Is My Teen Using Drugs?

Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Patricia Sullivan MD, MPH

is my teen using drugs or alcohol

Table of Contents

Outside Influences

While there are many different reasons why teens start trying drugs and alcohol, outside factors contribute to the likelihood that a teen will begin abusing drugs. Stress, peer pressure, and the media can all drive a teen to initially try a drug and then to continue abuse to the point of addiction.

 Teens are especially vulnerable to these influences because they both want to fit in and fear rejection by friends. Nowadays, teens in America report stress levels that are comparable to that of adults.

 And while popular music and movies tend to normalize drug and alcohol use, social media sites like Instagram and Snapchat downright glamorize it.


The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that “some adolescents suffer from depression, social anxiety, stress-related disorders, and physical pain. Using drugs may be an attempt to lessen these feelings of distress.

 Stress especially plays a significant role in starting and continuing drug use as well as returning to drug use (relapsing) for those recovering from an addiction.”

 When you add in academic, parental, and societal pressures, it is no wonder why so many moms and dads find themselves dealing with teen addiction. Teens with higher stress levels are more likely to try drugs like marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco.

 It’s important to take your teen’s stress as seriously as your own as they will soon grow into stressed-out adults. Outside stress that contributes to drug use in these teens is also uniquely affected by social media, which previous generations have never had to deal with.


It is well known that teens are especially susceptible to the influence of their friends. Teens emulate the actions of their friends, right or wrong, to feel accepted and happy. Studies show that reward systems in teen brains become more active when engaging in risky behavior while with their friends versus when they are alone.

 Additionally, drug and alcohol-related content that peers share through social media outlets like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are more likely to be imitated by teens so that they can fit in.

 The pressure to experiment with drugs and alcohol from friends and other teens can be found at school and online on many common platforms. These factors combined with other personal issues can lead to addictions in teens that can be difficult to control.


Realizing Your Teen is Addicted to Drugs

When you realize that you are losing your teen to addiction, it can be very easy to get angry or upset with them. But it’s important to keep a level head and to keep in mind that substance abuse addiction is an illness not unlike diabetes or an eating disorder.

 Just like these illnesses, it is hereditary, they can be set off by outside influences, and they can be managed with a range of therapies or medication. Operating from an objective standpoint is essential.

 Your teen may have made a poor decision to pick up drugs or alcohol but most likely did not realize how addicted they would become. Right now, your teen needs your help more than ever.

 While it can be difficult to examine why your son or daughter has a substance abuse problem, it is essential to learn about their motivations to get them that help.


While most teens may only try drugs a few times or use alcohol recreationally, others can quickly develop a serious addiction to these same drugs. Any teen can become addicted to drugs or alcohol but the prevalence of certain risk factors can better determine which teen may or may not choose to partake in drug abuse.

 For example, kids who experience childhood trauma such as physical abuse are more likely to develop substance abuse problems later in life. Other indicators for teens who may be more susceptible to substance abuse include:

  • Family history of drug or alcohol abuse
  • Sexual abuse or trauma
  • Early childhood exposure to substance abuse
  • Parental neglect
  • Prenatal substance abuse by mothers
  • Prevalence of poverty
  • Childhood aggression issues


Because teens are still growing, drug and alcohol addiction’s physical and mental effects can be devastating. It is important to look for clues if you suspect your son or daughter may be abusing drugs or alcohol.

 Physical signs from substance abuse tend to develop over months, but a new or recently developed taste for alcohol or drugs in teens will show up in their actions and attitudes.

 If you observe any of the following behaviors or problems in your teen, they may have begun using or already have an addiction to drugs or alcohol.

  • Severe mood swings
  • Ditching school or neglect of schoolwork
  • Sudden poor hygiene
  • Cheating, theft, or lying
  • Loss of appetite or excessive eating
  • No longer engaging in loved hobbies or interests
  • A change of friends or acquaintances

Learn to Talk before Addiction Progresses

Parental influence is one of the biggest factors that shape a teen’s views and values. Moms and dads who provide a loving and communicative home life to their kids tend to affect the tough choices those teens will make positively.

