Our bodies are affected by drugs in more ways than we may realize. When someone uses substances, it can change how they walk, talk and act.
Still, one of the biggest “giveaways” someone is under the influence of drugs is the eyes. Drugs and dilated pupils go hand in hand. In this article, we take a look at what dilated or bloodshot eyes can mean for someone you suspect is abusing drugs.
Why Do Pupils Dilate?
Your pupils can dilate for a few reasons, including as a response to light, medications, or an eye injury. But one of the most common reasons the eyes become dilated is because of illegal drug use. So, what drugs cause dilated pupils?
The answer is quite a few, but some of the most common are cocaine, ecstasy, LSD and amphetamines. Illicit drugs cause the muscle that widens the pupil to slow how it reacts to light, which can keep the eye dilated in bright light. Notably, withdrawal from these drugs can have the same effect.
Drugs and Dilated Pupils
Drug use has an impact on the pupils, but the effect can vary depending on the drug. Dilated pupils are often linked to the use of opiates, amphetamines, meth, cocaine, crack, hallucinogens, marijuana and ecstasy. You may have seen it in media — when people on ecstasy have huge, wide eyes known as “ecstasy pupils”, for instance, or when someone takes a hallucinogen like LSD and their pupils get enormous.
However, your pupils don’t always dilate on drugs. In fact, sometimes they constrict. Constricted pupils usually occur when taking drugs like heroin, morphine, oxycodone, fentanyl or methadone.
Different Conditions of Eyes
Now that we’ve covered dilated pupils, let’s look at other eye conditions:
Many prescription drugs can cause a person’s eyes to feel dry. This will often be noted as a side effect of the medication. If your prescription is causing you to have uncomfortably dry eyes, speak to your doctor, as there may be other options out there for you.
Red eyes, also known as “bloodshot eyes”, can be a side effect of drug use. Meth, for example, often prevents people from sleeping, which can result in red eyes. Additionally, using marijuana can cause red eyes, because cannabinoids widen blood vessels and increase blood flow to the eyeballs.
Common Physical Health Conditions That Affect Pupils
Of course, not everything is drug-related. Sometimes, if you see a person with dilated or bloodshot eyes, it could be a result of a non-drug health emergency.
When someone has one pupil dilated more than the other, it could mean they have a concussion. This lopsided dilation can indicate a structural brain injury that requires immediate medical intervention.
If a person has both eyes dilated, this could be the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system being stimulated as the fight or flight response occurs. Your fight or flight response can kick in when you’re experiencing stress or anxiety.
Additionally, red eyes can occur after heavy alcohol use. When someone drinks alcohol, it causes the tiny blood vessels in the eyes to dilate so more blood flows through them, which leads to them appearing bloodshot. This will usually vanish shortly after the person becomes sober.
But like dilated pupils, red eyes don’t always indicate drug use. Bloodshot eyes are common when a person doesn’t get enough sleep. A lack of sleep decreases the oxygen available to your eyes, which causes the blood vessels to dilate and the eyes to appear red.
Other medical reasons a person’s eyes might be red can be:
- Pink eye
- A stye
- Contact lens irritation
- A subconjunctuval hemmorrhage
Do Bloodshot or Dilated Eyes Always Mean Drug Abuse?
In short: no. It’s best not to jump to conclusions when there are many non-drug related reasons that someone could have dilated or bloodshot eyes, presented above.
Still, if you already suspect drug use, then this information may help assess the situation. Look at the picture as a whole. Have you seen other signs of potential drug use in addition to bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils? Some common signs of addiction to look out for are in a person are:
- They’re suddenly experiencing difficulties at work or school. They’re frequently absent or late, have a declining performance and seem disinterested in school or work.
- Their hygiene and self-care have been degrading. They may look unkempt and as if they haven’t showered, are wearing dirty or old clothing, have bad breath and more.
- Their relationships are changing or suffering. They seem unwilling to prioritize relationships with partners, friends and family like they used to.
- They have a new friend group consisting of sketchy characters.
- They are increasingly becoming more isolated and private.
- They have lost their passion or interest for things they used to love doing.
- They are unwilling to participate in regular activities, such as house duties.
- They seem to have really low energy when performing regular, everyday activities.
- Their money habits seem irregular. They’re spending a lot, asking to borrow money frequently and don’t seem to be paying their bills.
- They experience drastic changes in appetite, suddenly eating a lot more or a lot less.
- They seem pale and discolored.
- They experience frequent mood swings.
- They get incredibly defensive when asked about drugs.
Getting Help for Drug Abuse
If you suspect a loved one of abusing drugs, you’ll likely need to convince them to get help. Regular drug use comes with many negative side effects, including addiction, health problems and potentially death. So, it’s important to approach the person with understanding and compassion. People struggling with a drug abuse problem are often defensive and don’t want to hear that they need help. They might still be in a place of denial. Confronting them with an accusatory tone may cause them to walk away.
Instead, try to approach them in a gentle manner by explaining that you just want to talk and you’re concerned for them. Focus on using “I” statements rather than “you” statements. For example, consider “I’m worried and just want to help” over “you’ve been using drugs and your behavior is unacceptable.” The faster you can get them into a professional rehab facility for treatment, the sooner they’ll be on the road to recovery.
FHE Health Can Help
FHE Health is a top facility offering treatment services for drug abuse and addiction. Our approach is personalized, tailoring our program to fit your needs. We’ve helped thousands face their mental health and addiction problems, and you or your loved one can be next. Contact us today to take the first steps on your recovery journey.