How Can I Tell If My Teen is Abusing Drugs & Alcohol?
A Better Today Recovery Services understands how stressful and difficult approaching your teenage about drug and alcohol abuse can be. The teenage years bring about a period of great change for most families. Straddling the boundary between childhood and adulthood, the time spent in high school is full of victories, adventures, and personal challenges. Unfortunately, this often means experimenting with drugs and alcohol become one of those personal challenges they either overcome or succumb to.
As a parent, it’s easy to assume that your teen will never do drugs. After all, this is the result you’d like to see from nearly two decades of parenting. However, the reality is not so clear cut. Approximately 14 percent of 12th graders use drugs regularly while 40 percent of the teens that tried drugs in the last year. Marijuana is the most common choice, with 44 percent of 12th graders trying the drug at least once. Alcohol use is even more prevalent: by age 15, 33 percent of teens have had at least one drink while 60 percent of 18-year-olds have dabbled in drinking.
It’s quite normal to wish for only the best for your teen, but there’s a strong likelihood that he will at the very least sample illicit substances during adolescence. And, tragically, many teens go beyond social use, developing a drug habit that threatens everything from current academic success to college prospects and future employment. If you have suspicion now that your teenager is past the experimenting phase and is spiraling into a full blown addiction it is only natural for a parent to want to step in and correct that behavior before it gets the best of them and your family dynamic. If you are concerned about a growing drug problem in your teen, here are the top five signs of a teen who abuses drugs.
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Common Behavioral Changes of Substance Abuse
In general, drugs are an outlet teens like to explore with friends and peer groups – privately from their parents. Due to the illegality of drugs and the propensity for parental punishment, most teens go to great lengths to hide their habits. It may be difficult to identify the changes that are attributed to drug abuse due to hormone changes they are already experiencing. But as their parent, your gut instinct may be encouraging you to consider drug abuse and not just puberty. Hiding a growing substance abuse problem can lead to strange behavior changes that are quite uncharacteristic. Behavioral changes are often clear signs of recurring drug abuse.
Secretive behavior is a leading side effect, especially in teens who were previously happy to share life changes and developments. Many teens will hide their phones, provide limited or nonexistent answers to questions about daily activities, and withhold information regarding plans. Adolescents that are under the influence may also get defensive when asked routine questions, like “who did you see after school today,” and lash out with anger or suspicion. Drug-seeking behaviors are also common; many teens will lie, steal, or sneak around, doing whatever it takes to secure drugs at all costs.
Many teens will also isolate themselves from their parents, spending significant time locked in their bedrooms or on the phone. They may react with anger or cruelty when in routine situations, and may begin to sneak out to avoid questions about activities. Some teens may also get into legal trouble for theft, driving under the influence, or breaking local curfew. Other behavior changes range from new groups of friends to a notable lack of interest in previously favored activities, like sports, hobbies, or music.
Puberty or Drug Abuse: Differences in Mood & Moodswings
For a person who is already going through changes in their mood due to puberty, it may be difficult for you to identify changes related to drug abuse. Much of the effectiveness of illicit substances is centered around changes to the brain. Most drugs, like marijuana, cocaine, and heroin directly target various neurotransmitters, like GABA and dopamine receptors.
However, with regular substance abuse, the effects caused by drugs can bleed over into everyday life, causing significant mood changes to a previously stable, happy teen. When using drugs, many teens are subject to erratic moods that go beyond the typical moodswings associated with adolescence. Teens may be anxious, absent-minded, paranoid, aggressive in inappropriate situations, or may seem apathetic and disinterested in fun activities.
Changes to how neurotransmitters respond in the brain can make it much harder for teens to be happy when not on drugs after they have been abusing them for sometime. This leads to switching from moodiness to depressive symptoms at an erratic rate.
Alternately, when on drugs, teens may be exhilarated and excited, showing extreme enthusiasm, pleasure, or relaxation. When they are not on drugs or have more, they will want or feel like they need their new drug of choice to balance them out again. This can breed a drug seeking behavior that can spiral out of control real quick.
Some teens, especially those who have developed a dependency and a growing tolerance to illicit substances, may also show signs of withdrawal when access is restricted. While different for every substance, common effects to mood include agitation, irritability, paranoia, and anxiety.
You are not the bad guy, just a concerned parent. Show your teen that drugs are not cool.
