Detailed Signs and Symptoms of Drug Use
Parents and others may be interested in the following signs and symptoms of drug use provided by The National
Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign:
Alcohol: Odor on the breath. Intoxication/drunkenness. Difficulty focusing: glazed appearance of the eyes.
Uncharacteristically passive behavior or combative and argumentative behavior. Gradual decline in personal
appearance and hygiene. Gradual development of difficulties, especially in schoolwork or job performance.
Absenteeism (particularly on Monday). Unexplained bruises and accidents. Irritability. Flushed skin. Loss of
memory (blackouts). Availability and consumption of alcohol becomes the focus of social activities. Changes in
peer-group associations and friendships. Impaired interpersonal relationships (unexplainable termination of
relationships, and separation from close family members).
Cocaine/Crack/Methamphetamines/Stimulants: Extremely dilated pupils. Dry mouth and nose, bad breath,
frequent lip licking. Excessive activity, difficulty sitting still, lack of interest in food or sleep. Irritable, argumentative,
nervous. Talkative, but conversation often lacks continuity; changes subject rapidly. Runny nose, cold or chronic
sinus/nasal problems, nose bleeds. Use or possession of paraphernalia including small spoons, razor blades, mirror,
little bottles of white powder and plastic, glass or metal straws.
Depressants: Symptoms of alcohol intoxication with no alcohol odor on breath. (Remember that depressants are
frequently used with alcohol.) Lack of facial expression or animation. Flat affect. Limp appearance. Slurred speech.
Note: There are few readily apparent symptoms. Abuse may be indicated by activities such as frequent visits to
different physicians for prescriptions to treat “nervousness”, “anxiety”, “stress”, etc.
Ecstasy: Confusion, blurred vision, rapid eye movement, chills or sweating, high body temperature, sweating
profusely, dehydrated, confusion, faintness, paranoia or severe anxiety, panic attacks, trance-like state, transfixed
on sights and sounds, unconscious clenching of the jaw, grinding teeth, muscle tension, very affectionate.
Depression, headaches, dizziness (from hangover/after effects), possession of pacifiers (used to stop jaw clenching),
lollipops, candy necklaces, mentholated vapor rub, vomiting or nausea (from hangover/after effects).
Hallucinogens/LSD/Acid: Extremely dilated pupils, warm skin, excessive perspiration, and body odor
are symptoms. Distorted sense of sight, hearing, touch; distorted image of self and time perception, mood and
behavior changes, the extent depending on emotional state of the user and environmental conditions. Unpredictable
flashback episodes even long after withdrawal (although these are rare). Hallucinogenic drugs, which occur both
naturally and in synthetic form, distort or disturb sensory input, sometimes to a great degree. Hallucinogens occur
naturally in primarily two forms, (peyote) cactus and psilocybin mushrooms.
Several chemical varieties have been synthesized, most notably LSD, MDA, STP, and PCP. Hallucinogen usage
reached a peak in the United States in the late 1960s, but declined shortly thereafter due to a broader awareness of
the detrimental effects of usage. However, a disturbing trend indicating resurgence in hallucinogen usage by high
school and college students nationwide has been acknowledged by law enforcement. With the exception of PCP, all
hallucinogens seem to share common effects of use. Any portion of sensory perceptions may be altered to varying degrees. Synesthesia, or the “seeing” of sounds,and the “hearing” of colors, is a common side effect of hallucinogen
use. Depersonalization, acute anxiety, and acute depression resulting in suicide have also been noted as a result
of hallucinogen use.
Inhalants: Substance odor on breath and clothes, runny nose, watering eyes, drowsiness or unconsciousness,
poor muscle control. Prefers group activity to being alone. Presence of bags or rags containing dry plastic cement
or other solvent at home, in locker at school or at work. Discarded whipped cream, spray paint or similar chargers
(users of nitrousoxide). Small bottles labeled “incense” (users of butyl nitrite).
Marijuana/Pot: Rapid, loud talking and bursts of laughter in early stages of intoxication. Sleepy or dazed in the later
stages. Forgetfulness in conversation, inflammation in whites of eyes; pupils unlikely to be dilated, odor similar to burnt rope on clothing or breath. Brown residue on fingers, tendency to drive slowly – below speed limit, distorted sense of time passage – tendency to overestimate time intervals. Use or possession of paraphernalia including roach clip, packs of rolling papers, pipes or bongs. Marijuana users are difficult to recognize unless they are under the influence of the drug at the time of observation. Casual users may show none of the general symptoms. Marijuana does have a distinct odor and may be the same color or a bit greener than tobacco.
Narcotics/Prescription Drugs/Heroin/Opium/Codeine/Oxycontin: Lethargy, drowsiness, constricted pupils
fail to respond to light. Redness and raw nostrils from inhaling heroin in powder form. Scars (tracks) on inner arms or
other parts of body, from needle injections. Use or possession of paraphernalia including syringes, bent spoons,
bottle caps, eye droppers, rubber tubing, cotton and needles. Slurred speech. While there may be no readily
apparent symptoms of analgesic abuse, it may be indicated by frequent visits to different physicians or dentists for
prescriptions to treat pain of non-specific origin. In cases where patient has chronic pain and abuse of medication is
suspected, it may be indicated by amounts and frequency taken.
PCP: Unpredictable behavior; mood may swing from passivity to violence for no apparent reason. Symptoms of
intoxication, disorientation, agitation and violence if exposed to excessive sensory stimulation. Fear, terror, rigid
muscles, strange gait, deadened sensory perception (may experience severe injuries while appearing not to notice).
Pupils may appear dilated. Mask-like facial appearance, floating pupils, appear to follow a moving object. Comatose
(unresponsive) if large amount consumed, eyes may be open or closed.
Solvents, Aerosols, Glue, Gasoline:
Nitrous Oxide – laughing gas, whippits, nitrous
Amyl Nitrate – snappers, poppers, pearlers, rushamies
Butyl Nitrate – locker room, bolt, bullet, rush, climax, red gold
Slurred speech, impaired coordination, nausea, vomiting, slowed breathing. Brain damage, pains in the chest, muscles,
joints, heart trouble, severe depression, fatigue, and loss of appetite, bronchial spasm, sores on nose or mouth, nosebleeds, diarrhea, bizarre or reckless behavior, sudden death, suffocation.
If you have increased your monitoring of your child and you suspect that he or she may be using drugs or alcohol,
it’s time to have a conversation about substance abuse. In a caring, gently way, let your child know that in your
family you have a policy of no drug use. And know that you should have this conversation not just once in your child’s
life, but often. If you continue to spot the signs and symptoms of drug use, you may want to take your child to the
doctor and ask him/her to screen for the use of illicit substances. This may involve a urine or blood drug screen. There
are also over-the-counter drug tests available in some pharmacies. However, the analysis will have to be done by a
Content provided with permission from The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign.
For more information or to discuss addiction concerns please contact Partners Employee Assistance Program at
In case of emergency, please call 911 or your local hospital emergency service.
This content was last modified on: 06/27/2008