How to Detect Drug Use

Excessive drug use is a destructive, life-threatening habit that affects the emotional and physical well-being of the user. Perhaps you worry that your child uses drugs and are concerned you won’t know how to detect drug use. Or maybe you think your spouse or significant other might be involved in drug use. Even at work, you might suspect an employee or coworker is using drugs. Regardless of whom the person is and what his or her relationship is to you, it’s important to understand how to detect drug use so you can get help for your child, loved one, or business associate.

 Method1

Observing Physical Signs

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    Examine an individual’s physical appearance. A lack of interest in clothing, grooming, and personal hygiene may be a sign they have a drug problem. This is especially true if the person once took pride in their looks and public presentation.[1]

    • Pay special attention to stains on clothing that appear to be caused by vomit, urine, blood, or burns.
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    Look carefully at an individual’s eyes. They will often appear different if someone is intoxicated. Red, bloodshot, glassy, and unfocused eyes are all potential signs of drug use. Specific drugs change a person’s eyes in the following ways:

    • Alcohol can make eyes appear glassy and unfocused.
    • Marijuana leads to bloodshot and red eyes.
    • LSD, ecstasy, cocaine, amphetamines, and methamphetamines cause the pupils to dilate (grow larger).
    • Opiates such as heroin and narcotic painkillers cause the pupils to constrict (shrink). [2]
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    Notice how an individual smells. Strange or unpleasant odors may be a sign that they are using drugs. Alcohol and drugs can sometimes be detected on a person’s breath, clothing, and even skin. Odors connected to poor hygiene can also be a sign of drug use.

    • Alcohol lingers on a person’s breath long after their last drink, and can even seep out of their pores the next day.
    • Marijuana odors can seep into clothing and fabrics. Roaches or half-finished joints generate an especially powerful smoky smell.
    • Methamphetamines can cause chronic bad breath. Meth labs often smell like sulfur, rotten eggs, and powerful cleaning chemicals.
    • When smoked, crack has the smell of burning rubber or plastic.
    • Many stimulants and opiates don’t have strong odors. However, cocaine smells faintly of gasoline or ether, and heroin smells like vinegar. [3]
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    Note any sinus changes. Unusual or excessive sniffles or frequent nosebleeds could mean that an individual is snorting drugs. Cocaine, heroin, meth, ecstasy (when crushed), and many other drugs can be snorted up the nose. By snorting drugs, they enter the bloodstream through sensitive nasal membranes, which respond by producing excess protective mucous and sometimes bleed. [4]
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    Watch for needle (track) marks on an individual’s body, particularly their arms.Also look for bruising that could demonstrate the injection of drugs such as heroin, cocaine, or meth. Injecting drugs is very dangerous because unclean needles carry a risk of infection and transmit diseases including HIV-AIDS.

    • Repeated injections cause increasingly pronounced marks and scars on the body.
    • The more an individual injects drugs, the more they must find new places to insert needles, as the previous injection areas suffer vein collapse and scarring.
    • Someone who covers their skin with excess clothing may be attempting to hide ulcerations, abscesses, infections, scabs, and skin damage. [5]
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    Look for unusual body issues. If someone is shivering when it is warm, sweating when it is cool, or shaking uncontrollably, they may be experiencing withdrawal symptoms. If addicted to drugs, withdrawal symptoms can start in a matter of hours after they last took the drug.

    • Other signs of withdrawal include watery eyes, sneezing, coughing, headache, heart palpitations, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. [6]

 

Method2

Detecting Emotional, Behavioral, and Social Signs

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    Watch for decreases in attention-span, memory, motivation, and/or concentration. Declining performance in school or work is often connected to drug use. Drugs not only decrease mental capacity, they increasingly dominate a user’s thought process. Instead of focusing on issues related to education or employment, a drug user may be constantly thinking about becoming intoxicated, and how to obtain more drugs. [7]
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    Note drastic changes in sleeping patterns and energy levels. Both insomnia and unusual sleepiness may indicate drug use. Does the individual sometimes seem strangely lethargic and tired? Do they suddenly crash and sleep for long periods of time? Alternately, do they have giddy or manic energy even without sleeping? See-sawing between high and low energy, between periods of excessive and insufficient sleep, should raise the alarm.

    • Opiate users may exhibit a euphoric wave of energy and then abruptly fall asleep, even while sitting upright.
    • Alcoholics might be full of energy at night and then sleep well into the morning, exhibiting an aversion to light and sound.
    • An LSD high can last for up to 12 hours, during which time an individual cannot sleep. But following the high, a user may “crash” and sleep for an entire day.[8]
    • For more information on the relationship between sleep and drugs, see:http://www.drugs.com/medical_encyclopedia.html
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    Notice changes in an individual’s values and morals. Have they started doing things they previously considered immoral? Have they been lying and skipping school or work? Are they asking to borrow unusual amounts of money? Have property, valuables, and money gone missing? Are they taking risks that put themselves and others in harm’s way? Answering yes to any of these questions may indicate problematic drug use. [9]
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    Reflect on changes to an individual’s social life. Have they become more reclusive, avoiding family and long-time friends? Are they more irritable and distant with loved ones? Has the individual started hanging out with mysterious new friends that they refuse to introduce? Are they taking suspicious phone calls, or constantly texting unknown people? If so, the individual may be using drugs. [10]
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    Check for the presence of suspicious items. Consider looking through the individual’s dresser, desk drawers, or clothing pockets. Suspicious items may include eye drops, mouthwash, “baggies,” cigarette rolling papers, cotton swabs, roach clips, pipes, bongs, needles, pill bottles, incense, or room deodorizers. While some of these are common personal hygiene items, they could also indicate a drug use problem.

    • Be very careful when infringing on an individual’s privacy. You may anger them greatly and you will be very embarrassed if you are mistaken about their drug use.
    • Only look through someone’s personal things if you deeply concerned about their wellbeing and willing to face the consequences of doing so.

 

Method3

Using Drug Testing

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    Buy a drug detection test when all signs point to drug use, or if you just can’t tell but need your suspicions satisfied. These are readily available at drug stores and online. One website with an extensive inventory of drug detection devices ishttp://www.origindiagnostics.com/. [11] Do not feel you must purchase devices from this site; it simply provides an overview of what is available on the market.
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    Administer the test without prior warning for the most accurate results. Giving an individual warning beforehand could allow them time to alter the test results by staying clean for a period of time, or even by securing clean urine or blood to substitute for their own.
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    Notify the individual of the drug test results to arrange any necessary follow-up testing, drug treatment, counseling, or even job termination.

    • Never force someone to take a drug test against their will. Doing so is ethically wrong, and there could be legal repercussions.
    • Remember that drug tests are not 100% accurate. For example, if you were to terminate an individual’s employment on the basis of a single drug test, legal action could result.

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