What is drug abuse? Good question.

According to the Britannica encyclopedia drug abuse is defined as the following:

“…the excessive, maladaptive, or addictive use of drugs for nonmedical purposes despite social, psychological, and physical problems that may arise from such use.”

In this article, we aren’t going to worry about the definition as much. Rather, we will focus on what is drug abuse. The what meaning, what it looks like, the symptoms, what drugs are usually abused and what steps to take in preventing it.

To start things off let’s discuss what it looks like.

What are the Symptoms of Drug Abuse?

Drug abuse is a scary thing for most people. Either you are the one abusing or you now someone who is abusing. Either way, it can be scary. It is a good thing to know what symptoms to look for. Understanding the symptoms can help you or your loved one receive the proper treatment. And ultimately find a good path to recovery.

The physical symptoms of drug abuse vary. It depends on the type of drug that is being abused. However, the behavioral symptoms of drug abuse are similar in all cases.

Behavioral Symptoms

The behavioral symptoms of drug abuse can be seen in how the person acts. When a person is abusing drugs their personality seems to change. They may begin acting and doing things that are out of the norm. Here are some examples…

  • Increased aggression or irritability.
  • Changes in attitude/personality.
  • Lethargy.
  • Depression.
  • Sudden changes in a social network.
  • Dramatic changes in habits and/or priorities.
  • Involvement in criminal activity.

These behavioral symptoms don’t always come at once. Sometimes they come one at a time. The timeline for these symptoms varies from person to person. Maybe the person begins to show signs of random aggression and then it stops for a time. Later, they may change their daily activities, acting conspicuous or distant. After a time these symptoms will begin to culminate until they are all present. It is important to notice a pattern in behavior. It is also important to have a good line of communication open with someone you fear may be abusing drugs. If the problem can be caught early, then the better it will be to stop the behavior.

Now let’s move onto the physical symptoms of drug abuse.

Physical Symptoms

The physical symptoms of drug abuse are much easier to spot then the behavioral ones. Afterall, noticing someone has needle points in their arm or glossy eyes everytime you see them is easier to notice. The physical symptoms of drug abuse also show up more quickly than the behavioral issues. The behavioral issues take time. They are easily noticeable once the person has aquired an addiction. At that point, the person has altered their life entirely in order to satisfy their addiction. However, with the physical symptoms, you can spot them even after one time abusing the drug.

Here is the list of physical symptoms:

  • Bloodshot or glazed eyes.
  • Dilated or constricted pupils.
  • Abrupt weight changes.
  • Problems sleeping or sleeping too much.

These physical symptoms occur with drug abuse. Even drugs that don’t have a distinct smell to them (prescription drugs) or markings of abuse (like injecting heroin). The physical symptoms are easily noticeable and at times can be hard to cover up. If you notice the person you are concered about demonstrating these physical symptoms then you can reasonably know they are abusing drugs. However, having just one of these symptoms doesn’t mean they are abusing. For example, bloodshot eyes. Everybody has bloodshot eyes if they don’t get enough sleep. This is important to understand when approaching the person. You don’t want to mistake them for abusing drugs if they aren’t. It is important to make sure they demonstrated at least a few of these symptoms.

What Drugs are Usually Abused?

The ability to abuse anything is possible. For example, there are cases when teenagers will abuse laxatives in order to never gain weight, all while eating whatever they want. Abusing laxatives may not cause overdose, but they are abusing it for what it was intended for. The scare happens when addictive substances are abuse. Substances that cause death when taken in high amounts.

For the purposes of this article, we will provide the most commonly abused substances that are addictive. In fact, all these drugs will cause death if consumed in high amounts.


Alcohol has been consumed for thousands of years. Many people who drink alcohol never abuse it or become addicted. However, in some cases, people will acquire an addiction. Alcohol abuse is very dangerous and can cause severe dehydration and death.

Central Nervous System Depressants

Some commonly used terms for this drug is Xanax®, Valium®, barbiturates (barbs), sleeping pills, or roofies. These drugs can be taken in pill form or crushed and snorted. They are commonly prescribed by a physician or acquired illegally. These drugs will slow the brain activity and cause a drowsy feeling to come over the individual.


Cocaine is a type of stimulant. A stimulant speeds up the brains processes causing a high when abused. Cocaine is highly addictive and can cause heart failure if abused.


These types of drugs will affect the user’s perception of reality. They affect the brain in a way that causes the individual to lose a sense of reality. If abused, overtime the effects can be severe. The brain will receive long-term effects. Some of these drugs include LSD (acid), Psilocybin (mushrooms, shrooms), Ketamine, Salvia and DMT.

LSD Tablet


Heroin is made from opium. Opium is taken from the poppy plant. To learn more about heroin and opium check out our other article on understanding opioids.

Heroin can come in many different forms. The most common form is that of a powder. The powder is placed inside of a ballon which can be broken open in order to mix with a liquid and injected or smoked. Heroin is very deadly. If abused it can lead to death. Heroin is also highly addictive.

Photo By Michael Lantagne

Opioids (prescription pain killers)

Opioid is a term used to categorized opiates/opioids. These drugs are highly addictive and come in many forms. These forms include heroin, Oxycodone®, Oxycontin®, Hydrocodone®, Vicodin®, and morphine. To learn more about the term opioids and the history behind this drug click here.

Hydrocodone; Photo by Nga Tran

Tips for Preventing Drug Abuse

Unfortunately, if you or someone you care about is already in the trap of drug abuse then we recommend getting help as soon as possible. Check out White Tree Medical’s outpatient services. We provide outpatient treatment to all individuals over the age of 18 who suffer from drug abuse. If you or someone you know isn’t in the trap of drug abuse that is wonderful. Here are some steps to take in order to avoid it all together.

  1. Don’t take any drug as a coping mechanism. Avoid it at all costs. This includes alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, prescription pills, etc.
  2. Avoid using addictive substances as a young person (under the age of 18 and under 21 for alcohol)
  3. If the need for prescription pain killers arises then only use as directed. Dispose of drugs after use.
  4. Make a choice now to not ever use illicit substances.
  5. Fill your life full of positive and joyful things.

To sum up today’s article. Drug abuse can happen to anybody. All drugs and substances can be abused. Higher levels of danger come when addictive drugs are abused. The ususal outcome is death if help isn’t aqcuired. If you or a loved one struggles with drug abuse. Seek help and please know that you are worth it!

Have a great day.