Recognizing Signs of Drug-Seeking Behavior

Drug-Seeking Behaviors
Dominic Nicosia

Written By

Dominic Nicosia

Loved ones, friends and colleagues of drug users are uniquely empowered to recognize signs of drug-seeking behavior and intervene. In many respects, their diligence and attention is the most effective weapon against ongoing drug use that can lead to addiction and eventual overdose. If you know somebody that has a history of drug use, or you think may be falling into a pattern of escalation and dependency, you have more power than you realize to save their lives simply by knowing what to look for. It’s important to realize that drug-seeking behaviors can vary widely, depending upon the user’s individual circumstances and that someone who might be seeking illegal drugs like heroin may look completely different than someone looking for otherwise legal prescription drugs.

Drug Seeking-Behavior Red Flags for Illicit Substances

As a person uses drugs like cocaine, heroin or meth more and more, their life becomes increasingly unmanageable and they ultimately have to resort to varying levels of manipulation and deception to conceal and continue their use. They will also inevitably have to resort to more serious crimes to get their fix. Some of the more common drug-seeking behaviors for illegal drugs, include:

  • Lying and Denial about Use
  • Socializing with People for the Sole Purpose of Using
  • Trying to Get Money or Rides from Loved Ones without Mentioning Why
  • Increasingly High-Risk Sexual Behavior
  • Abandoning Work or School to Buy and Use
  • Acting Deceptively Nice, Friendly and Empathetic
  • Stealing Money
  • Acting Increasingly Anxious and Desperate
  • Spending Hours on the Phone or Out of the House with No Explanation
  • Theft, Vandalism, Burglary and Other Illegal Activity

These behaviors will often coincide will tell-tale physical characteristics, such as skin breakouts, weight changes, sunken eyes, skin discoloration and more. Drug seekers may also appear antsy and anxious to escape any situation in which their behavior might be questioned or that will delay their pursuit of their next drug fix. The worse their use gets, the more obvious these behaviors tend to become.

Drug-Seeking Behavior Red Flags for Prescriptions

When it comes to abuse of prescriptions like opioid painkillers and benzos, drug-seeking behavior can be a little harder to identify. Many who wind up abusing prescriptions start off by taking a legitimate supply for a medical or behavioral issue (severe pain, anxiety, depression, etc.). As the opioid crisis has gotten increasingly dire, clinicians have developed an evolving framework for determining drug-seeking behaviors in prescription users. Some of the common “red flags” that doctors may experience include:

  • Patients Coming from Far Away
  • Doctor-Shopping (Seeing Many Doctors in A Short Period of Time)
  • Patients with Records from Several Years Ago
  • Using Multiple Pharmacies
  • Claiming an Allergy to All Pain Medications Except the Ones They’re Looking for
  • Dictating Quantity and Dosage
  • Unwillingness to Listen to Doctors or Consider Other Treatments
  • Calling Right before Closing Seeking a Prescription
  • Implausible or Nonsensical Explanations for their Visits

Other drug-seeking behaviors of which friends and loved ones of prescription users should be mindful include watching the clock between doses, going on the street to purchase drugs when the prescribed supply runs out, casually asking to “borrow” a loved one’s supply when theirs runs out, or theft from their medicine cabinet. It’s important that clinicians be able to distinguish between drug seeking and an actual legitimate pain crisis. Drug-seeking behaviors can also be influenced by age, relationship dynamic and users’ basic intelligence levels.

What Do I Do If I Notice Drug-Seeking Behavior?

  • If You’re A Parent – Talk to your child, take charge, let them know what you know what’s going on, that you’re going to help them and start exploring treatment right away.
  • If You’re A Sibling – Talk to other members of your family about organizing an intervention and getting your loved one help. If you think they’ll respond, confront your brother or sister directly, and let them know that you’re ready to help them and not judge them.
  • If You’re a Friend – Tread lightly; but move quickly. Talk to your friend’s loved ones and other members of your social circle about your concerns and see if they can help you take steps toward getting them help. Please keep your personal safety and mental health in mind when dealing with an addicted friend.
  • If You’re A Colleague – Talk to your boss about what’s going on and how your colleague’s drug-seeking behaviors are impacting the workplace. Bringing your concerns to your supervisor isn’t “ratting” anyone out; it’s taking action to restore harmony to your workplace and save your loved one’s life.
  • If You’re A Boss – Take your employee aside and talk to them about their substance abuse and let them know you’ll do everything you can to get them help and keep their position secure. More and more companies are utilizing employee assistance programs for staff struggling with substance abuse. These programs are partnerships between companies that accept certain types of insurance and treatment centers.

Drug-Seeking Behavior Leads to Addiction

If someone you know is exhibiting drug-seeking behaviors, it’s only a matter of time before it gets them into trouble. Whether they cross paths with the wrong people, get behind the wheel of car when they’re high, get arrested or suffer an overdose, these tragedies are less likely to occur if someone has their back and recognize the signs. Contact the Recovery Unplugged admissions team if someone you care about is experiencing suspicious and alarming drug-seeking behaviors. We are here to help you.

Dominic Nicosia

Dominic Nicosia

Dominic Nicosia, a seasoned content writer, brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the realm of healthcare writing, particularly in the addiction care field. Holding a Bachelor's Degree in Communications and Professional Writing from the University of the Arts Philadelphia (2009), Dominic has carved a niche for himself with over seven years of specialized writing experience in addiction care.

As the Senior Content Writer at Recovery Unplugged, Dominic is entrusted with the pivotal role of curating and overseeing the online blog, ensuring its alignment with the highest standards of accuracy, relevance, and trustworthiness. His responsibilities extend beyond the blog, encompassing all written communications within the Marketing domain. From articles and thought leadership pieces to web content, Dominic's penmanship is evident in every written facet of Recovery Unplugged.

Dominic's credibility is further enhanced by his contributions to esteemed publications like Austin Fit Magazine, where he delves into critical topics such as drug use, addiction, recovery, and mental health. His writings not only reflect his profound understanding of the subject matter but also resonate with readers, offering insights and guidance. Outside the professional sphere, Dominic's passion for music is evident. He has been writing and playing music for years, showcasing his versatility and depth as a writer and artist.

Dominic Nicosia stands as a beacon of expertise and credibility in the healthcare writing community. With a deep understanding of his subject matter and a commitment to accuracy, he consistently delivers content that is both informative and reliable, meeting the highest standards of quality and trustworthiness in the industry.


  • Proven track record in managing and enhancing online blogs, articles, and thought leadership pieces.
  • Adept at blending his passion for music with his writing, offering a unique perspective on topics.


  • Bachelor's Degree in Communications and Professional Writing from the University of the Arts Philadelphia (2009).
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