SPOON INSIGHT: Tell-Tale Signs of Drug Abuse

“Where are all of my new William & Sonoma spoons?”

I casually texted my son, Cody, who was living with me at the time. No answer.  Texted again.  No answer again.

I had recently bought a set of stainless steel flatware for my kitchen at my new house. Cody was working for his dad, and I thought maybe he had taken them to work for lunch or maybe eaten cereal for breakfast on the run, and left them in his car or at work.  Still no answer.

By the time he got home, I had forgotten about the spoons. I did ask him again the next day, and he said he didn’t know.  I couldn’t figure out what happened to most of my new spoons.  It was such a mystery to me, but I figured they would turn up soon (I know you’re thinking how stupid can this woman be).  They didn’t show up.

“An insight is a new thought, containing wisdom outside our current knowledge”, according to author, Michael Neill, in his book “The Inside Out Revolution”.

My current knowledge didn’t include how to heat up heroin in a spoon to be injected intravenously. It didn’t ever occur to me my spoons were being used as cookers to liquefy heroin, and were now burnt spoons.  It was most definitely wisdom outside my current knowledge.  I was undoubtedly naive when it came to drug paraphernalia or the signs of drug abuse.  Of course, alcohol abuse was so much easier to detect because it was wisdom I already possessed, along with the rest of the people on the planet.

Close-up of a young man heating a spoon with a lighter Original Filename: medfrd2146.jpg

I will forever remember the Saturday morning I found out where my spoons were. I was putting away clean clothes in Cody’s top drawer, and I found it all. My heart stopped. I was stunned, mortified, and angry by what I found, but most of all I felt betrayed.  He professed to be sober the entire nine months he lived with me, and I believed him.  I honestly did not know he was using drugs, nor did I suspect it.  I immediately confronted him, and told him to move out of my house within the hour.

I still didn’t have a firm grip or understanding of the disease at the time, but I knew he had crossed a boundary with me.

The obvious turmoil on my son’s 23 year-old face will be forever ingrained in my being.  After I confronted  him, he was sitting on the couch in my basement with his head hanging down, elbows on his knees, and his hands covering his eyes.  Shame, guilt, and pain were evident.  He said he was trying to withdraw from it, but couldn’t.  He told me the OxyContin addiction led to doing heroin, because it was cheaper.  He said he was sorry.

He had already been to rehab twice for alcohol addiction, and I knew instinctively another rehab was down the road. I wasn’t prepared for what was about to happen, but that is another story for a different blog.

I wasn’t wise enough to know the signs of opiate addiction, but I put it all together, and there was no more mystery of my missing spoons. It is one of those harsh memories I would like to forget, but never will.

My heart felt like a burnt spoon that day; heavy and black and dirty.

My world transformed in an instant, and I was reluctant to admit the truth to myself. There was no loophole, no rhyme nor reason, no explanation, or rationalization that was going to change this story’s course.  I had to learn to live with this never ending pain somehow, someway.  Not just alcohol addiction, but now heroin addiction.  Nothing could be worse in my mind. Absolutely nothing.  I felt like a complete failure as a parent, and acceptance was complicated to say the least.  Who was this person masquerading as my son?  I didn’t even know him anymore.

Drug abuse usually begins with a choice at first, and addiction typically is a product of continued, persistent drug abuse regardless of the negative consequences to the user or others in their lives.

My new road to hell was about to start with heroin; the devil in disguise who took my baby away from me for good.  Acceptance without judgment took me a long time, but I finally got there.  I finally came to understand addiction as a disease, and not as a choice or moral failure, and not my fault. I came to understand it was stronger than my son; a beast who took him over completely and turned him into someone I didn’t recognize.

I regret being so naïve about the tell-tale signs of drug abuse, so here they are for opiates, stimulants, depressants, and marijuana.