You Know Your Child the Best: When Drug Abuse Causes Personality Changes
Teens turn to drugs for many different reasons. In many cases, young adults are looking for a way to blow off steam, relax with friends, or hide from problems. No matter the cause, the effects of drugs on both brain and lifestyle can create substantial personality changes. If your teen suddenly seems like a different person, drug abuse may be to blame.
Many teens display anti-social behavior, even those who previously enjoyed being surrounded by friends and loved ones. Rather than taking part in family events, attending parties, or spending time with peers after school, they will instead choose to be alone, using drugs instead of socializing normally. These changes in personality could be signs that your teen is beginning to use drugs.
Poor judgment and erratic behavior are also common changes in drug users. Teens who abuse drugs or alcohol may demonstrate a lack of sound reasoning or engage in illogical or dangerous activities, like driving under the influence, having unprotected sex, or going to work or school while high or drunk. These erratic behaviors may tell you that your teen’s drug abuse is getting out of control. They could be self-medicating with marijuana or prescription pills due to trauma that could be bully-related or severe depression. It is a good thing you have noticed something now.
Some teens, especially those who are withdrawing, may be mean or aggressive. They may lash out at family members or friends who attempt to help them or push away formerly close relationships. Teens may also demonstrate other callous personality traits, choosing to manipulate or bully others in order to maintain access to drugs.
Drugs are Toxins to the Body: Changes in Physical Appearance
Drugs show signs in virtually all areas of life, and that includes physical appearance. Changes to the body can occur as a result of behavioral or personality changes, or directly due to the effects of drugs themselves. If your child begins to look like a completely different person, drugs could be a contributing factor.
Weight loss is common in chronic drug users, especially when getting high takes precedence over eating. Alternately, weight gain may occur in users of drugs like marijuana that trigger binge eating, colloquially known as the munchies, or alcohol, which is high in calories. While weight gain and loss are both normal during adolescence, extremes in either direction can be indicative of substance abuse.
Hygiene may also be influenced by drug use. Teens with drug habits may not be interested in showering, laundry, styling hair, or putting on makeup. This behavior can be due to mismanaged time while high or a distinct apathy in regards to maintaining normal activities.
Some drugs, like methamphetamine, may have more serious physical signs. Meth, in particular, is known for scratches and scabs caused by hallucinations of bugs or hairs under the skin as well as decaying or missing teeth.
Trust in ABTRS to connect you with care that promotes long-term recovery.
You Are Not the Bad Guy, Just a Concerned Parent.
Finding Drug Paraphernalia: Knowing What Drug They are Abusing Before You Have the Talk
Some signs that can correlate with a drug problem, like new friends or an increased desire for privacy, many not necessarily indicate drug abuse, but drug paraphernalia is nearly irrefutable proof of a problem. Some parents, especially those not well-versed in drug culture, may have trouble knowing what to look for.
Drug paraphernalia comes in many different forms based on your teen’s drug of choice:
- Alcohol: Bottle, cans, shot glasses, bottle openers
- Marijuana: Rolling papers, pipes, bongs, roach clips, e-cigarettes, lighters
- Heroin: Needles, tin foil, pipes, pen cases or straws, small spoons, candles, lighters
- Cocaine: Pipes, razor blades, mirrors and other reflective surfaces, plastic straws or rolled up paper tubes, lighters
- Acid: Patterned pieces of paper
- Ecstasy: Pills in different colors with patterned surfaces, rave gear like brightly colored clothing and glow sticks
- Inhalants: spray cleaners, rags for sniffing, glue, balloons, nozzles, paint, chemicals
In addition to products used directly while taking drugs, teens may also possess items used to cover up drug use, like mouthwash, mints, breath sprays, eye drops, sun glasses, and air fresheners.
Paraphernalia can be found in many locations throughout your teen’s possessions. In general, most teens choose to hide accessories related to drug use, so these items will likely not be in plain sight. Most teens hide evidence of drug abuse in backpacks, cars, dressers, closets, under the bed, and in other hiding places throughout their personal spaces.
The Hardest Part: How to Approach Your Teen About Their Drug Abuse
Seeing signs of drug abuse can be very frightening as a parent, and it’s easy to live in denial about what your teen is doing with his spare time or while you are at work. However, this is no time to let life work itself out; instead, you need to confront the problem before it’s too late.
