How to Recognize the Signs of Teen Substance Abuse

Substance Abuse | 0 comments

Whether it is a way to fit in or a way of dealing with stress, more teenagers are turning to alcohol and other drugs, and many of them start as young as sixth grade. Not only does abusing drugs at an early age lead to significant health effects, but there is also an increase in issues such as risky sexual behavior, criminal activities, car accidents, suicide, mental health problems, and academic trouble. If you suspect a teenager is experimenting with drugs or even perhaps has an addiction problem, this article will help you identify the signs of drug use.

While both females and males become involved with drugs and alcohol, it tends to be more common in males. If you notice strange behavior in your teenage boy, there are certain signs that may indicate teen substance abuse. Getting help is imperative so the problem does not become worse and have long-lasting effects.

Common Signs of Substance Abuse

Addiction is a disease that creeps up slowly, so early signs are often difficult to detect but can mean life-and-death. Sometimes once a problem is discovered, the teenager is already well on the path towards addiction. That is why being an engaged and involved parent is of paramount importance so warning signs are recognized early on.

One easy way to tell if your son or daughter has been using is to use your senses. After a night out, get close enough to smell for alcohol or smoke. Look into their eyes to see if they are heavy-lidded or red and if the pupils are dilated or constricted. Listen for speech changes, such as slurring, being unusually talkative or limited communication, as this is also an indication of alcohol or marijuana use.

Some other signs you may notice over time include:

● Changes in attitude or mood

● A decline in academic performance

● Lying and increased secrecy

● Significant changes in weight

● Desertion of long-time, close friends

● Loss of interest in favorite activities

● Increase absences or tardiness

● Anxiety, irritability or paranoia

If your teen is using psychotropic drugs, you will notice uncharacteristic conduct. This may be violent or unusual behavior after a simple request or an insignificant argument. When confronted, a teen under the influence will often have a defiant or inappropriate reaction. During the withdrawal phase, there may also be emotional instability and vulnerability.

If your teenager is using in the house, you may notice unusual odors from their room. It may be obvious ones like cigarette or marijuana smoke, or it may be something, such as incense or air fresheners, that is meant to mask the smell.

Some parents also choose to search for their teenager’s room for signs or other indications of abuse. Teens can come up with secretive places to hide drugs or alcohol, so beyond the obvious, you may want to look in DVD cases, beneath clothes in a dresser, inside fake makeup containers, buried in the dirt of a plant, inside a book that has pages cut out, inside medicine containers such as Advil, under a loose floorboard, or inside empty candy bags.

Risk Factors of Substance Abuse

There are certain risk factors that increase the chances of a teenager abusing illegal substances. One is a family history of drug or alcohol abuse, although there are other family-related risk factors as well. These include poor communication among family members, inadequate parental supervision, severe or inconsistent discipline, and family conflicts.

Individual and social risk factors include:

● Early childhood aggressive behavior

● Sexual or physical abuse

● Thrill-seeking behaviors

● Unstable emotions

● Low level of education and socioeconomic status

● Ease of drug availability

● History of mental illness

How to Talk to Your Teen

If you suspect your son is abusing drugs or alcohol, or if you find evidence of use, it is important to talk with him. Both parents should first agree on a common stance about the issue. Be honest with your teenager and come from a place of love and caring. You should make it very clear that you do not want him using drugs or alcohol, and ask if there are particular problems he would like to talk about.


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Teenagers, especially, may resist having an open and honest conversation with parents about the abuse. Seeking professional help at this point is effective, and there are numerous resources you can use.

Contact Lakeside Academy

Lakeside Academy is a substance abuse recovery center that provides a wide range of services and helps teen boys and their families. Contact us to find out how we can help you and your son overcome his substance abuse issues.