Signs and Symptoms of Substance Use Disorder

Symptoms of Substance Use Disorder

The post is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.

The symptoms of substance misuse can vary dramatically from person to person and may include behavioral, psychological, or physical signs. If you or someone you know frequently uses substances like tobacco, opioids, alcohol, or others, you may be worried about the possibility of a substance use disorder (SUD). You may also be looking for strategies to cope with substance misuse.

Substance use disorder is a hard and complex condition that affects millions of people around the world. Myths about substance use may make you believe that the condition is caused by a lack of willpower or behavioral issues. However, it’s much more complex than that.

From biological factors to brain structure changes, there are many things that can cause substance misuse to develop. Being able to identify symptoms and signs can be the first step to getting help for you or the person you love. In this article, we’re going over types of SUD, the most common signs and symptoms, treatment options, and more.

Note: If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources. Support is available 24/7.

Different Types of Substance Use Disorder

People can misuse an array of substances, including:

• Cannabis
• Alcohol
• Inhalants
• Hallucinogens
• Sedatives
• Opioids
• Tobacco
• Stimulants
• And Others

The signs and symptoms of substance misuse can vary dramatically based on the substance for which a person is misusing. For example, a person who frequently uses stimulants might have abnormally high levels of energy, whereas someone who frequently uses sedatives will have abnormally low levels of energy.

However, even if you aren’t sure which substance someone you know is using, you may still be able to recognize some common signs and symptoms.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Substance Misuse

How substance use manifests in a person can be a very individualized experience that depends on the substance they are using, the length of time they’ve been using, the severity and frequency of use, and the individual’s unique personality.

However, there are some general signs and symptoms. Generally, substance misuse shows up via psychological signs, physical symptoms, and behavioral changes. Let’s look at each of those now.

Psychological signs of substance use disorder

These are some of the common psychological signs you may recognize in yourself or others when they begin misusing substances.

• Increased feelings of anxiety, paranoia, and fear
• Feeling spacey or dazed
• A lack of motivation
• Unexplained personality changes
• Periods of extreme mental instability, energy, or restlessness
• Feeling extremely tired
• Increased anger or agitation
• Rapid mood changes

Physical signs of substance misuse

Here are some ways substance misuse can manifest physically. Keep in mind it can show up differently for different people.

• Smaller or larger pupils
• Rapid weight changes (loss or gain)
• Appetite and sleep changes
• Slurred speech
• Bloodshot eyes
• Decreased coordination or shakes
• Runny nose without cause
• Changes in grooming practices
• Deterioration of physical appearance or
• Unusual odors on body, breath, or clothes

Behavioral signs of substance use disorder

There are several behavioral signs that can also indicate potential substance misuse.

• Relationship problems surrounding substance use
• Acting secretive or suspicious
• Neglecting family and friends and responsibilities at home, work, or school
• Using more of the substance than intended
• Getting into legal trouble (i.e., DUI, fights, accidents, etc.)
• Suddenly changing friends, hobbies, or activities
• Trying to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms
• Using substances under conditions that aren’t safe, such as using non-sterile syringes
• Rapid unexplained financial problems, which can result in frequently stealing or asking for money
• A rising tolerance to the substance
• The person’s life revolves around substance use or recovering from use
• Continuing to misuse the substance despite negative health consequences

Getting Help for Substance Use Disorder

How do you get help if you believe that you or someone you know is dealing with substance use disorder? For immediate assistance, you can always contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources 24/7.

Seeking help for SUD is a brave and important step towards regaining control of one’s life and well-being. This condition can significantly impact a person’s health, relationships, and quality of life, so getting help can be incredibly important.

Acknowledging the need for help is the first step in a journey toward recovery. Once the person is aware they need help, substance use disorder counseling is an excellent step. Substance use disorder counseling can provide a tailored approach to treatment that addresses the psychological, physical, and emotional aspects of dependency. For more information on substance use counseling and what it entails, check out this resource from BetterHelp.


Substance use disorder can dramatically impact a person’s physical, psychological, and emotional well-being and can wreak havoc on their lives. SUD can show up differently for different people, so it’s not always easy to identify. However, there are some common signs and symptoms to look out for if you suspect you or someone you know may be living with substance use disorder. Acknowledging that one needs help is often the first step to recovery.

Nicole Middleton
Nicole calls herself a typical millennial girl and thrives on her share of social media, celebrity gossip, and all things viral content. She’s a big fan of pop music and plays the guitar as a hobby.