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Drug Abuse

Drug addiction is generally characterised by an overwhelming desire or compulsion to continue using a drug, despite the negative impact on the user’s life.

Addiction is serious. It can get you into legal trouble and can affect every aspect of your life, including your physical health, your state of mind, your relationships and your finances.

If you or someone you care about has a drug problem, or you want to change your habits, there is help available. It’s important to remember that you aren’t alone.

Are you concerned someone you love may have a drug problem? says talking is the best way to find out if someone you love is misusing drugs. It’s important to not make assumptions. The signs listed below could relate to other health and development issues such as stress or depression. Keep an open mind and look out for changes. However, if any of the signs become extreme, it might be time to consider drug use as a possible explanation.

Physical signs:

  • Loss or increase in appetite, changes to eating habits, unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Poor physical coordination
  • Slow or slurred speech
  • Irregular sleep patterns, inability to sleep, awake at unusual times, unusual laziness
  • Red, watery eyes, pupils larger or smaller than usual, blank stare
  • Extreme hyperactivity, excessive talking

Behavioural signs:

  • Changes in overall attitude or personality with no other identifiable cause
  • Changes in friends, sudden avoidance of old friends, friends who are known drug users
  • Changes in habits at home, loss of interest in family and family activities
  • Difficulty in paying attention, forgetfulness
  • General lack of motivation, energy or self-esteem, ‘I don’t care’ attitude
  • Sudden oversensitivity, temper tantrums, resentfulness, moodiness or irritability
  • Paranoia
  • Excessive need for privacy
  • Unexplained need for money, stealing money or items

Visual signs:

  • Finding equipment (paraphernalia) used to take drugs

Take some time to think about what changes you can make in your life to ease the burden of dealing with a drug user.

Types of drugs

There are three main types of drugs, classified by their effects on the central nervous system. These are depressants, hallucinogens and stimulants.

Depressant Drugs

Depressant drugs slow down the functions of the central nervous system. They don't necessarily make you feel depressed. Moderate amounts of depressants can make you feel relaxed.

Some depressants cause euphoria and a sense of calm and wellbeing. They may be used to 'wind down' or to reduce anxiety, stress or inhibition.

Because they slow you down, depressants affect coordination, concentration and judgement. This makes driving and operating machinery hazardous.

In larger quantities, depressants can cause unconsciousness by reducing breathing and heart rate. Death may result. Combining depressants increases their effects and increases the risk of overdosing.

Alcohol, cannabis, benzodiazepines, inhalants and opiates are examples of a depressant drug.


Hallucinogens, also known as 'psychedelic' drugs, change the way a person perceives or experiences the world. A person may see or hear things that do not exist. Hallucinogens can also affect a person's thinking, sense of time and emotions. Effects of hallucinogens can include panic, paranoia and loss of contact with reality. In extreme cases, this can result in dangerous behaviour, like walking into traffic or jumping off a roof. Driving while under the influence of hallucinogens is extremely hazardous. It is common for users to take minor tranquillisers/benzodiazepines or cannabis to help them reduce the effects of a hallucinogenic drug. 

LSD and ecstasy are examples of hallucinogens.


Stimulants speed up or stimulate the central nervous system and can make the user feel more awake, alert and confident. Stimulants also increase heart rate, body temperature and blood pressure. Other physical effects include reduced appetite, dilated pupils, talkativeness, agitation, and sleep disturbance. Large quantities of stimulants can cause anxiety, panic, seizures, headaches, stomach cramps, aggression and paranoia. Prolonged use or sustained use of stimulants can also cause these effects.

Cocaine, methamphetamine, speed, party pills and caffeine are examples of stimulants.


Short term effects vary depending on what kind of drug it is.


  • intense pleasure and strong feelings of wellbeing
  • confusion
  • pain relief
  • slowed breathing
  • decreased blood pressure and heart rate
  • constricted pupils
  • dry mouth
  • suppressed cough reflex
  • reduced sexual urges
  • drowsiness
  • slurred and slow speech
  • impaired coordination
  • relaxation and loss of inhibition
  • increased appetite
  • altered sensory perceptions, visual, auditory and tactile
  • loss of coordination
  • impaired thinking and memory
  • talkativeness
  • drowsiness
  • dryness of eyes, mouth and throat
  • red or bloodshot eyes


  • feelings of wellbeing and confidence
  • feelings of closeness and empathy for others
  • increased energy and focus
  • jaw clenching/teeth grinding
  • jittery vision
  • an inability to concentrate
  • increased temperature, heart rate and blood pressure
  • blurred vision
  • dilated pupils
  • irregular breathing
  • euphoria
  • a sense of relaxation and wellbeing
  • hallucinations, distorted sensory, emotional, space and time perception
  • distorted thinking, confusion, trouble concentrating and maintaining attention
  • anxiety, paranoia, feelings of panic
  • nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite
  • dizziness
  • poor coordination
  • increased body temperature leading to chills, hot and cold flushes
  • numbness


  • intense sense of euphoria
  • feelings of excitement and wellbeing
  • increased energy, confidence and motivation
  • feelings of power and superiority over others
  • feelings of increased strength
  • talkativeness
  • increased libido
  • enlarged (dilated) pupils
  • dry mouth
  • increased breathing rate and shortness of breath
  • restlessness, repetitive actions, itching, picking, and scratching
  • anxiety, nervousness, agitation and panic
  • paranoia and hallucinations
  • irritability, hostility and aggression
  • headaches and dizziness
  • wakefulness and  difficulty sleeping
  • disjointed thoughts and speech
  • increased heart rate and blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, palpitations
  • chest pain
  • reduced appetite and stomach cramps
  • increased sweating and body temperature
  • faster reaction times

Long term effects

Long-term or excessive use has many physical and psychological health consequences, such as:


  • drowsiness and sleepiness, leading to an induced state of sleep
  • lack of motivation
  • unclear thoughts, memory loss
  • behavioural and personality changes
  • anxiety, irritability or aggression
  • difficulty sleeping and disturbing dreams
  • nausea, headaches
  • skin rash
  • menstrual and sexual problems
  • greater appetite, weight gain
  • lack of coordination, vulnerability to accidents
  • depression
  • slurred speech
  • irregular menstrual cycles


  • flashbacks
  • impaired memory and concentration
  • drug-induced psychosis
  • memory loss
  • unpleasant depressive episodes
  • difficulty making decisions
  • long-term jaw grinding
  • insomnia
  • mentally drained


  • hallucinations and paranoid delusions
  • erratic heartbeat, itching, and psychosis
  • nausea and vomiting
  • loss of concentration and coordination
  • loss of interest in sex
  • loss of ambition and motivation
  • sensitivity to light and sound
  • nose bleeds
  • eating disorders and weight loss
  • cerebral atrophy (wasting of the brain) and impaired thinking
  • anxiety, tension and depression
  • difficulty sleeping
  • a violent or aggressive personality
  • psychosis
  • brain damage, memory loss
  • poor skin condition, wounds, acne
  • poor oral hygiene which can lead to gum and teeth problems
  • susceptibility to infection and disease due to reduced immunity
  • increased risk of stroke
  • increased risk of heart attack due to increased strain on heart
  • damage to kidneys, risk of kidney failure
  • damage to nasal passages (for those who snort methamphetamine)
  • lung damage (for those who smoke methamphetamine)
  • damaged veins (for those who inject methamphetamine)
  • blood-borne diseases (such as HIV, Hepatitis) for those who inject methamphetamine

Find out more

Alcohol Drug Helpline