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Spot Signs of Substance Misuse

Many folks, including yourself, drink alcohol and/or use substances, but you might be concerned that these substances have a greater role than they should in day to day living. If that’s the case, first off, give yourself a pat on the back  for having the initial self-reflection, or the care for someone else to pose the question.  

Substance misuse involves the harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs. It can lead to drug and alcohol addiction, health problems, and behavioral changes. Misuse disrupts personal and professional relationships, impairs judgment, and increases the risk of accidents, legal issues, and various physical and mental health complications.

Those who may be experiencing a substance use disorder (SUD) often try to hide or downplay their physical dependence. Despite this fact, there are often many warning signs of alcohol and drug addiction, including those listed below:

Physical Warning Signs of Substance Misuse

  • Bloodshot eyes, pupils larger or smaller than usual
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Deterioration of physical appearance, personal grooming habits
  • Runny nose or sniffling
  • Sudden weight loss or weight gain
  • Tremors, slurred speech, or impaired coordination
  • Unusual odors on breath, body, or clothing

Behavioral Warning Signs of Substance Misuse

  • Strained relationships 
  • Engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors
  • Frequently getting into legal trouble, including fights, accidents, illegal activities, and driving under the influence
  • Missing responsibilities at work, school, or home, including neglecting one’s children
  • Increased dialogue or planning to times to drink and/or use substances
  • Sudden change in friends, favorite hangouts, and hobbies
  • Unexplained need for money or financial problems. 
  • Using drugs under dangerous conditions (driving while using drugs, using dirty needles, having unprotected sex)
  • Increased drug tolerance (the need to use more of the drug to experience the same effects that used to be achieved with smaller amounts)
  • Misusing drugs to avoid or relieve withdrawal symptoms (nausea, restlessness, insomnia, depression, sweating, shaking, anxiety)
  • Loss of control over drug or alcohol misuse (using more than intended, unable to stop)
  • Life revolves around alcohol use or drug use (always thinking of using, figuring out how to get more, or recovering from use)
  • Decreasing time spent in  enjoyable activities (hobbies, sports, and socializing) to indulge
  • Continuing to use regardless of negative consequences (blackouts, infections, mood swings, depression, paranoia)

Psychological Warning Signs of Substance Misuse

  • Appearing fearful, anxious, or paranoid, with no reason
  • Lack of motivation; appearing tired or “spaced out”
  • Periods of unusual increased energy, nervousness, or instability
  • Sudden mood swings, increased irritability, or angry outbursts
  • Unexplained change in personality or attitude

Knowing these warning signs is the first step. If you think you or a friend has a disordered relationship with substances, try the following: 

  • Speak with, or encourage your friend to speak with, a healthcare provider, mental health counselor, trusted friend or mentor. 
  • Reach out to a friend or family member in your support group who could create an action plan with you or help you create a plan for someone you want to support.
  • Seek out local or national resources such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
  • Visit our Jet Wing location, or learn more about our Addiction Treatment services.


About 1 in 10 individuals will have a disordered relationship with substance use throughout their lifetime. Knowing the signs, and where to go for support is an essential step in supporting yourself and your community.



*If you or someone you love is struggling with mental health, request an appointment with one of our professional mental health providers at Diversus Health today. If you need immediate assistance, call our crisis hotline at 844-493-8255, or text ‘TALK’ to 38255.

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