Spotting Substance Abuse: Substances and Symptoms

Posted on December 30, 2013 by VITAL WorkLife

Woman having red wine at bar counter in bar

Here are some important facts about alcohol and other substances that may be affecting your employees and their performance:


  • A 12 oz. can of beer, 5 oz. glass of wine and 1-½ oz. shot of hard liquor contain equal amounts of alcohol
  • Cold showers, coffee and/or exercise do not quicken sobriety
  • Each 1 ½ oz. of alcohol takes the body, on average, an hour to process and eliminate
  • Immediate signs include small/large motor control problems, slurred speech, recognizable odor


  • Typically smoked, can be ingested
  • Immediate signs include bloodshot or red eyes and possibly hunger
  • Affects judgment, coordination and motor abilities
  • Long-term effects include lack of concentration and motivation
  • Can be detected 30+ days after use

Synthetic Marijuana

  • Typically smoked
  • Mix of organic plant materials mixed with dangerous synthetic compounds
  • Immediate signs: elevated heart rate, nausea, headaches, dry mouth, irritability, disorientation, hallucinations, vomiting or sickness, aggression
  • Not detected in standard drug test for marijuana
  • Up to ten times stronger than marijuana, causing seizures, overdoses, suicides
  • Not detected in standard drug test for marijuana
  • Detection dependent on chemicals used and testing battery


  • Typically snorted—can be smoked
  • Crack cocaine is one of the most addictive substances known
  • Immediate signs include talkativeness, excitability, repeated sniffing, dilated pupils
  • Excessive use can induce vomiting, rapid heart beat, tremors and damage to lining in nasal cavities
  • Can be detected 2-4 days after use


  • Typically snorted, smoked, injected, ingested
  • Also called: speed, uppers, fluff, glass, crystal, ice
  • Immediate signs include dilated pupils, distorted thinking
  • Long term effects include weight loss, restlessness, anxiety, mood swings, panic, agitation, paranoia, brain damage, dental problems, scabs
  • Can be detected 1-2 days after use


  • Most often injected; however, high-purity heroin can be smoked or snorted
  • Processed from morphine—extracted from the seed of poppy plants
  • Immediate signs include euphoria, disorientation, constricted pupils, dry mouth, heavy extremities
  • Stays in system 4-7 days

Contact us to access your resources and for advice on how to deal with situations in your workplace.


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