 It can sometimes be difficult to open the lines of communication with your teen, especially if they are struggling with addiction. But it is imperative to talk honestly and openly about their situation to begin the process of finding treatment.

 An open dialogue with your teen about the drugs they are using should be approached in a non-judgemental way and with plenty of care.


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that “by the time they are seniors, almost 70 percent of high school students will have tried alcohol, half will have taken an illegal drug, and more than 20 percent will have used a prescription drug for a nonmedical purpose.

 The sooner you talk to your teen(s) about alcohol and other drugs, the greater chance you have of influencing their decisions about drinking and substance use.”

 If you demonstrate to your teen that you are always open to hearing their thoughts, views, and opinions in life, they will be more likely to talk with you about alcohol and drug use.

 Build upon the trust that your teen shows in you by not only making clear the rules and expectations surrounding drugs and alcohol but by stating the logical reasons why they should not experiment with drugs.


Talking to your teen after discovering that they have an addiction can be a difficult process. But the more prepared you are with information about their particular addiction and situation, the more effective you will be.

 Research and learn together about the potential effects and consequences of their drug use and discuss how it is already influencing their lives.

 Ensure the teen of your particular rules and punishments for drug use and how positive choices they make, like abstaining from use, will bring positive rewards.

 Approaching your teens’ addiction as a journey with many winding roads rather than an immediate, linear path to sobriety can help you both along the way.

 However, if your teen is dealing with a tough addiction such as prescription pills, crystal meth, or heroin, they may very well need to enter substance abuse rehabilitation.


Teen Addiction Treatment

Teen addiction and recovery are different from adult sobriety and should be approached as such. It is important to get teens into rehab as soon as possible because alcohol and drugs can have long-term consequences on the brain.

 Rehab treatment designed to address teenage physical, emotional, and mental needs should be sought if your teen has an addiction. Even teens whose drug use does not seem to rise to the level of addiction can take advantage of rehab as any level of substance abuse in a teen is a red flag.


Good drug and alcohol rehab centers consider a person’s entire situation and support all aspects of sobriety to prevent relapse. Teen rehab that addresses medical and psychological needs and social, housing, school, and transportation ones as well is key to finding sobriety as problems in any of these areas can lead right back into drug abuse. Complete rehab care for your teen should also include consideration for:

  • Whether or not rehab treatment is legally mandated
  • Psychological state and understanding
  • Gender identity issues
  • Race and ethnic background
  • Physical or mental disabilities
  • History of neglect and physical or sexual trauma
  • Family dynamics such as birth order and financial standing
  • Presence of secondary mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and ADHD
  • Testing for sexually transmitting diseases


Different rehab centers often employ many different types of substance abuse treatments. Always be sure to get as much information as you can about a rehabilitation facility and what kind of treatment they will be receiving before enrolling your teen.

 Most rehab programs utilize talk therapy as a base for treatment but may add medication or other types of therapy to treat teens better. Each teen is different, so while most rehab treatment programs last from 12-16 weeks, some teens may need to be supported a little longer to figure out exactly which type of therapy will work for them. The most recommended adult and teen addiction treatment programs are:

  • Cognitive-behavioral Therapy helps teens learn how to identify negative thoughts or behavior patterns that can lead to drug use and healthily cope.
  • 12 Step Programs utilize the Alcoholics Anonymous model of frequent meetings with peers in similar addiction situations to discuss and support each other in their sobriety.
  • Contingency Management offers teens rewards and prizes such as small amounts of money, retail gift cards, or movie tickets as a goal for abstaining from drug abuse and continuing with talk therapy.
Susana Spiegel

Susana Spiegel

Susana has experience writing about addiction, treatment, mental health, and recovery. She holds a Bachelors in Arts of Theology from GCU, and has a deep empathy for those who are struggling with addiction, as she is in recovery herself.

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