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How to Recognize a Substance Use Disorder

A person taking their pills and thinking about how to recognize a substance use disorder.

Substance use disorder is a medical term for drug addiction. It means that the person's brain and behavior are affected, so they can't control the use of legal or illegal drugs or medication. Some of the most common addictive substances are alcohol, marijuana, and nicotine, and they're all considered drugs. When they become addicted, most people continue using the drug, even if they're aware of the harm it causes. Still, the first step toward getting things on the right track is learning how to recognize a substance use disorder. If you know how to identify the addiction, you'll know when you need to seek or offer help. 

And although all this may be scary, the first contact with drugs usually isn't. It often starts with the occasional use of recreational drugs in social situations, but it becomes more frequent for some people. On the other hand, it's not rare that drug addiction starts with exposure to prescribed medication. 

Of course, the risk of becoming addicted is higher with some drugs than with others. For example, opioid painkillers will cause addiction more quickly than marijuana. However, we can't forget about the psychological causes of drug abuse either. Some people are more likely to become addicted, so it's another factor to consider. 

The body gets used to the substance with prolonged use, so people need larger doses to get that same high. And after a while, they might need it just to feel good. It becomes hard to go on without a drug, and any abstinence causes hard-to-deal-with cravings.

Hence, it's not easy to stop, but it's possible. The right treatment and the support of loved ones will undoubtedly help, so there's no reason to avoid taking part. If you recognize any of the symptoms we mention below, be sure to take action. 

Signs of Substance Use Disorder

Abusing different drugs will have different effects on the body and mind of an addicted person. However, there are some general signs you can look for when considering addiction as a reason for the strange behavior of your loved ones. Here's what these are:

  • Problems in school, lack of interest, and dropping grades
  • Lacking work performance, always being late, tired, and uninterested
  • Changes in appearance, like weight loss due to lack of appetite, wearing dirty clothes, or lack of personal hygiene
  • Changes in behavior, such as the increased need for privacy
  • Big shifts in relationships
  • A pronounced lack of energy in regular daily tasks
  • Spending more money or borrowing money often
  • Not paying bills on time and overall bad financial management
  • Red eyes, pale skin tone, and appearing tired at all times
  • Defensiveness when talking about substance use

If you or your loved ones are experiencing signs of addiction, don't hesitate to seek help. You can talk to your primary doctor or go directly to a treatment center. Experts from highlight the importance of seeking help from medical professionals trained in this type of disorder. Embrace all the aid you can get, and you'll make the recovery process much more manageable.

Spotting Signs of Drug Use and Intoxication

Now, we're getting deeper into how to recognize a substance use disorder. As we mentioned, the symptoms will vary depending on the type of drug a person is using. Thus, we'll talk about all the frequent drugs and how you can recognize if someone you know is abusing them.

For all of you parents out there, remember that overall moodiness is often a part of adolescence and the teen years. So, don't jump to conclusions if your child is acting up. That said, if you notice more drastic mood or behavior swings, you might want to pay attention to the rest of the article. 

We'll start with the most common drug out there.

Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol is common and legal in the US, so it's not a surprise that it's one of the most commonly abused substances in the states. Of course, since it's so widespread, we know about many different signs and symptoms that can point it out. Keep in mind that so-called functional alcoholics can hide or minimize symptoms for some time, but as time goes on, it becomes harder and harder to keep them out of sight.

Abusing alcohol can cause issues such as blackouts and memory loss. Flushed skin and broken capillaries are also common, especially on the face. If it goes on for a long time, alcohol addiction can cause hands to tremble and voice to become husky.

Unfortunately, alcohol recovery for an addict isn't easy. When they stop drinking, they'll experience withdrawal symptoms. Things like headaches, nausea, insomnia, and anxiety are frequent, but there's also a risk of more severe issues like delirium tremens (DTs). So, if you want to make things a bit more manageable, be sure to go for medical detox.


Marijuana, or cannabis, comes in all shapes and forms. The most common way of consuming it is smoking, but there are also edibles that provide the same effect. The person under the influence will have a sense of higher visual and auditory perceptions, but they might seem forgetful and clumsy. 

Cannabis also increases appetite, so it's not uncommon for people to eat more than they usually do. On top of that, their reaction time will become slower, and they'll often be paranoid and dubious. 

If you suspect someone you know has recently smoked marijuana, look at their face and body posture. You'll notice the bloodshot eyes, droopy eyelids, and mellow demeanor.


The abuse of stimulants often comes with frequent behavior changes. High aggression, as well as rapid or rambling speech, are signs of cocaine intoxication. Further symptoms include enlarged pupils, boosted energy, and a fast breathing pace. If the user snorts the drug, they'll also suffer nasal congestion. 

Barbiturates and Benzodiazepines

These are CNS drugs developed for treating anxiety and sleep disorders. So, here, we're talking about medicaments such as Xanax or Valium. Unfortunately, these are frequent in households all across the country, so it's easy for curious adolescents and people who have trouble overcoming their addictive personalities to get to them. 

If someone abuses these drugs, they'll become overly emotional, dizzy, or depressed. Blurry vision, disorientation, balance problems, and confusion are common abuse signs as well. You may also see involuntary eye movement, called nystagmus. 


Opioids are among the most dangerous drugs out there. This group includes both prescription painkillers like Vicodin and drugs like heroin. Abusing these will become apparent through visible sedation, memory problems, losing the ability to focus, boredom, and mood swings. 

Opioids also slow down the digestive system. So, the addicts will experience constipation and other similar issues. When they stop using the drug, they become highly anxious and experience flu-like symptoms, which can be severe. For people who want to be treated at home, please learn more about suboxone treatment online and how it would help you on your recovery.

Club Drugs

And finally, we have the club drugs. Here, we're talking about ecstasy, ketamine, and GHB as the most typical representatives. Signs of intoxication are high body temperature, clenched teeth, and slurred speech.

All Addictions are Treatable

Whether the addiction you or your loved ones are dealing with is mild, moderate, or severe, it is treatable. Now that you know how to recognize a substance use disorder, be sure not to wait around if you notice any signs. The sooner friends and family intervene, the easier the rehabilitation process will be.

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