General Question

Jeruba's avatar

What would you personally look for as a sign of sobriety?

Asked by Jeruba (46095points) December 22nd, 2016

This question is intended for people with direct personal knowledge of someone who uses drugs.

Not alcohol and not weed but things like designer drugs. Research chemicals. Benzos. Weird stuff.

Field sobriety tests are practically useless. Law enforcement can test BAC but not much else.

If someone tells you he’s sober, and you don’t think so, what do you consider telltale signs of intoxication? or what would be evidence of sobriety?

If you know, you might prefer to answer privately. That’s fine with me. Thank you.

Tags as I wrote them: drugs, intoxication, sobriety, field tests, stoned, chemical dependency.

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

17 Answers

jca's avatar

How they look. Do they look high?

How they behave. Do they disappear for hours or days at a time? Is money disappearing? Are they having trouble getting to work, getting up for work, working, finding work? Not that each is a definitive way of telling, but it may all add up.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Motor co-ordination the classic, close their eyes and put straight out to the side. Then with their index fingers alternate touching the tip of their nose.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

I would consider the overall behavior since some drugs do not present with obvious physical symptoms. I look for responsibility. Does the person do what they say they are going to do? Does the person follow through, or are they continually making excuses for poor behavior? Irresponsibility is classic behavior for an addict.

Edit to add: Another classic symptom of addict behavior is constantly asking for money or constantly talking about needing money or conniving to get money. Constantly.

Cruiser's avatar

Dilated pupils is a pretty sure sign they are lit up on something. Not looking directly at you, overly animated, nervously jittery or the opposite very calm seemingly sedated.

zenvelo's avatar

There are two aspects of it, and that is touched on by the diversity of answers above.

In the moment intoxication: Are they speaking sense and responding within the norm of a conversation? Are they blathering on and on or not responding at all? Are they moving well physically? Or are thy having motor coordination problems?

Long term addictive behavior: in classic terms, their life is unmanageable and they are powerless over substances or behaviors. Unable to manage money (as @Hawaii_Jake pointed out) , never taking responsibility for what is going on, always involved in some drama, and you can’t trust a thing that they say.

CWOTUS's avatar

Teach your children to love sailing, and they will never have enough money for drugs.

But seriously … are you looking for a spot check kind of thing, the kind of test a traffic patrolman might make to assess whether a driver – whom he has just met / stopped – is competent to continue on his way, or the kind of test (as suggested by most posters so far, I think) to determine the sobriety of a relationship partner or family member over a long term?

canidmajor's avatar

We had a family member who was addicted to a number of things. I don’t know about wacky designer stuff, but it was cocaine done in different and novel ways that she did the most.
Her sobriety was evident in her normalcy. That sounds trite, but it’s actually quite telling. A casual response instead of an exaggerated story that is crafted to convince. For example, a broken vase: to “What happened?” The sober response could be, “Crap, I’m sorry, my purse bumped it off the table.”, the high response would be something like “I saw it like this when I came in, I was outside making sure the car was locked because it was broken into last week blah blah blah”. That type of thing.
When you have gotten used to “off” behavior from someone who is using, it can be difficult to recognize the normal.
That was my experience, I can only speak to that.

She has been sober for 25 years now, we are thankful for that.

Jeruba's avatar

I’m grateful for all responses. Thank you.


My question is aimed at assessment right now—i.e., in a given present moment. A spot check. Not like, is he using in general, is there an overall pattern, are there signs of addiction. Those I know.

What I want to know is, Is he high or loaded right now? Is there a test by direct observation that someone can make when, say, he offers to climb on the roof and clean gutters? or asks to borrow car keys?

I’m looking for what you know by your own experience and gut feel and not what it says on some medical web page or recovery site.

If you have experience with someone who’s using uppers and downers and/or weird (possibly experimental) chemical cocktails, what do you see? How do you know when they’re compromised?

Withdrawal and general messed-uppedness also produce abnormal behavior. So how do you know when someone is currently loaded versus someone who’s detoxing or experiencing longer-term symptoms of use?

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Thank you for the clarification. I’m sorry, but other than dilated pupils, I am unaware of any spot check that can be done to determine whether or not someone is on drugs, and not all drugs cause pupils to dilate.

zenvelo's avatar

The important point is are they intoxicated?

