How To Spot the Signs of Drug Use in Teens

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Many parents have preconceived notions as to how their children will turn out growing up. They picture images of sweet-faced, well-behaved children slowly maturing into responsible adults. It’s jarring and a reality shock when moody and withdrawn teenagers, testing their boundaries to the max, replace that fantasy. Inwardly, they may be crying out for help, but outwardly appear antisocial and disinterested. Worse, if you suspect signs of drug use in your teens, you may feel helpless as to how to help them.

With at least 1 in 8 teenagers abusing an illicit substance in the last year [1], it’s no question that teen drug use is on the rise. Join Avenues Recovery, pioneers in addiction rehabilitation, as we go through the most common signs of drug use in teens. What should you be looking out for and how can you spot any red flags in teenage behavior?

Am I Seeing Signs of Drug Use in My Teen?

No parent wants to admit that their child, whom they love more than anything, is addicted to drugs. It’s hard not to blame yourself for the choices your child made, so it can be difficult to move past the denial stage. It’s up to the parents though, who see their addicted teenager as a real person in pain, to guide their child in getting the help he so clearly needs.

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Behavioral Signs of Drug Use in Teens 

When a parent senses red flags in teenage behavior, it’s important to deal with it quickly; time plays an important role in your child’s recovery. Substance use can quickly snowball into an addiction if not stopped in its path.  Signs of teenage alcoholism and drug addiction can be noticed in the teen’s behavior, physical appearance, and personality.  

Behavioral signs of drug use in a teenager could include:

  • Suddenly being secretive about his comings and goings
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Dropping grades
  • Exhibiting cash flow problems
  • Shifting relationships with family and friends


Physical Signs of Drug Abuse in Teens

Teenagers, more than other age children, have a strong need to fit in with their peers. Their cognitive development is still occurring until age 18, so if fitting in requires them to take a puff of a friend’s cigarette, so be it. As old and grown-up as they may feel, many teens are not mature enough to understand the consequences of their actions and weigh up the better choice. Teaching them the harmful effects of their behavior and how to resist peer pressure, is their parents’ department. So, assuming a teen doesn't tell their parents, how does a parent know when to get involved?

Physical signs of substance abuse in teens include:

  • Being unusually tired or lethargic
  • Finding bruises on the skin
  • Caring less about personal hygiene
  • Having unusual smells on breath or clothes
  • Slurred speech


Psychological Signs of Drug Use in Teens

If you suspect signs of marijuana use in your teenager, pay attention to their eyes, which will often be red and heavy-lidded from drugs. Alcohol and marijuana, in particular, cause the blood vessels in the eyes to expand, giving a bloodshot appearance [2]. Intoxication can also cause blurry vision, which makes driving a real danger for both the driver and the other vehicles sharing the road.

While physical signs of drug abuse can be more obvious, psychological signs indicating your teenager is on drugs can be harder to notice. These might include your teen going through some of the following:

  • A sudden change in personality
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Hyperactive or unusually elated mood
  • Inability to focus
  • Less motivation

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Are They Just Being a Teenager?

What to do when those happy, talkative children morph into sullen and uncommunicative teenagers? In some cases, it’s just ordinary teenage blues; we’re all familiar with those. In other cases, however, it’s not just teenage moodiness, it’s something much deeper than that. And this might not be so simple to write off as “ just a phase!”.

As a parent, you can never intervene too soon. The adolescent “phase” can quickly spiral into a substance use addiction if the problem is ignored. If your teenager seems to have lost interest in activities he once loved, or is constantly acting depressed, angry, or aggressive, these can be signs of a drug or alcohol addiction. Knowing the signs of drug use in teens can help you realize when you should reach out to appropriate treatment centers for your child.

Search and Rescue

Most parents are well aware of the importance of giving teens their personal space. (And if they haven’t naturally, their teens probably make sure to let them know) If a teen displays some aforementioned signs of drug use and a parent is concerned, it’s important to get to the bottom of it. Now, how to conduct a Sherlock Holmes investigation without infringing on your child’s space? When it’s about your child’s health or safety, however, privacy takes a backseat.

Parents should try taking the straightforward route first. Direct questions like “Have you been drinking?” is a lot more comfortable than searching under the bed without the child’s knowledge. Answers might not always be so forthcoming, so parents have to try other ways of garnering information on their child’s wellbeing. Sharing their concerns, and explaining their reasons for the search, can prevent difficult scenarios.

Common places to conceal alcohol, drugs, and other paraphernalia:

  • Small boxes or cases- jewelry boxes, pencil cases
  • Inside over-the-counter medicine containers
  • Inside mock soda cans or empty candy bags
  • In between or inside books


Know The FACTS

The five main factors that contribute to a high risk of teenage addiction are summarized in the acronym FACTS:

Family history- research shows that genetics play a big role in substance addiction

Age of first-time use- the younger to start, the more likely to develop an addiction

Craving-young teenage minds can develop cravings for substances they use

Tolerance- when used early on, teenagers can develop a high tolerance to drugs

Surroundings-exposure to drugs & alcohol when young, “normalizes” the use of them

“Values Are Caught, Not Taught”

Ethical values and behaviors are best learned from the people who practice them, rather than through lectures. If a teen witnesses his parents using alcohol or substances on a regular basis, they’ll naturally be drawn to them as well. Because alcohol, nicotine, and tobacco are legal for adults, teens can assume they are safe for them to use, although this is not the case.

Talking to Teens - Open and Honest Communication

The best prevention is to talk with your teens. Spending time with them, having open and honest relationships will create a safe environment for them. Secure children won’t feel the need to turn to drugs to solve their troubles or as an escape from challenges. Avoid scare tactics- that’s for (pesky) older brothers. Listen to your teen’s opinions and questions about various substances. Explain to them how alcohol and drugs can negatively affect the things they care about; relationships, grades, and health.

Rehab Especially for Teens

Signs of drug use in teens are unfortunately becoming more rampant, with the average age for first-time drug use as young as 13. There is no treatment that is one-size-fits-all; your child needs the right treatment for his particular case. Avenues Recovery offers drug rehab for young adults with various treatment plans to suit individual needs and targeted specifically to teens. We will partner with you in getting the right help for your teen and enabling them to move toward recovery. Contact us to hear more about how we can support you and your child. Your teen deserves better than a life of addiction, and is capable of getting there!

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