Opiates (Vicodin, Percocet, OxyContin, Heroin, et al)

  • Tiny, pin dot pupils
  • Appear sleepy and nod off during a conversation
  • Runny nose
  • Sleep for long periods of time
  • Spend lots of time in bathroom
  • Q-tips and lighters
  • Wearing long sleeves to hide needle marks
  • Little orange caps from needles strewn around
  • Little plastic pieces leftover from heroin balloons
  • Missing spoons or burnt spoons
  • Random accidents from nodding off
  • Missing items around the house (pawned)
  • Money hungry

Stimulants (Cocaine, Meth, Ritalin, Crack, et al)

  • Dilated pupils
  • Sores on face and skin
  • Burnt mouth and fingers
  • Red nostrils and sweaty lip
  • Weight loss
  • Spend days awake
  • Constantly active and talkative
  • Razor blade for making lines to snort
  • Random injuries
  • Full of motivation and energized with ideas
  • May sleep for days to recover
  • Missing items around the house (pawned)
  • Money hungry

Depressants (Alcohol, Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, et al)

  • Eyes are glossy
  • Stuck between awake and asleep
  • Limited motor coordination
  • Slowed breathing and pulse
  • Energy is low with less motivation
  • More random injuries
  • Lowered inhibitions
  • Slurred speech; too loud or too fast
  • Heavy sweating
  • Loss of memory
  • Poor concentration
  • Loss of consciousness


  • Red, bloodshot eyes
  • Increased heart rate and anxiety
  • Confusion and poor memory
  • Weight gain
  • Change in appearance due to lack of motivation
  • Lowered reaction time
  • Reduced ability to learn and retain information
  • Apathy and depression
  • Mood changes
  • Inability to understand things clearly
  • Lots of Clear Eyes or Visine bottles laying around
  • Bongs, pipes, foil, pop bottles used for smoking

I hope this helps someone who wants to know the signs of drug abuse. In retrospect, my son exhibited almost all of these signs at one time or another.  I didn’t recognize them soon enough, though.

My hope is that all of you who live with or are affected by addiction gain a little spoon insight from my story.

Mary Cucarola – May 1, 2016

Comments 14

  1. Your story is my story. Unfortunately , my son used after bring clean from heroin for 3months. He had just completed a two yr. aeronautical school & was working for a prestigious jet engine company . His wife was about to complete her Master’s degree. They decided to have another child so their 2 1/2 yr old would have a sibling . She got pregnant right away . I was in their home taking care of child & decided to leave for the weekend. His wife was teaching at the college . He shot up while taking care of his daughter . He was dead from overdose when his wife came home . He was also an alcoholic . Like I have learned in Alanon it is a cunning, insidious and baffling disease . I had compassion for him and loved him so much . The granddaughters and my daughter in law live with me now . I am 71yrs old and thank God for the campaign to educate this world about the disease of brain chemistry . Thank you for your courage and love for us .

  2. Post

    I am so sorry for the loss of your son, Joanne. He sounds like such a bright young man, but with a horrible disease. It is good to hear you attend Al Anon to help yourself. Yes, so many people don’t understand how drugs hijack the brain, making it difficult to stay clean and sober. We need to stop the silence and end the shame around substance abuse disorder. It is what we are trying to do at Cody’s Fresh Start, along with helping others who want recovery.

  3. Your post moved me, and informed me. Would you be okay with my posting a link to the post in the Addictions section of my new prescriptionswithoutpills.com website? The information in your post will be helpful to many people.

    Could I also quote a section of it, the lists of signs of addiction, in a psychologytoday.com blogpost? My blog is at psychologytoday.com/blog/resolution-not-conflict.

  4. Post

    Hi Dr. Heitler! It is good to hear from you. Yes, you can certainly link my blog post to your new website and quote my signs of drug abuse as well. I write these blogs to increase awareness around addiction, and the more I can get the word out, the better. Hope you are doing well, and I am glad to hear about your new website. Warmly, Mary

  5. Mary
    This being so fresh and completely unbearable right now since Matthew just died on January 28th, this story is also a life I lived for many years. I still feel like I am in a horrible dream and Matthew will be walking in the door any minute. Getting back to Colorado on Sunday and walking into his apartment was so devastating and I really thought I just can’t do this anymore my heart hurts so bad. I have five other amazing kids that I have to learn how to pick my self up at some point and live again. I look forward to reading your blogs and new articles everyday it feels like I’m reading my life story. It is teaching me that all these different emotions are ok and helps me understand a little more each day how to deal with them. I can’t even count the amount of spoons that went missing in my home over the years and small pieces of foil with black in them that I just did not really know what it was at first. Matthew was such a beautiful soul and so excited to live a sober life my family and I will spend everyday trying to make more people understand we have to do something about this horrible disease. Your foundation gave my son the opportunity to love himself again and help some other people and for that I will always be grateful.

