Teen drug abuse is, unfortunately, an unrelenting trend. Experimentation with substances among adolescents occurs for numerous reasons. Whether it be due to peer pressure, stress, emotional struggles, or just sheerly out of curiosity, a large number of teens will use drugs or alcohol at least once in their lives. While not all teens who use these substances will develop an addiction, they still risk causing physical, psychological, or emotional damage.
Adolescence is a critical time in a person’s life filled with tremendous change. Along with challenging life experiences and trying to figure out one’s own identity, the brain and body are undergoing significant changes. It can be a puzzling phase of life on its own, but the introduction of substances only worsens it. Because the brain and body are still developing, any use of drugs or alcohol can negatively impact vital connections and developmental changes in the body. In some cases, the impact of substance abuse can cause irreversible damage.
Knowing the signs and symptoms of teen drug abuse can help you identify a growing problem and intervene before irreversible damage is done. It can be difficult at times to differentiate between symptoms of substance abuse and temperamental changes due to the pangs of puberty. Knowing the common signs and symptoms of substance abuse can help you determine if you should explore further into whether or not your child is using drugs or alcohol.
Identifying the Signs of Teen Drug Abuse
While substance abuse can present itself in a variety of ways, there are some telltale signs that may indicate there is a problem. The following signs and symptoms may point directly to drug abuse, but they may also be unrelated. Some indicators will be unique to a particular person or situation, and in other cases, some of the changes observed may be confused with typical teenage experiences. Because these symptoms are being observed during a period of great change in an adolescent’s life, it can make it easy to write off some of the symptoms you may observe. Instead of dismissing symptoms, consider how many of those changes occurred during a specific window of time and if the changes you observe appear to be affecting their quality of life.
- Their friends and social circles have changed
- Academic performance declines
- They become more defiant and start missing curfew
- They are no longer interested in activities or hobbies that used to be exciting
- There is an increase in secretive behavior
- They start to isolate themselves more
- You notice they are gone for long periods of time with no explanation
Mental and emotional changes:
- Decreased motivation
- Slurred speech
- Frequent mood swings
- Memory problems
- Acting fearful or paranoid
- Lethargic or low energy
- Acting unusually loud or obnoxious
- Unexplained changes in personality
Physical health changes:
- Sudden weight change
- Shakes or tremors
- Coordination issues
- Frequent illness
- Nausea and vomiting
Physical appearance changes:
- Lack of hygiene
- Bloodshot eyes
- Burns on fingers or lips
- Bruises, cuts, or sores
- Frequent itching
- Unusual odor
- Track marks on arms
If You Suspect Your Teen is Using
In addition to keeping an eye out for any of the above changes, you may consider observing their vehicle or checking their room. While you may hesitate to take these steps, if you have legitimate concerns regarding your teen’s behaviors, it is important to follow up on them. Be prepared for backlash no matter what you find. Your teen will more than likely view your search as an invasion of privacy, regardless of your reasons. You should be prepared to let them know that your search was conducted out of concern for their safety and be willing to engage in an open, honest conversation with them.
Checking the car:
- Check glove compartments, seat pockets, under the seats, or in the trunk
- Does your teen drive more recklessly, especially after coming home from a night out with friends?
- Does the car have unexplained marks, dents, or scratches on it?
- Does the inside of the car smell like smoke or alcohol?
- Do their plans not align with the amount of time they are away?
Checking the room:
There are many places someone can hide paraphernalia in their room. Check any of the following locations:
- Underneath dresser drawers or in between clothes
- Under the bed
- Under the mattress
- In small boxes, such as jewelry boxes or pencil pouches
- In makeup cases
- Inside containers for medications such as Advil or Tylenol
- Inside a backpack
- Inside cases for DVDs or CDs
- Under a rug or floorboard
- Inside an empty candy bag
- In between books on a shelf
If you uncover evidence that your child is using drugs or alcohol, you must prepare your next steps. Gather any evidence, including observations and physical evidence, to have a conversation with your teen. It is important to prepare for this conversation before having it to prevent your message from being lost. Sometimes, all it takes is having a discussion to motivate your teen to change. It is encouraged to have an interventionist present to also help guide this difficult conversation. Having a treatment center lined up as an option should they accept help is also encourage. It is important to seek help of a professional before approaching your child if the signs point to drug abuse.
Expressing your concern for your teen’s future and safety may make them more willing to open up. Reassure your teen that you are only trying to help. If your teen still denies using drugs or alcohol, you can use an at-home drug test or enlist the help of professional to uncover the truth. If your teen is using drugs or alcohol recreationally, it is important to connect with a treatment center as soon as possible.