Do they have a problem?

Talking is the best way to find out if someone you love is misusing drugs. In a loving, non-threatening but direct way, ask them. It will be a challenging conversation, but it’s the quickest way to establish what’s going on.

It’s important to not make assumptions. The signs listed below could relate to other health and development issues such as stress, depression or just being a teenager! Keep an open mind and look out for changes. However, if any of the signs become extreme, it might be time to consider drug use as a possible explanation.

Physical signs:

  • Loss or increase in appetite, changes to eating habits, unexplained weight loss or gain;
  • Poor physical coordination;
  • Slow or slurred speech;
  • Irregular sleep patterns, inability to sleep, awake at unusual times, unusual laziness;
  • Red, watery eyes, pupils larger or smaller than usual, blank stare;
  • Extreme hyperactivity, excessive talking.

Behavioural signs:

  • Changes in overall attitude or personality with no other identifiable cause;
  • Changes in friends, sudden avoidance of old friends, friends who are known drug users;
  • Change in habits at home, loss of interest in family and family activities;
  • Difficulty in paying attention, forgetfulness;
  • General lack of motivation, energy or self-esteem, ‘I don’t care’ attitude;
  • Sudden oversensitivity, temper tantrums, resentfulness, moodiness or irritability;
  • Paranoia;
  • Excessive need for privacy;
  • Unexplained need for money, stealing money or items.


  • Finding equipment (paraphernalia) used to take drugs.

Take some time to think about what changes you can make in your life to ease the burden of dealing with a drug user.

BenYou don’t realise how much it’s consumed you until you’re clean.

More stories

Tips for loved ones

  • Accept the person has a problem needing attention.

  • Don't try to talk to the person about your concerns when they are under the influence of drugs/alcohol.

  • Don't cover up or make excuses for the mistakes they make when they are intoxicated.

  • At every opportunity, let the person see the consequences of his or her behaviour.

  • Don't nag, scream or lecture. It will only cause feelings of anger and resentment.

  • Don't accept rude or physically abusive behaviour as normal or understandable. It is never OK for you to be mistreated by anyone.

  • Don't feel guilty if you are upset because they have broken a promise to you. People with drug problems often make promises that they can't keep, and it is natural that you would feel disappointed or hurt.

  • Don't judge the person as weak, stupid or lacking in willpower because they can't control their drug use. Drug dependency can happen to anyone.

  • Don't feel sorry for the person with the drug problem. When you feel pity, it is more likely that you will try to take care of the person rather than encourage them to get the help they need.

  • Don't blame yourself for the problem. Other people's actions do not cause drug dependency.

  • Do learn all you can about drug problems.

  • Do make sure you have at least one person who you can talk to about your feelings and worries.

  • When the person opens up and admits they need help, assist them to access appropriate support services.

Previous tip Next tip

We were terribly naïve about the drug and we didn’t know the signs and so forth, so we really didn’t click onto it first of all.

Penny and Peter