Approaching your teen about drug abuse may be stressful or emotional, but it’s a step you need to take. Rather than jumping right in and letting the conversation spiral out of control, take time to plan out what you want to say and how you want to say it. Go over ways to start a conversation, the points you would like to make, and methods to handle the discussion if your teen reacts poorly. Depending on the severity of the addiction, you may feel that an intervention is needed.
Choose a quiet time to talk that is away from friends or family members. If at all possible, try to talk to them while they are not high or drunk as it may be difficult to see reason. When you begin talking, do your best to stay calm. Rage and frustration are normal in this situation, but volatile emotions are likely to make your teen shut down rather than open up. Stay as objective and non-accusatory as possible, taking a concerned tone rather than an angry one and using phrases like “I found,” “I noticed,” and “I feel.” Using these statements may calm them if they are getting defensive.
If your teen is newer to drug abuse or is worried about their own habits, they may come clean about everything. This is a best case scenario, demonstrating a likelihood that your teen will be willing to cease use and return to a normal lifestyle. However, teens who are addicted may react with anger and lies, accusing you of making things up or trying to assert undue control. In this situation, it may be too late to attempt to address drug abuse without professional assistance but at least they heard your concerns and are thinking about what was said. Know that ABTRS understands these are hard times and would like to help in anyway. Advice, answer questions about what you are up against, or information about support groups for parent; we are there to help.
Over 2.3 million adolescents were reported to be abusing prescription stimulant such as Ritalin.
It is Time For Rehab: Seeking Treatment for Drug Abuse
For those with substance abuse issues, professional treatment is the absolute best resort. Offering the supportive resources necessary to help teens get clean and stay clean, rehabilitation is a saving grace for millions of Americans each and every year.
If your teen is showing signs of drug addiction and is not receptive to your guidance, inpatient rehab may be the next step forward. Providing around-the-clock care in a monitored environment designed to break the bonds of addiction in a healthy way, drug rehab can help your teen focus on a commitment to sobriety.
Rehabilitation is accompanied by detox, a safe way to help patients overcome withdrawal with as little discomfort as possible. This includes medical supervision by trained doctors who can prescribe medication and address symptoms as necessary. Detox also limits the possibility of relapse, eliminating access to the negative influences of friends, social media, and the pressures of adolescent life.
We are Here to Help Your Teen Find Treatment
At an effective treatment center, your teen will have the guidance necessary to fully understand the dangers of his habits, identify drivers behind use, and learn new and effective coping methods. With therapeutic services led by masters-level counselors, we are able to offer customized emotional support for all patients in both group and individual environments.
We can connect you with treatment centers that provide help specifically for teens. Effective treatment centers’ services provide assistance for all major substances as well as co-occurring disorders. These services ensure that all teens have access to a wide range of appropriate programs. Teens in good care will spend their time fully engaged in the healing process. Here are some of the activities your teen might be involved in during treatment:
- Courses work modules and bookwork
- One-on-one therapy sessions
- Group therapy sessions
- CBT therapy
- Expressive therapy
- Strength training
If your teen is showing signs of drug abuse and requires professional assistance, the A Better Today Recovery Service team is here to help. We ready to connect your teen with treatment centers that offer customized therapies. Those therapies can help teens to embrace long-term sobriety in happy, healthy ways.
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Reliable Unbiased Sources Matter to ABTRS
At ABTRS, we understand just how important it is to use reputable sources when helping you understand your treatment options. To get control of this disease, you must build a strong foundation of knowledge from the begin. Therefore, we have crafted all our information, statistics, treatment modalities, and practices on reliable resources.
Our reputable resources are impartial, not funded by organizations that could benefit from certain outcomes, and proven or tested to be effective. Below are the sources we used to develop the content on our website and all written materials from ABTRS. We will continue to try to provide you with reputable sources that are up to date and relevant.
Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Screening and Assessing Adolescents for Substance Use Disorders . Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 31. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 12-4079. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 1998.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2011). Identifying mental health and substance use problems of children and adolescents: A guide for child-serving organizations (HHS Publication No. SMA 12-4670). Rockville, MD: Author.
The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) is a public health surveillance system that monitors drug-related hospital emergency department (ED) visits and drug-related deaths to track the impact of drug use, misuse, and abuse in the United States.