Spot the Early Warning Signs of Substance Abuse

When left untreated, drug or alcohol abuse can have harmful effects on the body and mind. Substance abuse also negatively affects home, work and school life, sometimes with profound consequences. It’s important to spot the early warnings signs of substance abuse problems in order to seek help as early as possible.

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, there are signs and symptoms to look for if you suspect someone has a substance abuse problem:1

Alcohol Abuse Early Warning Signs

  • Not being able to recall events while drinking, also called blackouts
  • Repeated conflicts with family members, friends or co-workers
  • Recurring episodes of mood swings, depression or feeling irritable
  • Using alcohol on a regular basis to relax, improve mood, sleep, deal with problems or feel “normal”
  • Having troublesome symptoms like headache, anxiety, sleeplessness or stomach upset when not drinking
  • Red-faced and ruddy complexion, broken capillaries on the face
  • Trembling hands
  • Bloody or black and tarry stools, vomiting blood, frequent diarrhea
  • Drinking alone or drinking in secret

Drug Abuse Early Warning Signs

substance abuse early warning signs

  • School, work or home responsibilities are being neglected because of drug use
  • Using drugs under dangerous or high-risk conditions, such as driving while on drugs, using unclean needles or having unprotected sex
  • Legal problems such as disorderly conduct, DUI arrests or stealing to support a drug habit
  • Relationships conflicts, such as fights with loved ones and bosses, loss of friends

Substance Abuse in Teens and Young Adults

If you suspect a teen or young adult may be using drugs or alcohol, there are early physical warning signs to look for: 2

  • Bloodshot eyes, pinpoint or enlarged pupils
  • Nosebleeds that could be caused by snorting drugs
  • Appetite or sleeping pattern changes
  • Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Seizures
  • Deterioration of personal grooming habits
  • Loss of coordination resulting in unexplained injuries, accidents or visible bruising
  • Unusual odors on breath, person or clothes
  • Shakiness, trembling, incoherent or slurred speech

Behavioral signs of alcohol or drug abuse:

behavioral signs of substance abuse

  • Cutting classes, failing grades
  • Missing work or declining job performance
  • No longer participating in extracurricular activities, hobbies, sports or exercise
  • Complaints from teachers, coaches, coworkers, supervisors or classmates
  • Theft of money or valuables, missing prescription drugs
  • Constantly borrowing money
  • Isolation
  • Fixation with music, clothing and posters related to drugs or alcohol
  • Sudden change in relationships, friends, favorite hangouts and hobbies

Psychological warning signs of alcohol or drug abuse:

  • Profound changes in personality or attitude
  • Mood swings, anger
  • Over-activity, agitation
  • Vacant affect
  • Fearful and paranoid for no apparent reason

Getting Help for Substance Abuse

As a parent, family member, friend or coworker, it’s difficult to watch substance abuse problems ravage a person you care about. When early warning signs are spotted, an outpatient rehab program can be quite effective in the initial stages of drug or alcohol abuse. Substance abuse treatment on an outpatient basis helps participants create personalized and flexible rehab schedules. They receive the help they need in recovering or maintaining sobriety while also being able to attend work or school.