How to spot a drug user

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Children can regularly be pressured into taking drugs or feel there is no other way to cope with their situation.

Often circumstances at home or school can lead them down the wrong path.

While it is every parent’s wish to avoid the whole scenario completely, it may not always be possible.

When parents strongly suspect their child is using some type of substance, but are not completely sure, here are signs to look out for if they are using any narcotics:

Physical signs

  • Inability to sleep, awake at unusual times and unusual laziness.
  • Loss of, or increase, in appetite.
  • Cold, sweaty palms and shaking hands.
  • Red, watery eyes and pupils larger or smaller than usual.
  • Unusual smells on breath, body or clothes.
  • Extreme hyperactivity or excessive talkativeness.
  • Slowed or staggering walk and poor physical coordination.
  • Needle marks on lower arm, leg or bottom of feet.
  • Nausea, vomiting or excessive sweating.
  • Irregular heartbeat, runny nose or hacking cough.
  • Puffy face, blushing or paleness.
  • Frequent rubbing of the nose or twisting of the jaw back and forth.
  • Deterioration of hygiene or physical health.

Behavioural Signs

  • Change in overall attitude.
  • Drop in grades at school or performance at work.
  • Change in activities or hobbies.
  • Difficulty in paying attention.
  • ‘I don’t care’ attitude.
  • Paranoia
  • Excessive need for privacy, unreachable.
  • Secretive or suspicious behaviour.
  • Changes in friends.
  • Unexplained need for money, stealing money or items.

Signs of different drug uses:

  • Marijuana

Red eyes, loud talking and inappropriate laughter followed by sleepiness, loss of interest or motivation and/or weight gain or loss.

  • Alcohol

Clumsiness, difficulty walking, slurred speech, sleepiness, poor judgment and/or dilated pupils.

  • Cocaine, meth and other substances

Hyperactivity, euphoria, irritability, anxiety, excessive sleeping at odd times, going for long periods of time without eating or sleeping, dilated pupils, weight loss and/or dry mouth and nose.

  • Heroin

Needle marks, sleeping at unusual times, sweating, vomiting, coughing and sniffling, twitching, loss of appetite, contracted pupils and no response of pupils to light.

  • Depressants

Seems drunk as if from alcohol but without the associated odour of alcohol, difficulty concentrating, clumsiness, poor judgment, slurred speech, sleepiness and contracted pupils.

  • Inhalants (glues, aerosols, and vapours)

Watery eyes, headaches and nausea, appearance of intoxication, drowsiness, poor muscle control, anxiety, irritability and/or impaired vision, memory and thought.


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