An Online Resource Center for Family and Friends of People Battling Drug Addiction

Signs and Symptoms of Drug Abuse and Addiction

Signs – Signals of Drug Abuse

How do I know if my child is using drugs or is addicted? In general, be aware of any change in your child’s behavior – truancy, falling grades, change in friends. Here are some signs we have seen in our own children:

  • Strange behavior: extremely happy or depressed for no apparent reason; mood swings; hostile, angry, uncooperative; not wanting to be around family/home or those who would be hurt by their use
  • Messy, careless appearance, poor hygiene
  • Dishonesty lies
  • Nodding OUT (chin on chest, sleepy, slow to respond)
  • Sleeplessness; sleep all day/up all night
  • Tired, lethargic, lack of concentration
  • Forgetfulness: losing everyday things such as car keys, wallet, money
  • Disinterest in hobbies, sports, family activities
  • Cash flow problems
  • Secretive – phone calls, locked bedroom door, strange numbers on cell phone
  • Red or glassy eyes; dilated pupils; pinpoint pupils (opiates/heroin)
  • Weight loss; rarely eat meals
  • Missing money, jewelry, equipment (sell at pawn shop)
  • Checks were taken from center of checkbook
  • Burn holes in clothing, bedding, furniture
  • Dings and dents on car; burn holes in car; blood stains in car/on clothing
  • Straws cut in half, empty pens (for snorting)
  • Pill bottles
  • Small folded wrappers, empty small baggies; breath mint containers; corners of baggies; small pieces of tinfoil; gem packs, pill capsules broken in half
  • Small glass vials
  • Wide rubber bands (to tie arm)
  • Syringes

See also:

NIDA for Teens (url; site for teens and parents by the National Institute on Drug Abuse)

How can I tell if my child is using (pdf; NCADA)

Signs and Symptoms of Drug Use (url; )

GetSmartAboutDrugs (url; DEA)

Am I an Addict? (pdf) Written by recovering addicts in Narcotics Anonymous


Drug Paraphernalia

What is paraphernalia?

Drug paraphernalia is any equipment, product, or material that is modified for making, using, or concealing drugs. Many of these items are regular household items: pens and felt tip markers (pipes), small containers, papers, small vials, glow sticks, cigarette packs, pill bottles, candy and gum wrappers, cored out apples, gummy bears, film canisters, make-up kits, plastic baggies, spoons (under the bed, in car – used to cook heroin); etc. Bindle: A small envelope made by folding a square piece of paper, often used for carrying powdered drugs such as cocaine. Popular because it requires no tape, glue or fasteners and does not leak when folded correctly.


Talk with your loved one about drugs

Parents can help prevent their teens from abusing prescription drugs.  “Talking to Teens about Medicine Abuse” (pdf) provides some tips and steps we can take as parents.  There are several other resources (English and Spanish) on the National Council on Patient Information and Education website.

Family Checkup: Positive Parenting is a site from the National Institute on Drug Abuse that focuses on family communications in general as well as communicating about drug use. (url) has a wealth of resources and TIPS, a BLOG (made up of experts, parents and caring adults), an online community of Parents, and a HelpLine (1-855-DRUGFREE) for help with your child.  In particular, see the Parent Toolkit that includes ‘how to’s’; parent guide and tips on talking with your child of any age.  Also, available in Spanish.   See the multi-media kit if you know or suspect your child is using drugs – TIME TO ACT

Here is one piece that we extracted from the DrugFree.Org website; Retrieved January 2013 under Intervention Tips You can Use

What to Say When Your Teen Reacts Defensively About His or Her Alcohol or Drug Use

Your teen may not be happy that you’re approaching him about his drug or alcohol use. That’s to be expected. What you might not expect is to be called a snoop, a hypocrite or clueless. Think about how you will handle these accusations if they come up. It’s good to be prepared. Here are some suggested responses:

1. If Your Child Says: “You went through my stuff?! You’re a snoop!”

Try To: Defend your choice to look through your teen’s things by expressing your concern for his health and safety.

You Can Say: “I’m sorry you feel that I broke your trust. But as a parent, my job is to keep you safe and healthy, so I have to be nosey when I believe you’re doing something unsafe.”

2. If Your Child Says: “You smoke/drink! You’re such a hypocrite!”

Try To: Focus on the issue at hand — you don’t want YOUR CHILD using drugs or drinking

You Can Say: “I wish I had never started smoking because it’s so hard to stop.”

“It is illegal for people under 21 to drink because their brains are still developing and aren’t equipped yet to handle alcohol.”

If You Are In Recovery, You Can Say, “I love you too much to let you make the same mistakes that I did.”

3. If Your Child Says:“I’ve never done drugs! You’re wrong!”

Try To: Remain calm and do whatever you can to keep the conversation going.

You Can Say: “I love you way too much to let anything happen to you. I need you to tell me the truth so I can figure out how to help you. I have no intention of getting mad or punishing you.”

What exactly is an Intervention?

An intervention can be as simple as a conversation. The purpose? To approach your child directly about his drug or alcohol use.

An intervention can be successful, even if it only tackles small goals at first. Just making it clear to your teen that you no longer want him drinking or using drugs is an accomplishment. Addressing your child about his alcohol or drug use may be uncomfortable for both of you, and you may even think it’s unnecessary. But casual or experimental use can quickly turn into abuse, dependence or addiction and can lead to accidents, legal trouble and serious health issues.

That’s why it’s imperative that you intervene as soon as your instinct tells you that something is wrong.



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