Family members, especially significant others, tend to be blissfully ignorant when it comes to their loved ones potentially abusing substances. Often it is emotionally easier for us to be in the dark about a loved one struggling with substance-use issues. If you find yourself researching whether your partner is abusing drugs or alcohol, odds are, your intuition is correct.

Signs and Symptoms

Several signs and symptoms are applicable to most individuals who use substances, including:

  • Social isolation
  • Unexplainable changes in behavior
  • Missing money or household items
  • Irritability
  • Missing family or social gatherings
  • Neglecting responsibilities

For example, unexplained changes in mood combined with lies about who they were with or where they were could indicate potential substance use. Substance users may also lie about missing money or belongings that they are exchanging for substances. It is not uncommon for substance users to become highly defensive when confronted about their use.

If your partner is abusing drugs like marijuana, you may find pipes, bongs, paper wrappers used to roll joints, eye drops, or small bottles of oil also referred to as “wax.” You may notice a skunk-like smell, red eyes, dry mouth, increased appetite, paranoia, confusion or lethargic behavior. Marijuana can be smoked, eaten or inhaled using a vaporizer. When marijuana is vaped, it may result in a smell like burnt popcorn or rubber.

Individuals who use methamphetamines may demonstrate:

  • High levels of energy and fixation
  • Irritability
  • Skin picking
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Rapid speech
  • Decreased need for sleep

Often, extended periods of wakefulness are followed by periods of excessive sleep, possibly lasting several days. Those who have not slept for several days due to meth use may exhibit psychosis-like symptoms, including paranoia or visual or auditory hallucinations. You may find bags with white powder or a crystal-like substance, spoons with a brownish-black residue, pipes made of glass or metal with black residue or “tooters,” which are tube-like devices made from glass, metal or even plastic.

If your partner is abusing drugs like opiates or heroin, you may find tinfoil, syringes or spoons with burn marks. Heroin can range in color from white to brown to black and can be a powder or sticky substance. Physical signs of opiate use include:

  • Restricted pupils
  • Excessive itching
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • “Nodding off” behavior
  • Decreased appetite

Withdrawal symptoms may include flu-like symptoms, body aches, chills, nausea or vomiting, and difficulty sleeping. If a person is injecting opiates intravenously, it is not uncommon to find syringes and burnt spoons. IV drug users may wear long-sleeved clothing in warm weather to hide track marks.

If alcohol use is the issue, you may discover:

  • Bottles hidden in different places around the home
  • Changes in mood or behavior
  • Smells of alcohol or excessive perfume or gum chewing to cover the smell of alcohol
  • Unexplained cuts or bruises from falling while intoxicated
  • Slurred speech
  • Memory loss
  • Social isolation
  • Irritability
  • Changes in their sleep cycle

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include tremors, flu-like symptoms, sweating, nausea, anxiety and even hallucinations.

Benzodiazepines are a medication for anxiety that are highly abused. When an individual is under the influence of benzodiazepines, they may appear as if they are drunk. They may demonstrate:

  • Slurred speech
  • Poor coordination
  • Impaired impulse control
  • Poor judgement
  • Memory loss

Signs of benzodiazepine use may include finding prescription pill bottles with a medication name usually ending in “pam” or “lam.” Benzodiazepines are typically in pill form and can be taken orally, snorted or smoked. Some withdrawal symptoms may include increased anxiety, tremors, nausea, difficulty sleeping, excessive sweating, irritability and decreases in appetite.

If you notice any opiate, alcohol, or benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms in your loved one, it is recommended that you seek medical attention right away, as withdrawals from these substances can be fatal.

What Can You Do If Your Partner is Abusing Drugs or Alcohol?

Let’s say you’ve determined that your partner is struggling with a substance use issue. Now what?

It is important to confront your loved one with compassion and support rather than condemnation. Be mindful of the timing in which you choose to approach the matter. Remind yourself that you are not responsible for making them to get sober–only they can make this choice.

Be clear in what you are willing to tolerate. Educate yourself on addiction and the options for treatment. Seek your own support through therapy or support groups if your partner is abusing drugs. Al-Anon is a valuable resource for loved ones struggling with a substance use issue. Al-Anon offers support and education for families, and you can get more information at

By: Dr. Jenissa Chintella