may even recognize that some of these symptoms are a standard description of how you might define the personality of someone.

On the other hand, in combination, these symptoms could well be drug abuse-related, that's especially true if you observe a sudden appearance of a combination of these indicators in an individual you personally know well. If you recognize that these indicators represent new behavior for them, the possibility is strong that those sudden changes are a result of newly-begun drug use. Please keep the above caution in mind as you familiarize yourself with the following:

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1“Performance” indicators that are often (but not always) specific to drug-abuse
  • Excessive absenteeism or tardiness
  • Lower productivity, lower grades in school
  • Missed deadlines
  • Excessive equipment breakdown because of poor maintenance
  • Deteriorating work quality
  • Poor morale
  • Increased minor accidents, mistakes
  • Multiple reports of theft, missing personal items by co-workers, classmates
2“Behavioral” indicators that are often (but not always) specific to drug-abuse
  • The sudden change in attitude, work, or behavior- a new, “I don’t care attitude”
  • The sudden deterioration of long friendships, relationships
  • Explosive arguments and disagreements over small matters
  • Frequent hangover symptoms
  • Using drug culture jargon
  • Secretive behavior
  • Avoiding straight (non drug-users) co-workers or classmates
  • Erratic behavior-forgetfulness-indecision
  • Deterioration in personal appearance and hygiene
  • Hyper-activity, constant toe or heel-tapping and/or "drumming" of fingers
  • Easy excitability
  • Restlessness, increased physical activity
  • Wearing of long-sleeved garments in very warm weather
  • New financial problems or frequent borrowing of money
3“Physical” indicators that are often (but not always) specific to drug-abuse
  • Small blood spots or bruises on skin
  • Bloodshot or watery eyes
  • Runny or irritated nose, irritating cough, sore throat
  • Speech pattern changes, slurred speech, faster speech, slower speech
  • Tremors or jitters
  • Constant scratching of skin, "picking" at skin and hair on arms, etc.
  • Poor coordination, tripping, spilling, bumping into things and other people
  • Large or small (dilated) pupils
  • A faint skin odor- either sweet or acrid
  • Easily fatigued or constantly fatigued
  • Hyper-excitability
4“Paraphernalia” indicators that are often (and almost always) specific to drug-abuse
  • Possession of hypodermic needles, balloons, aluminum foil wrappers, mirrors or flat metal, short straws, glass pipes, smoking pipes, capsules, vials, or folded paper envelopes, a cigarette lighter (or small butane torch) when carried by a known "non-smoker"
  • Possession of illicit drugs is a definite "tip-off" of drug-abuse! (Wouldn't you think?)

The Long Term Cost of Drug Addiction

The financial cost of drug enforcement in the United States surpasses one billion dollars yearly. The financial cost companies spend on drug abuse in the workplace in the United States surpasses 80 billion dollars yearly. However, it’s safe to say that the real cost is with lives.

Those addicted to drugs are not only harming themselves but they contribute to the destruction of families and relationships, as well as the capacity to work effectively and safely.

At OHS, we believe in the power of relationships and understand that drug abuse is a great tragedy which is why our employee drug testing and onsite drug testing services are a vital part of our workplace health and safety strategy. These tests do so much more than save dollars, they save lives.

Why Employee Drug Testing in the Workplace is Important

If you’ve seen an employee exhibiting the symptoms described above and have reason to believe that an employee is using drugs, the confrontation may not be an easy one. Oftentimes drug users are skilled at lying and manipulation, and you may get stuck in a he-said-she-said scenario.

Testing for drugs alleviates this unpredictable and uncomfortable situation. Creating and maintaining a drug-free work program promotes safety and confidence for all employees and the company as a whole.

If an employee tests positive for drugs in the system, it’s imperative that the company seeks action to eliminate the threat that situation causes, however, we believe it to be in everyone’s best interest to provide resources to help the individual abusing drugs. While most companies don’t serve as therapists, offering support to your employees will benefit all parties, including boosting morale in the workforce.

What to do When a Coworker, Friend, or Family Member is Using Drugs

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to how to handle the situation of a loved one or employee using drugs. The one thing that every answer has in common, however, is support.

Most workplaces that adhere to workplace drug testing guidelines have specific practices in which to best work with the employee who tested positive. This comes in a variety of forms including leaves of absence, termination until rehabilitation has proven to work, termination indefinitely, etc. Employers must notify all employees of their drug policies upon hiring or implementing the drug testing program.

When a family member or friend is found to be using drugs, it’s not as simple as enforcing workplace rules. Emotions tend to fly high and support can wane when sadness and frustration take over.

Again, whatever your relationship with the drug user, finding help is the most important thing you can do while understanding that you do not have control of this situation. Support groups, drug counselors, addiction centers, and rehabilitation centers can be found in virtually any city in the United States.

For more information, contact the centers below:

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