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Warning Signs of Substance Use Disorder in Students

As a student, you are exposed to immense levels of pressure. Academic demands, social expectations, and extracurricular activities all present additional stresses which may require healthy coping mechanisms to endure. Some individuals turn to the use of substances as an escape route from these stress points. Knowing what warning signs may exist of substance use disorder (SUD) among students and what steps to take towards getting help are essential if someone you care about needs help managing stressors effectively. 

Warning Signs in Students

There are various warning signs to be aware of regarding SUD in students. Recognizing these signs early on can help eliminate the severity of SUD and help ensure that you are set up for success in your academic career. 

Changes in Appearance

A tell-tale sign of potential SUD for students can be noticed through changes in appearance. Alterations in weight, such as drastic weight gain or loss, poor hygiene practices, or bloodshot or glazed eyes, are common changes in appearance that may indicate the use of substances. Suddenly looking disheveled could indicate substance abuse in your life or that of those around you. Noticing these changes in appearance can be one of the initial signs that either you or a friend is struggling with substance abuse.

Changes in Behavior

Another key indicator of possible substance abuse can be observed when an individual behavior shifts dramatically. Such changes could include sudden mood swings, increased aggression, or isolation from friends and family members. If someone you know seems distant and withdrawing from social activities, it could be indicative of substance abuse.

Poor Academic Performance

Substance abuse can have an enormously detrimental impact on academic performance. If you or a friend suddenly struggle in school or experience a sudden drop in grades, this may be indicative of substance abuse. Other signs could include missing classes and tardiness to schoolwork as well as lack of motivation or interest in studies. Some individuals may have this behavior more regularly, but if this lack of performance starts unexpectedly, it can be a major point of concern.

Financial Problems

Substance abuse can also create financial hardship for those who use substances and those around them. Any sudden difficulties with money or demands for cash might be an indicator that substance abuse is occurring. This includes borrowing it from friends and family or resorting to illegal means to access funds to increase finances. There is a high potential that this sudden need for money is to obtain substances or keep on top of other financial areas, as a portion of their finances is being spent on substances.

Risky Behavior

Students battling substance use disorders may engage in dangerous behaviors, including driving under the influence, unsafe sex, or trying new substances. If this behavior occurs in you or anyone you know, seek assistance immediately. This sign can be more difficult to recognize, but if you notice unusual risky behavior, there is a major concern about these behavior changes being related to substance abuse.

Assistance for Students With Substance Use Disorder

If you or anyone in your life exhibits warning signs of SUD, you must seek immediate help. You can utilize the following techniques to help assist in overcoming this disorder.

Counselor Support

For students struggling with SUD, speaking to a counselor is an effective first step to managing and overcoming it. A counselor can assist with exploring your emotions and behaviors as well as provide resources and support services needed to overcome your addiction. Reach out to see what resources are available to you at your school. If you need assistance, Malibu Wellness Ranch can help.

Join a Support Group

Participating in support groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), may also be useful as an extra form of support for a student. Support groups provide an extra sense of community and accountability while developing essential coping skills necessary for controlling triggers and cravings. Utilize group therapy sessions at Malibu Wellness Ranch to help you gain this sense of community support as well.

Seek Professional Treatment

Some students seeking professional help for SUD may benefit from outpatient or inpatient treatments to break free. Professional help can offer resources and support needed for detox safely while developing skills necessary for long-term sobriety. Look into the various options available to get help for your substance use before it is too late.

Talk With Trusted Adults

If you suspect a friend or loved one may be struggling with SUD, speaking to someone trusted – like a teacher, guidance counselor, coach, or parent – can be extremely useful in finding solutions and getting help for them as quickly as possible. A trusted adult will help determine how best to assist you, your friend, or your loved one and get assistance when necessary.

SUD can have a dramatic impact on students, their academic performance, relationships, and overall well-being. Being aware of its warning signs is greatly important in early detection and seeking assistance immediately if someone in your life exhibits these traits. If you are struggling with SUD, remember that you don’t need to face this challenge alone. 


If you or someone you know is exhibiting warning signs of substance use disorder (SUD), don’t wait to get help. Reach out to a counselor, support group, or trusted adult for guidance and support. Remember, early intervention can make a significant difference in the outcome of recovery. You don’t have to go through this alone. Take the first step towards a healthier future today. Watch for the signs of change in appearance, behavior, academic performance, financial struggles, or risky behavior. To learn more about recognizing these warning signs and how to appropriately seek help if you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, reach out to Malibu Wellness Ranch at (800) 862-5428.