How can you tell if someone is addicted to drugs?

How can you tell if someone is addicted to drugs?

elderly drug use


Drug use is dangerous. You don’t even want to think that a loved one could be using drugs. But when you suspect a loved one is addicted to drugs, here are the warning signs.


Signs that a teenager is addicted to drugs:

  • Problems at School
    • Skips classes
    • Grades are dropping
    • Finds new set of friends
    • Communicates with new friends secretly
    • Hides the phone from you, refuses to answer questions about new friend


  • Problems at Home
    • Does not participate in usual family activities
    • Becomes uncommunicative
    • Holes up in personal room for prolonged periods
    • Lies about whereabouts and activities
    • Some valuable things are lost at home; you suspect them stolen by your teen
    • Breaks, destroys, or vandalizes things
    • Challenges you in a verbally abusive way
    • Hurts other members of the family
    • Becomes cruel to pets
    • Violates curfew
    • Runs away from home


  • Physical and Emotional Changes
    • Loss or increase of appetite
    • Easily irritable
    • Has slurred speech
    • Lashes out with the smallest provocation
    • Does not seem to sleep or sleeps too much
    • More often than not, in a depressed or anxious mood


Teens as young as 12-14 years old are experimenting with drugs now. A lot of teenagers start using drugs because their friends do. They believe that if they miss out they are uncool, and they don’t belong. “It is simply weird,” if they don’t try it they say.


Teenagers who think that drugs are not dangerous tend to experiment with drugs. Teenagers also use drugs to address normal needs. These normal needs are:

  • Boredom
  • Desire to rebel
  • Curiosity
  • Desire to chill out, zone out or relax


If they are not given means to address these normal needs, they may turn to drugs. It is important to remember that a lot of times, experimentation does not lead to drug abuse. But the sooner you detect your teen is using drugs, the better.


Studies show that if you intervene early, especially in the first three years of drug experimentation, drug addiction could be stopped.


Teenagers who are:

  • Are being bullied
  • Seen as “slow” academically
  • Have learning disabilities or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Have a low sense self-esteem


They may be at risk of using and later on abusing drugs.


If you are present emotionally and talk to your teens openly about drugs, you lessen their risk of drug use and abuse. Teens model what they see. If you are sober and drug free, chances are, they will be too.


For adults, here are some signs that someone is addicted to drugs:

  • Problems at Work
    • Becoming argumentative
    • Frequently absent or late
    • Cannot concentrate with job at hand
  • Inability to fulfill financial duties
  • Marital problems/ problems with partner
  • Being defensive when asked about drugs
  • Withdrawing from friends; has new set of friends
  • Poor appetite, insomnia
  • Secretive behaviour


Mostly, adults and teenagers who are addicted to drugs have similar signs. With adults, the problems manifest at work and not in school.


When you suspect that someone you care about is using drugs, it is important to have the right approach.


Most users will deny they have a problem. Some drug users will stop talking to you or lie to you.


Some will stay they have stopped using drugs, but they will do it behind your back.


Having a person you care for slide down this slippery slope is terrifying. If the drug-using behaviour is not curbed within the first year, drug addiction tends to continue long-term. In some case, an intervention is required, or even drug rehab.


For people who have been using drugs longer than a few months, here are some of the signs:

  • A persistent cough
  • Losing ability to remember things
  • Not eating enough resulting to being malnourished
  • Gets sick easily – susceptibility to diseases such as Hepatitis C and HIV
  • Problems conceiving (infertility)
  • Mental health issues like depression, anxiety and panic attacks
  • Paranoia – feeling like somebody is out to get them
  • Criminal behaviour
  • Likelihood of Overdosing, which leads to death


Recently, there has been an increase of the number or elderly persons abusing drugs. There are many seniors that are becoming drug addicts.


Particularly, they abuse:

  • Benzodiazepines

Seniors have insomnia. Examples of benzodiazepine medication prescribed for insomnia  include, Ativan, Xanax, and Valium. Sometimes, because they are taking many medications, they accidentally use too much and develop a drug dependence and tolerance, leading them to become addicted to benzodiazepines.

  • Opiates (for pain relief)

These medications are prescribed to relieve chronic pain in conditions such as inflammation, cancer, or injury.

  • Skeletal muscle relaxants

For the elderly, these are often used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.


Here are signs that an elderly person is abusing drugs:

  • Having mood swings
  • Speech is slurred or hard to understand
  • Forgets to eat
  • Has difficulty sleeping
  • Unable to keep self clean (bathing, or going to the toilet independently)
  • Keeps on forgetting things
  • Does not seem to remember where they are or what time it is
  • Getting the same prescription from two or more doctors
  • Becoming defensive or secretive when asked about medication


The difficulty in spotting drug addiction among seniors is the fact that when they complain about fatigue, loss of balance, inability to remember things, and the like, we may attribute it to Alzheimer’s or dementia, not drug abuse.


Trained doctors would be able to distinguish if an elderly person has a drug problem, but for most of us, the difference is hard to spot.


Elderly people take a lot of medicine. The biggest challenge in of detecting elderly drug abuse is primarily the mind-set we have about drug addicts.


When we think of the word “addict” a senior does not come to mind.


If you are concerned that a loved one is addicted to drugs, there are many places that offer help. Finding out that someone is on drugs is not the end of the world. Drug addiction is a disease that has a cure.


Like diabetes and heart disease, lifestyle choices are partly to blame, so are genetics. In no way is drug addiction a moral failing on the part of the drug addict. If changes must be made, they should be for the long-term.


Your role is to be supportive, encouraging and patient.


Even if the person you love tries to alienate you or deny there is a problem.