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Is Your Family Member or Employee Using Drugs?


Using drugs is a destructive, life-threatening habit that affects the emotional and physical well-being of the user. Perhaps you worry that your child uses drugs and are concerned you won’t know how to detect drug use. Or maybe you think your spouse or significant other might be involved in drug use. Even at work, you might suspect an employee or coworker is using drugs. Regardless of whom the person is and what his or her relationship is to you, it’s important to understand how to detect drug use so you can get help for your child, loved one or business associate.  (

Below is a list of indicators of drug usage:

  • Look for unusual pupil dilation of the eyes which could denote use of just about any substance including alcohol marijuana, or amphetamines.
  • Pay attention to changes in how the person’s breath, hair and clothing smell to help you detect alcohol use or drugs inhaled via smoking (marijuana, crack, meth or heroin).
  • Watch for needle (track) marks on the person’s inner arms or bruising that could denote injecting of drugs like heroine cocaine or meth.
  • Note any sinus changes such as unusual or excessive sniffles, nostril redness or more frequent nosebleeds. These changes could indicate the use of drugs that are snorted such as cocaine, meth or even ecstasy (when crushed).
  • Check for the presence of items in the person’s dresser or desk drawers or in pockets such as eye drops, packages of gum, mouthwash, small plastic containers or baggies, cigarette rolling papers, cotton swabs, roach clips, and incense or room deodorizers. While some of these are common personal hygiene items, excessive or new use of the items could indicate drug use.
  • Watch for changes in attention span, memory, enthusiasm, motivation or concentration.
  • Note drastic changes in sleep and activity patterns such as insomnia or unusual sleepiness or napping. Does the person seem unusually lethargic and tired on one extreme or more energetic, giddy or wired than usual?
  • Notice changes in the person’s values, beliefs or self-discipline, like hanging out with new friends that she/he won’t introduce to you. Has the person started doing things he/she never did before – taking more risks, taking less care with their appearance, eating excessively or not at all, lying, stealing or skipping school?
  • Pay attention to interactions with friends, family and co-workers. (Have they become more reclusive, avoiding family and friends in social settings or at home? Are they more irritable with others than usual, acting out in a hostile or overly-sensitive manner?)
  • Scan cell phone records for unusual texting patterns or phone numbers you don’t recognize.
  • Watch for secretive phone calls, hang-ups when you answer the phone or callers who refuse to identify themselves.


Below is a list of things you can do to rule out or verify drug usage:

  • Buy a drug detection test when all signs point to drug use, or if you just can’t tell but need your suspicions satisfied. These are readily available at drug stores and online.
  • Administer the test without prior warning for the most accurate results. Giving the person you are testing too much warning beforehand could allow him or her time to alter the test by staying clean for a number of hours or even securing clean urine to substitute for their own.
  • Notify the person of the drug test results to arrange any necessary follow-up testing, drug treatment, counseling or even job termination.
  • Hire an investigative agency to conduct covert surveillance of the individual to determine high risk activities associated with drug use.


Cautionary Tips

  • Proceed with caution when discussing drug use, being careful not to accuse or judge the person you suspect of drug use. You don’t want to alienate the person or cause him or her to withdraw from you.
  • If your loved one starts showing signs of excessive drug use but you’ve ruled out the use of illegal drugs, consider misuse of prescription drugs. Monitor the person’s use of these medications as prescription drugs can be just as hazardous as illegal drugs if used improperly or excessively.