  6. Post

    Cindy, I so know how you are feeling and my heart breaks for you. It doesn’t get easier, but you learn to live with it somehow. For me, feeling the pain was better than stuffing it down. Don’t be afraid to get some help if you need it. I am here for you, too. Matthew was a beautiful, loving soul who I will always remember as wanting recovery very badly. I am happy he had a chance to make peace with himself and his family. We need more people like you to help with our cause, but take your time to grieve Matt and heal yourself. We are not going anywhere, and will be waiting for your help. Love, Mary

  7. I think we need to try to save the young kids who never experimented. I know many people who were in multiple rehabs, and more than a few died of an overdose. We need a different approach for the kids who are young. How can we prevent it? Not by acting like a rehab will make them back to normal. I know that.

  8. Mary,
    Thank you for sharing your story. I too have a son who is using drugs. When he first starting smoking marijuana I tried to get him into treatment and was turned away from my insurance because he was “only smoking marijuana”. Needless to say his drug use escalated. He spends most of his time a his girlfirends house to avoid me. As much as I want to allow him to hit a bottom; im so afraid of what that bottom may be. This blog is helpful. I know im not alone. Please keep my son Tyler in prayer.

  9. My father did Herion for a long time while i was growing up and about a year ago he said he stopped and went on the methadone program. He is in his 40’s and still lives with his parents and his brother who does Cocaine. When he went on the program my mom pulled me out of his house and made me live with her (my parents are divorced they have shared custody). Today i went over his house just for the day to see my grandparents ( my grandfather has pancreatic cancer and his refusing treatment and was given only about a week to live and my grandmother who has Alzheimer’s) and while i was there i noticed multiple spoons in my dads room stacked up next to a lighter with no dishes around it (plates, bowls, forks, etc). I imminently asked him about it and he said it was nothing as he moved the spoons but i noticed like burn marks on the bottom of the spoons but i ignored it and took his word. Later on i asked my dad if he wanted to put on the clothes i got him because it was hot in the house and he was wearing long sleeves. He took one look saw it was a short sleeved shirt and said no. My dad gets lots of sores on his face like rashes but he says its just acne, he is usually always wide awake but he will go through periods where he sleeps all day. My dad does smoke marijuana which i have no problem with because i smoke occasionally plus he has a medical marijuana card. Can anyone you guys please tell me what to do? or if hes even on drugs? When i told my mother she just looked very said and told me she thinks he might be using again but she cant be sure. Im 14 years old and i have been through ALOT so trust me you do not have to spare my feelings ive been through this before with my dad hes had break downs and destroyed the whole house before and ran outside naked in the middle of the night. I have been through a lot for my age so i do not need any lectures about smoking i just need to know what to do about my dad. Please respond soon, thank you ~ Annabelle

  10. Post

    I am sorry, Annabelle. Please contact Alateen in your area, and you should be able to find someone to help you through this. You probably can’t help your dad, but you can get help for yourself.

  11. Please keep me Informed I would like more information about this I am going thru the same problem with a son of mine he has drugs problems thanks a lot

  12. This is one of the best articles I’ve read on the effects of drug abuse to the family and friends of the addict.
    Being a multi-decade alcoholic and drug user, I fight with myself on a daily basis over the years of darkness that I have lived in. While I didn’t actually steal possessions and money from the people in my life, I stole their respect and trust, I abandoned everything and everyone that I was supposed to provide for and protect.
    I lost my wife and children to my selfish behavior. I’ve been through more rehab sessions than it should ever take a person to wake up and realize the damage he’s caused.
    I still battle with addiction at 50 years old.
    I am afraid that I will die with a bottle in my hand or a pipe in my mouth.
    But I guess I’m not scared enough.

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