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Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol and Drug Misuse or Abuse


Students who drink heavy amounts of alcohol may experience a phenomenon known as a hangover. Physical symptoms of a hangover include fatigue, headache, increased sensitivity to light and sound, redness of the eyes, muscle aches and thirst. A hangover can also impact the sympathetic nervous system and mental health causing increased blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, tremors, sweating, dizziness, vertigo (a sense of the room spinning), and possible cognitive and mood disturbances such as depression, anxiety and irritability. 

Students who drink heavy amounts of alcohol may also have trouble remembering things that happened when they were drunk. This is called a blackout. A student’s Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) must reach 0.14% – almost twice the legal limit – to induce a blackout. There are two kinds of alcohol-caused blackouts that a student may experience:

  • En block (complete) -  involves total memory loss until the body’s BAC lowers and memory processing returns; and 
  • Partial (fragmentary) - which means that the person may not immediately remember what happened, but certain cues can trigger memories to return.

There are other various warning signs to help detect potential alcohol abuse/misuse. Many signs are recognizable, while others may be more difficult to identify. The severity of alcohol abuse also plays a role in the warning signs that a person shows for alcohol abuse. Some warning signs include drinking in private or isolation; showing signs of irritability and extreme mood swings; making excuses for drinking (such as to relax, deal with stress or feel normal); choosing drinking over other responsibilities and obligations; becoming isolated and distant from friends and family members; changing appearance and changing the group of acquaintances; drinking more or longer than planned; trying to cut back drinking or stop drinking more than once but couldn’t; spending a lot of time drinking, being sick or hungover; constantly thinking about alcohol; developing problems with work, school, friends or family due to drinking; and/or getting caught in situations while drinking or afterward that increased likelihood of getting harmed. 


Drug abusers often try to hide their symptoms and downplay their problem. However, there are physical, behavioral and psychological warning signs that indicate a person may be misusing/ abusing or addicted to drugs. These signs include:

Physical warning signs of drug abuse:

  • Bloodshot eyes, pupils larger or smaller than usual
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Deterioration of physical appearance, personal grooming habits
  • Runny nose or sniffling
  • Sudden weight loss or weight gain
  • Tremors, slurred speech, or impaired coordination
  • Unusual odors on breath, body, or clothing

Behavioral warning signs of drug abuse: 

  • Using causes difficulties in one's relationships
  • Engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors
  • Frequently getting into legal trouble, including fights, accidents, illegal activities, and driving under the influence
  • Neglecting responsibilities at work, school, or home, including neglecting one's children
  • Sudden change in friends, favorite hangouts, and hobbies
  • Unexplained need for money or financial problems. May borrow or steal money.
  • Using drugs under dangerous conditions (driving while using drugs, using dirty needles, having unprotected sex)

Behavioral warning signs of drug addiction:

  • Increased drug tolerance (the need to use more of the drug to experience the same effects one used to achieve with smaller amounts)
  • Using drugs to avoid or relieve withdrawal symptoms (nausea, restlessness, insomnia, depression, sweating, shaking, anxiety)
  • Loss of control over drug use (using more than intended, unable to stop)
  • Life revolves around drug use (always thinking of using, figuring how to get more, or recovering from use)
  • Abandoning enjoyable activities(hobbies, sports, and socializing) to use drugs
  • Continuing to use regardless of negative consequences (blackouts, infections, mood swings, depression, paranoia)

Psychological warning signs of drug abuse:

  • Appearing fearful, anxious, or paranoid, with no reason
  • Lack of motivation; appearing tired or "spaced out"
  • Periods of unusual increased energy, nervousness, or instability
  • Sudden mood swings, increased irritability, or angry outbursts
  • Unexplained change in personality or attitude