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How to tell if Your Loved one is abusing alcohol or drugs

‘We knew something was wrong, but never suspected he was on drugs’ says Patricia.  ‘I  wish  I had done more to prevent my child from taking drugs’  says Judith.

Most people are often shocked to find out their child or loved one is abusing drugs. In some cases, this may have been going on for years. Failing to detect early use of alcohol or drugs should not come as a surprise. Although the signs are always there, they are often easy to miss.

During teenage years, many are exposed to alcohol, cigarettes and other drugs at home, school or in the neighbourhood.  Additionally, several images of alcohol, tobacco and drug use feature prominently in movies and musical videos. Therefore, it is almost impossible to completely prevent children from trying out alcohol or drugs.  In fact, studies show that a child is likely to take his first alcoholic drink between 8 to 13 years depending on the country.

While some children will outrightly reject the offer to try a cigarette or alcohol, some would experiment and stop after a using it a couple of times. Many persons are often not aware that their loved ones have started abusing alcohol or drugs at this critical stage when prevention efforts may be more effective.

Unfortunately, others become active users and may overtime time become addicted to the drugs. This is more likely to occur in young ones battling with social or emotional challenges. The active use of alcohol and drugs significantly disrupts their mental and physical health, academic activities and relationship with others.  This is when it usually becomes apparent to   parents, teachers and concerned individuals that a person may be on drugs.

What are the warning signs of drugs? How can you tell if your loved one is abusing drugs? Let’s consider some important warning signs of drug abuse you should not ignore.

Warning signs of drug abuse


Sudden decline in performance at school, home or work– As drug use increases, people begin to ignore important duties. For example, the teacher may report that your child is unusually absent from school.  Because he stays up at night to use drugs, he may regularly appear tired, even falling asleep during classwork. He or she shows may begin to have diminishing interest in assignments and may even move to the back of the class. If unchecked, he drops out of school or university. A similar thing occurs at the workplace where your spouse, friend or relative   starts struggling to complete tasks and may begin turning up late for work.

He or she begins to ignore or defy rules.  You may receive reports of violent behaviour.  He or she easily becomes provoked and gets involved in fights even when the odds are clearly against him. He may be involved in cheating during exams or get arrested for driving violations. Driving under influence and ignoring rules gradually become a way of life.

Declining interest in personal hygiene and grooming. This is likely to occur because more time is now spent consuming, seeking or recovering from alcohol or drug use.

Theft and sales of personal possessions.  In oruder to sustain drug use, several persons begin to pilfer at home. You may begin to observe that money is missing at home.  Some sell their personal items like phones, clothing etc. Others become actively involved in internet fraud, burglaries or armed robberies with time.

Change in choice of friends and association with others that use drugs-The use of alcohol and drugs is often accompanied by changes in lifestyle. It may mean more involvement in parties and other social events. It will also mean being around persons that are not likely to criticize or condemn drug use. They seek out new friends with similar interests to enrich drug using experience and ensure that alcohol or drugs are readily available.

Secretive about his or her movements-They no longer tell you where they have being or where they are off to. Sometimes, they become angry when you want to know where they are coming from.

Sudden changes in mood or behaviour. Because drugs    affect mood and  behaviour, you may observe sudden changes in mood.  A   boisterous, cheerful   person may become  withdrawn and hostile. An introvert may unexpectedly become outgoing and friendly.  Some become overly dramatic or irritable. You should know that persons that abuse drugs may have co-occuring mental health conditions that require evaluation and treatment.

READ: Depression-Signs, Causes and Treatment

Possession of drugs or materials that facilitate drug use– In some instances, you may actually find evidence of drug use such as bottles of alcoholic beverages, cannabis, or cigarettes. Usually, they try to cover up by saying things like ‘Someone left it in my bag’ ‘Somebody is trying to frame me’ etc  Do not be quick to accept these explanations. You should look for additional things that suggest drug use. Some have a regular supply of matches or wrapping paper (suggesting  involvement in maurijuana use), pipes and volatile substances e.g glue.

Physical signs of  alcohol or drug abuse 


Apart from these behavioural changes, you should be able to pick some physical signs of drug abuse.

Usually, this depends on the type and extent of drug used. For example, if the individual is taking alcohol, tobacco or maurijuana,   he or she may have the distinct odour on his body or breath.

Drug users often attempt to mask this by taking menthols or using perfumes with strong scents. They may also attribute it to spending time with others that smoke. Do not be quick to accept this if it happens more than once.

With some drugs, the eyes become red and the pupils become wide or narrow.

Since some drugs and cigarettes involve the use of heat, expect to see signs of burns and black spots on lips in some cases.

If the person is injecting drugs, expect to see injection marks or scars on arms and thighs.

What other warning signs of drug abuse could one look for?  Let’s have a feedback at contact@healthx24.com





How to keep your Child off drugs-A prevention guide for parents, Guardians and Teachers Isidore Obot. CRISA Publications. 2002.








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