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Common Substance Abuse Behaviors

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

January 15, 2019

Individuals who abuse drugs may exhibit certain behaviors that are typical of their drug of choice. Everyone exhibits different symptoms based on the type of drug, how much is taken, and how it is administered. Knowing these behaviors could help save a life.

You may think you know someone. You may think you know someone so deeply and so meticulously that they could not get anything past you, especially not something so big as a drug or alcohol problem. There is no way your loved one, the person who you know so well, could possibly be suffering from addiction without you knowing about it. But it happens. It happens every day. People are missing the warning signs because sometimes the warning signs are subtle. Sometimes we are too into our own worlds that we don’t see what is right in front of us.

If you are reading this, it probably means you have had some suspicions about someone you love abusing drugs or alcohol and now you’re looking for help and for answers on what to do next. It is important to be aware of common behaviors you might see in a victim of substance abuse so that you can identify if there is a problem to address.

There are many warning signs to look out for in someone you think may be abusing drugs or alcohol. It is important to understand that some warning signs are much more apparent than others. Every victim of addiction is different. Every case of substance abuse is unique and that means one person may be much more obvious about their struggle with alcohol or drugs while others go to great lengths to make sure their struggle with substance abuse stays hidden. Here are a few behaviors you might notice in someone who has fallen victim to substance abuse:

Changes In Mood And Motivation

Everyone gets a little moody now and then but an individual who is becoming more and more dependent on alcohol or drugs may seem more distant than normal. You may notice mood swings that are out of character. These mood swings will stand out more than in someone simply having a bad day. A victim of addiction may also seem more agitated or irritable when spoken to than they normally were before they were abusing drugs or alcohol. You may notice a lack of interest in hobbies and other priorities that used to be important to a person. When substance abuse begins to take over a person’s life, these behavioral changes will likely become more and more apparent.

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Privacy And Lying

If someone you know is suffering from addiction, you may notice this person being to be more secretive around loved ones. This person may not want to tell you where they have been or what they have been doing. Lying may even be what they feel is a necessary means to hide an addiction. Of course, it isn’t always easy to tell a lie from the truth. You may notice this person trying to keep their phone screen out of your sight or perhaps taking calls in another room.

If a victim of substance abuse is ashamed of their abuse, they are more likely to become secretive as their abuse evolves into addiction. Many who suffer from drug or alcohol abuse are not proud of what they are doing and many may not even feel in control of the situation, which can cause defensiveness. If this is the case, your loved one may act this way to keep their struggle with substance abuse a secret for as long as possible, hoping they can handle things alone.

In this case, you can look for signs like lack of eye contact or defensive answers to questions you are asking which may give you a better idea of potential deception or omissions of truth.

Changes In Hygiene

When a drug or alcohol addiction has formed, the individual is likely to put their addiction before anything else, depending on the severity of the disease. This can even mean their hygiene habits change or are sacrificed. It is definitely something to look out for if you are already suspicious that someone you know has fallen victim to addiction. The changes could be subtle, like showering less often or looking a little more unkempt than the individual normally would. Or it could be a noticeable change in hygiene, for example, someone who is known for being well put together who now seems to care very little about their appearance. If you are used to seeing a person regularly it may be easier to pick up on a change in hygiene.

Sleeping And Eating Habits

Sleeping and eating habits may change drastically when someone becomes a victim of substance abuse. Depending on the type of substance use disorder (SUD), a person may sleep more or less than they used to. If you’ve noticed someone you love has been having trouble sleeping or is sleeping too often, this could be an indicator that they are suffering from substance abuse.

Eating habits are also likely to change in those with a SUD or addiction. Some substances cause its victims to eat more while others cause them to eat much less. When a substance takes over the body, it changes the way that body normally functions. Sleeping and eating habits may change because of this. Pay attention to changes in weight and overall body structure. Visible weight gain or loss may indicate that the situation is, in fact, out of control.

Asking For Money

Not everyone suffers financially when they are a victim of substance abuse, but some people may. If you’ve noticed your loved one asking for money or complaining about money issues, this is an indicator that there may be a deeper issue. In some circumstances, money troubles could also lead to criminal activity, depending on the substance and the cost to get it.

Each victim of addiction suffers differently. While some victims may have the means they need to get the substance they want, others may have to resort to drastic measures to get the money they need in order to fuel the addiction. This might mean that they ask their family and friends to lend them money. In serious cases, they often begin to steal money or try to sell items to make money to buy drugs or alcohol. This is not always easy to notice in a substance abuse victim, especially if they are not coming out and asking for money, but be aware of any missing items in the household and even those that belong to your loved one. Pawning their personal belongings is a common sign of a SUD being in full effect.

Physical Indicators

If you’ve noticed a few of the behavioral issues mentioned above, you may want to look out for physical signs that your loved one may be abusing a substance. You can look for marks on the arms caused by a needle, bloodshot or dilated eyes, a change in skin complexion, weight loss or gain, sniffling, twitching or itching, as well as discolored or damaged teeth.

These are only a few of several physical attributes that can show you when a person is abusing alcohol or drugs. Physical signs might be among the first indicators you notice in a person who is at the mercy of a SUD or an addiction. Keep in mind that physical signs are often more difficult to hide than the behavioral signs listed above.

Setting Out To Help Your Loved One

While each of these indicators can be a sign of substance abuse or addiction, they can also be red flags for other problems in a person’s life. Confronting a victim of substance abuse can be both intimidating and may often do more harm than good if you are not properly informed. It is important to know that you are not alone in this and neither is your loved one.

If you have suspicions that someone you know may be abusing drugs or alcohol or if you have recently discovered that a loved one is suffering from addiction, we can help. is here to assist you and your loved one in overcoming the struggle of addiction. We can offer the help you need to seek recovery and get beyond addiction in a healthy way. Contact us today and get your loved one proper assistance.

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