Life can be stressful and people find many different ways to cope with the difficulties of day-to-day life. Often, these coping devices involve using substances to unwind, relax, and have fun. Whether these substances are legal or not, drug misuse and abuse can quickly turn to dependence and addiction.

More and more often, an occasional night of relaxation can become a problem, but it is not always obvious when someone is struggling with addiction. There are some signs that may be able to help you identify if someone you care about has developed a drug dependency.

What is the Definition of Drug Misuse?

Drug misuse and abuse are similar, but the World Health Organization (WHO) defines drug misuse as the use of a substance for a purpose not consistent with legal or medical guidelines. Misuse does not involve the user seeking out a high, rather taking extra medication because a smaller dose does not seem like it would be enough.

Generally speaking, drug misuse refers to prescription drugs rather than illegal substances. Medications are intended to be taken per the instructions of a physician or psychiatrist, when they are misused, adverse side effects can arise. This is as simple as taking 3 ibuprofen for your headache instead of 2; or taking a sleeping pill, still not feeling drowsy an hour later, and taking an extra pill. Another example of drug misuse is offering a friend a pain pill or muscle relaxer when they are in pain and need relief.

Examples of drug misuse include:

  • Forgetting to take a dose
  • Taking an incorrect dose
  • Taking a drug that was not prescribed to you
  • Taking the drug at the wrong time
  • Stopping the drug too soon
  • Taking a drug for any reason outside of why they were prescribed

Drug abuse, on the other hand, happens when drugs are misused to inflict self-harm or to get high. This could be psychoactive substances, prescription medications, alcohol, or illicit drugs. Abusing drugs, both legal and otherwise, can lead to adverse health effects. The misuse and abuse of drugs can result in numerous dangerous outcomes, including addiction or death.

Using prescription medications within the guidelines of your doctor is one of the only ways to ensure that the individual is safely and effectively taking their prescription medications. 

Signs a Drug is Being Misused

Pretty much anyone that has taken medications has intentionally or unintentionally misused them at least once in their life. Forgetting to take medication on time happens easily and without even thinking about it. Sometimes people are prescribed an antibiotic and stop taking it when the symptoms go away rather than finishing the prescription. When drugs are intentionally misused on a regular basis, however, this can lead to a ton of negative side effects.

While it can certainly be difficult to recognize the signs of addiction and dependency, especially if the person you suspect to be using drugs is good at hiding things, there are some signs that you can look for that may indicate a problem.

Many of the signs can be subtle initially or easy to play off or excuse as other things, but when multiple signs start stacking up, it is a good indication that your loved one has a substance abuse problem. The following signs may be an indication that a substance abuse problem is afoot:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Sudden change in personality or behavior – mood swings, agitation, lack of motivation, irritability
  • Slurred speech
  • Frequent bloody noses
  • Falling standards of hygiene
  • Tremors, shakes, and other signs of loss of muscular control
  • Changes in routines
  • Financial troubles including a sudden need for money
  • Suddenly having new friends while neglecting relationships with other friends
  • Loss of stable employment

Substance abuse disorders can present themselves differently from person to person. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM), the official symptoms of Substance Abuse Disorders are:

  1. Having intense cravings or urges for a substance
  2. Dedicating large amounts of time either obtaining, using, or recovering from the use of the substance
  3. The development of tolerance for the substance, where more and more of it is needed to achieve the same effect as before
  4. Spending more time abusing the substance and less time on social, work, or recreational activities
  5. Using larger amounts over a longer time than intended
  6. Continuing to use regardless of adverse effects on personal relationships
  7. Using the substance despite being in situations that are risky or even dangerous
  8. Continuing use even if work, school, or home-related activities or duties are being impacted negatively
  9. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms during periods of extended non-use
  10. Continuing use of the substance after knowing that it has caused or worsened a physical or psychological condition
  11. Having a persistent drive to stop using the substance, and trying to reduce or control its use

How to Detox From a Drug That is Being Misused

If you or a friend or loved one has a substance abuse problem, there is hope. There is a good chance that there is an underlying mental or physical condition that needs to be addressed and brought under control before a long-term treatment plan is truly effective. In order to get help, the first step is recognizing that they have a substance abuse problem and finding someone they trust to talk to about it. This may be a doctor, friend, or family member.

In many cases, having an honest conversation about what is going on in their life and with the substance abuse problem is enough to convince them that it is time to seek help. Knowing that they have someone that is on their side and has heard their story can make recovery seem like a reality rather than something that is out of reach.

With a strong support system, a solid plan, and working with an inpatient/intensive outpatient, or a detox treatment facility, recovery is possible. Treating both the addiction and the underlying conditions or root cause can be the difference between potential relapse in the future and a lifetime of being clean and sober moving forward.