Warning Signs of Substance Abuse and Addiction

There are many different physical and socio-emotional signs of substance abuse and addiction. Being aware of both physical and behavioral signs of addiction will enable you to take the preliminary steps in recognizing and addressing an addiction problem with your college student and ultimately getting into a treatment program.

While many of the following symptoms can relate to substance abuse, it is important to acknowledge that a student exhibiting symptoms of substance abuse may attribute to a number of different problems, other than addiction. Some behaviors can be symptomatic of stress, depression, or other physical or mental health issues.

According to the American Council for Drug Education (ACDE), the key to detecting drug use is change. They suggest looking for significant changes in an individual’s physical appearance, attitude, personality, and behavior. The following physical and behavioral signs, as described by the ACDE, can be attributed to substance abuse:

Physical Signs of Substance Abuse

  • Extreme loss or increase in appetite, change of eating habits and unexplained weight gain or loss
  • Extreme loss of, or poor, physical coordination, including slow or staggered walk
  • Insomnia or increased need for sleep, keeping unusual hours or unusually lazy
  • Smells of substance, foul body odor
  • Unusual lack of bathing or grooming
  • Blank stare, red watery eyes, over or under dilated pupils
  • Hyperactivity and excessive talkativeness
  • Shaking hands or cold sweaty palms
  • Puffy flushed or pale face
  • Runny nose and cough
  • Experiences nausea and vomiting
  • Tremors of the head, feet or hands
  • Needle-like marks on extremities, including the bottom of feet

Behavioral Signs of Substance Abuse

  • Change in attitude and personality, without other notable cause
  • Avoidance of friends and family
  • New friends who are known users
  • Developing ‘”loner” tendencies or anti-social behaviors
  • A drop in grades and work ethic
  • Abnormal forgetfulness and inattentiveness
  • Change in habits with family and in the home
  • Lack of motivation and energy
  • Excessive temper and irritability
  • Nervousness and anxiety
  • Giddiness and excessive laughter, without known cause
  • Unusually private, secretive and suspicious behavior
  • Stealing money or household items disappearing
  • Possession of paraphernalia, such as; rolling papers, pipes, bongs, syringes, digital scale, and razor blades

More resources describing the signs and symptoms of addiction:

Telltale Signs of Drug Abuse Quiz
Signs and Symptoms of Drug Use

Teens: Alcohol and Other Drugs

Drug Facts by type from the Office of National Drug Control Policy

High-Risk Drinking in College: What We Know and What We Need to Learn

Effects of Drug Use