And, you describe physically seeming in control. So, are they making sense when talking? are they responding to verbal cues? People under the influence are either loquacious yet non sensical, or they are quiet and withdrawn to the point one wonders where they are.

A person claiming sobriety will at least make sense when you talk to them.

Cruiser's avatar

I will reiterate and distill down what I have personally observed from a roommate addicted to crack. Again dilated pupils is a dead give away as is grinding of the jaw almost in a cartoon way and they will sway back and forth in a relfexive effort to offset the intense adrenaline flow in their veins. They will always be having to be somewhere else (to get their fix) and have a few other hangerons who appear shady at best around them. Constantly checking cell phone, easily distracted and or disinterested in what you are talking about. People narced up on chemicals are only thinking about one thing….their next fix. If you are in their way or inconveniencing them you will see these signs big time. Excuses will contradict any and all suggestions you might offer for doing anything that takes more than 30 minutes of their time. Litmus test will be to offer them to sit down with you and enjoy a cup of tea to talk about the holidays. If they offer excuses for why they can’t…99% they are using…if they agree and 5 minutes into the conversation they say they have to be somewhere else…they are using. I hate to say this, druggies are expert con artists…and don’t get hooked unless they successfully conned their way to their addiction. If you truly suspect this person is using….you have nothing to lose other than to let them be aware you are on to them.. to in a gentle loving way confront them about your concerns. Their response and actions will tell you all you need to know.

This question really brought back some dark days I was and am fearful of that may one day consume my own child. Heroine and synthetic drugs are rampant these days. Uggh….fingers crossed.

Berserker's avatar

I know a couple of people who enjoy speed, and it can be hard to know when they’re high on it, and behavioral patterns can change depending on the person, but what I have observed in the two people who have used it; one is my roomate and the other is a neighbor I used to have. There are some signs that are, obviously, easier to spot when you know the person but also some tellltale physical signs.

Teeth grinding, or making faces like as if wind is constantly blowing in the person’s face.
The person is always hot, they sweat a lot, amd may go out for a cigarette in -30 weather with their jacket open.
The person does not sleep, this can go on for days if they pop a pill every time the last one starts to lose its effect. My roomate tells me the “hangover” is so dreadful that taking another pill just fixes you right up again.

I’m told the pupils change, but I’ve not actually noticed this. (not saying they don’t change)

Incessant talking, or performing an activity for unusually long periods of time.
(and the person may that say what they are doing is so fun or exciting that they just can’t stop, to cover up the fact that they are on speed, and in a way you can’t really call them a liar)

Of course if someone is spending hours on speed dancing in a club, it’s much harder to tell than if they were playing a video game for like 12 hours. If the person has a set routine to which they usually adhere to, speed may break this up considerably. On the other hand some people use it regularly for their every day things, like going to work and such. So if you don’t know the person that well, there are physical telltale signs as I’ve mentioned above.
Signs which I’ve noticed when someone comes off is extreme bad mood, and sleeping for hours, like 12 to 24 hours, almost straight.

What I’ve noticed with all this is that regular speed users are very good at adapting the drug into their everyday life but it can never really be hidden if you have known them for a long time.

You asked personally, that’s what I’ve got for the two people I know.

MollyMcGuire's avatar

Dilated pupils in brightly lit room tell me someone is messed up. A couple of people already mentioned this.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Sorry about the length of this, but your quetion is a complicated one due to the variety of drugs and different effects on each individual has to each drug.

Besides the physical signs and symptoms, which vary with the drug, I would pay attention to comprehension, short attention span, erratic behaviour, indecision, unnecessary elaboration or getting lost in the middle of an explanation. Agitation is common. Unreasonable impatience with the small stuff. they literally “sweat” the small stuff. I would observe change in mental accuity and emotional instability in general.

A lot of the signs and symptoms associated with substance abuse are actually the symptoms of withdrawl, or the state of being “in between”. In between hits. The sad thing is, the addict doesn’t get high anymore unless they dramatically up the dosage and risk an OD.

So, after awhile, it’s all about getting the monkey off theiir back, chasing away the “sick”. They hit to get functional again. That’s why they hit before they leave the house and start their day, hit before they go to work. Hit before they visit mom. And not hitting regularly will produce the above stated symptoms.

