Warning Signs of Substance Use Disorder: Is It Becoming a Problem?

Many people enjoy a drink or a night out sometimes. But when does occasional enjoyment cross the line into something more serious? Substance use disorder is a complex condition affecting millions, and recognizing the warning signs early is crucial for getting help and either taking preventative steps before habits become an issue, or possibly reclaiming your life.

What are the warning signs of substance use disorder (SUD)? Knowing and recognizing the key indicators outlined below helps you understand if substance use might become a problem. Remember, you’re not alone; seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Physical Signs:

  • Fluctuations in sleep: Insomnia or hypersomnia? Dramatic changes in sleep patterns can be a red flag.
  • Weight changes: Unexplained weight loss or gain, particularly in conjunction with other symptoms, could be a sign of SUD.
  • Neglecting hygiene: A decline in personal hygiene, like showering or brushing teeth, can be a telltale sign of substance misuse.
  • Physical changes: Look for bloodshot eyes, dilated or constricted pupils, tremors, or track marks.

Behavioral Signs:

  • Secretive behavior: Hiding drug use, constantly needing privacy, or lying about activities are all warning signs.
  • Neglecting responsibilities: Work, school, and home life suffer as the focus shifts to obtaining and using substances.
  • Financial difficulties: Borrowing money, selling belongings, or facing financial troubles due to substance use are strong indicators.
  • Changes in relationships: Withdrawing from loved ones, conflicts, and strained relationships can result from SUD.

Psychological Signs:

  • Mood swings: Sudden irritability, anger outbursts, or dramatic shifts in mood can be linked to SUD.
  • Depression and anxiety: These mental health conditions often co-occur with SUD and can worsen with continued substance use.
  • Low self-esteem: A decrease in confidence and negative self-talk can be a symptom of SUD.
  • Poor motivation: Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy and lacking motivation to achieve goals can be a sign of addiction.

Job Performance:

  • Absenteeism: Increased missed workdays due to hangovers, illness, or unexplained reasons can be a red flag.
  • Poor decision-making: Difficulty concentrating, making mistakes, and exhibiting poor judgment at work can be signs of SUD.
  • Increased conflict: Substance misuse can lead to arguments, insubordination, and strained relationships with colleagues.
  • Theft: Stealing from work to support drug or alcohol use can be a consequence of addiction.


  • No single symptom guarantees SUD. Look for a combination of signs and changes in your or someone’s life.
  • Don’t wait for rock bottom. Early intervention is critical to successful recovery.
  • Seeking help is a sign of strength. Talk to a trusted friend, family member, healthcare professional, or addiction specialist.

Recognizing problematic substance use is crucial for accessing the effective treatments available. While interventions can prompt help, self-referral is always encouraged. A medical assessment can diagnose SUDs, regardless of severity, and lead to personalized treatment plans utilizing medications and therapy to address cravings, withdrawal, and underlying issues.

Addiction doesn’t discriminate. Regardless of age, background, or profession, these warning signs can appear in anyone. If you notice several of these signs in yourself or someone you care about, it’s time to seek help. Resources like therapists, counselors, support groups, and hotlines are readily available to offer guidance and support on the road to recovery.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction or co-occurring disorders, call the New England Recovery Center today at 1-877-MyRehab. 

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