Child Drug Addictions and Symptoms

List of Drug Addiction Symptoms and Ways to Recognize an At-Risk Child

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Parents can learn how to identify the signs and symptoms of a potentially at-risk child

Addiction is overwhelming, and not just for those suffering from it but for their family and friends as well. The youth are particularly vulnerable, as they encounter more instability in their lives and must also deal with outside influences and peer pressure. It is imperative that friends and family members can identify the obvious signs of dependence. 

Recognizing Drug Addiction and Spotting Warning Signs in Children

Below is a list of the common symptoms of drug dependence, as well as a few subtle ones.

Physical Symptoms:

  1. Sudden and severe weight lossDrug abuse creates chaos in a person’s body, which tends to result in sudden and continuous weight loss. Ecstasy, LSD, Methamphetamine (speed), Cocaine and other types of stimulants cause a loss of appetite for long periods of time.  These drugs also cause the body to burn calories more quickly in order to maintain the body’s essential internal functions like blood flow and oxygen distribution.  
  2. Red /bloodshot, watery, or squinty eyes and dilated pupils – Drugs have an immediate impact on the part of the brain that controls eyesight. In most cases, the eyes will appear bloodshot, as if the person has been crying for long periods of time or has a runny nose.
  3. Lack of energy / lethargy – Once the effects of the drug use begin to wear off, the user tends to remain immobile because of a lack of energy. Lethargy and muscle weakness are symptoms of drug use. They can last anywhere from hours to days, depending upon the severity of the drug use. This effect is often made worse by a lack of appetite.
  4. Flailing / jittery hands and uncontrollable chills – The brain is unable to fully-exercise control over the body’s muscles, which results in a user commonly experiencing the jitters, chills, flailing limbs, or a general lack of coordination. Ann extreme sensitivity to cold temperatures may also be experienced, resulting in the need to seek warmth by bundling up with blankets, thick sweaters or jackets.
  5. Increased heart rate, palpitations, and Arrhythmia – Stimulants, opioids, and hallucinogens can cause the heart to pump blood faster, resulting in a rapid pulse and irregular heartbeat.
  6. Nausea, vomiting and, disorientation – Once the effects of the drug use begin to wear off, the user can experience increased disorientation, intermittent vomiting, and long bouts of nausea, as well as a sensitivity to light and loud/sudden noises. At this point, the user will likely withdraw from all stimuli until they begin to feel better.
  7. Daytime drowsiness – Barbiturates, cannabis, and prescription-grade tranquilizers cause drowsiness during the day, despite an intake of copious amounts of caffeine. Younger users will be noticeably harder to wake in the morning and are more likely to fall asleep in class or at work.

Mental Symptoms:

  1. Changes in the emotional, social, or psychological state of mind or unexplained aggression – Because hormone levels in young people are constantly changing, they become particularly aggressive when under the influence of drugs. They tend to become involved in unprovoked fights at school or work and react violently towards authority figures like teachers, parents, and supervisors.
  2. Hypervigilance and paranoia – A common side effect of drug use is the feeling of paranoia. Users become hypervigilant against anything and anyone because the drugs cause them to think that everyone is out to get them. This feeling results in aggressive or violent behavior and it will be difficult, regardless of who you are or what your relationship to the user is, to convince them to seek help.
  3. Skipping school and a sudden drop in academic performance – Even the brightest of kids can fall prey to the effects of drug dependence. Attendance will suddenly become erratic as they choose to skip school, preferring instead to hang out with kids they have something in common with. Thus, parents can expect to see poor academic performance and a lack of attentiveness during class. They won’t want to share their daily experiences at school and might react defensively when asked about them.
  4. Lack of inhibition – While teenagers are typically more adventurous and reckless when compared with adults; a lack of inhibition is another sign of drug dependence. Monitoring a child’s behavior, especially outside of the home, is one of the most effective ways of identifying symptoms of drug dependence. Perhaps the child takes more risks than usual without any regard to their physical or emotional well-being or may start cursing or using inappropriate language with parents, friends or strangers.
  5. Extreme mood swings – Apart from unprovoked aggression, mood swings are another symptom of drug dependence. Children are perfectly happy one moment but then can become irritable and angry the next. Stimulants cause a euphoria that is reflected as manic behavior; but barbiturates and tranquilizers result in feelings of calm and mellowness.
  6. Sudden sleep disorders – When someone becomes dependent on drugs, their brain becomes unable to think clearly. As a result, establishing regular sleeping patterns becomes difficult.  Dependence on tranquilizers and barbiturates usually results in excess sleep of more than 8-10 hours per day. In severe cases, the body’s internal clock becomes reversed, resulting in sleeping during the day and remaining active at night.


A solid support system is essential in a person’s recovery, but even more so for young people. Educated parents are more capable of identifying signs of drug dependence in a child. While talking with your child may be challenging, especially if there are ingrained emotional problems that caused the child’s dependence, a good line of communication can provide a child with much-needed support. Specialized rehabilitation and recovery centers offer treatment specifically for troubled youth, but often require a significant amount of parental involvement and input. However, they also provide a much better chance of recovery.

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