So, the addict will appear normal when in actuality, the drug is running through their system. When that is metabolized, the ugly starts. You have to observe an addict for a couple of days before you are sure that they aren’t using. If the addict begins to show signs of impatience and the slightest agitation, then disappears for a few moments to the bedroom or the bath, and then seems A-OK for a few more hours, you probably have a user on your hands. That’s one of the reasons why the standard observation time for involuntary psych admissions are usually 48 to 72 hours. This applies to opiates, benzos, speed, barbiturates, and advanced alchoholism—all the shit that has been with us for generations.

But dependence on some drugs, such as MDMA, Extacy under all it’s other names and the other new hallucinogens and psychotropics, don’t create the urgency to fix like the drugs described above. Dependency is more subtle and the need for a fix becomes situational rather than time related. They are associated in the user’s mind to situations like parties, just like the early stages of alcoholism can be.

These drugs produce subtle changes over time that can become noticeable within a couple of months of mere weekend use. The person begins to slowly lose mental acuity, isn’t as patient with other people and minor situational disturbances as they once were, tends to unnecessarily create “drama” wherever they are when not high.

Grades begin to slip, or they become less interested in work and relationships. A malaise sets in between weekends. When this is observed by someone who cares, it calls for investigatory conversation and possibly a recommendation for professional intervention—not that stupid shit yo see on TV.

All drug users will be more receptive to accepting help during withdrawls provided they don’t have a fix lying around somewhere. Withdrawls are when they are most vulnerable, but also most volatile. So, watch it.

Spice, once considered as harmless as marajuana by the public, is now known to produce rapid long-term change in brain chemistry, and over time, even brain architecture, like methamphetamine. Both these changes have been observed using PET scans in users after a short time of daily use It is so new that it is still unknown if these changes are permanent. But changes in brain achitecture is never good and almost never makes for a positive diagnois for complete recovery.

Spice is huge in Florida among the poor. It is called “the poor man’s marajuana”. Marajuana my ass. It is sold under many different names and the recipe is constantly changing. Therefore the buyer never knows what they are going to get. But there is one commonality among all Spice products, it is extremely potent and addictive—and I call bullshit on anyone who thinks otherwise.

It is cheap and a little bit can give a very potent high—if you want to call it that. The resultant behavior of a spicehead when high can run the spectrum from somnolence to high agitation. A spicehead while high will have the look of an extremely stoned person. Behaviour is unpredictable.

A spicehead ran through the crowd on Mallory Pier in Key West stabbing people in the ass with a penknife for no apparent reason. He got me from behind right in the left buttcheek, the mutherfucker. I couldn’t sit down comfortably for nearly a goddamned month.

A notable instance happened a couple of years ago under a Miami overpass. Two homeless guys had got their hands on some Spice. A pedestrian called police when they observed what they initially thought were two males harmlessly kissing, then realized one was eating the face of the other. The other wasn’t resisting.

The cops have a blood test for Spice now, because there is always at least one chemical common it all the recipes—Benzine, which is what people in the Germanic languages call gasoline. I have no idea what it actually is in chemistry, but it is certainly not meant for human consumption.

The Spice addict after only one month of continuous use, whether high or not, becomes a totally different, usually very nasty person. The change is extremely dramatic and noticeable to all around them.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

It depends on the drugs, but I feel that the eyes give it away almost ever time. Unfortunately, i know and have known a lot of addicts in my lifetime and I would have to say that it’s pretty much always what I use to gauge whether or not they are with it. They don’t have to be red and glassy, they can also be dilated, wild, or distant. Sometimes there is no way to know for sure. Habitual users aren’t always completely incoherent on their drug of choice, so I don’t think there is any guaranteed way to know, but I look for the person I know behind the eyes. If they are going out of their way to avoid eye contact, I also assume they are high.

JLeslie's avatar

Really difficult to know what’s going on if you are specifically talking about withdrawing off of drugs to get sober, or just in-between fixes, especially with drugs like Xanax, and other prescription drugs. Even with things like cigarettes it’s hard to know. It’s the withdrawal that is often the behavior you can’t stand about the person. Mean, erratic, desperate like behavior. The only way to know they stopped using is drug testing daily to see the numbers go down. Some drugs take a few days to completely clear the system.

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