Many teens experiment with drugs and alcohol, but few realize how easily weekend activities can turn into chronic habits and even addictions. Drug abuse during someone’s formative years can have long-term cognitive effects as well as lasting effects on their conduct, demeanor, and quality of life. It is important to remember that experimentation does not always lead to addiction; the most salient course of action would be to create a safe and judgment-free space where your teen can feel comfortable being honest with you about their experiences. Early intervention and education are the best methods in terms of helping a teen who may be developing bad habits.

Warning Signs of Drug Abuse in Teens

Symptoms of drug abuse may vary and can only be determined on an individual basis. It can be hard to differentiate between general teenager angst and drug abuse, and no single symptom can definitively ascertain whether or not a child is abusing drugs/alcohol.  With that being said, some red flags may include:

  • red eyes
  • sudden lack of interest in hobbies/extracurriculars
  • poor hygiene
  • dropping grades
  • changes in eating habits
  • rebellious behavior/rule-breaking
  • excessive sleeping/trouble sleeping
  • isolation
  • detention/suspension from school or other disciplinary action
  • depression-like symptoms

Teenagers can be notoriously rebellious and are sometimes struggling to find their own identity. Creating open lines of communication and being proactive are the best methods for early intervention. Asking difficult questions compassionately and being actively involved in your teen’s daily routine can help prevent drug abuse now and later in life. Teens who feel supported are more likely to be honest and to ask for help if need be.

Commonly Abused Substances

Alcohol, marijuana, and prescription medications are the most commonly used substances in teenagers. According to the CDC, 1 in 5 teenagers have abused prescription medications. By age 18, 58% of teenagers reported having had at least 1 drink, and 24% of students admitted to using marijuana. 5.8% of students polled in 2019 reported they were cigarette smokers. Most teens reported they accessed these substances through a parent or the parent of a friend. This was usually unbeknownst to the parent but it is imperative to remember to keep any alcohol or prescription medications in a safe place in your home and away from children.

How to Help

If a teen has already attempted to stop using substances on their own and has been unable to, they must receive support in doing so. Therapists, addiction specialists, school psychiatrists, and pediatricians can help diagnose if a teen is struggling with substance use disorder. Often, adolescents are not the most forthcoming about their emotional health or use of drugs.  Enlisting the help of a professional can ensure your child gets the help that they need. It is important to remember that there are many resources available to a family who needs help supporting a child who is struggling. Home drug tests can help uncover an issue, and there are many adolescent programs available to children and teens of any age. If you feel you need some assistance in finding these facilities or more resources, a good first step would be to reach out to your healthcare provider. Many adolescent substance abuse programs allow teens to continue with schoolwork as well as offer counseling and family therapy services.

Lastly, it is always important to create an environment where a teen feels like they can share and will be received with compassion. A child or teen who feels loved and supported is always more likely to seek help or to be honest about needing it. Parental involvement is the strongest factor in preventing drug abuse and detecting mental health concerns early on.

Parents need support too. Don’t neglect to reach out to your doctor or professional for guidance and advice. There are many online forums, support groups, and therapists who can help to support families and parents as well. Remember, no one has to do this alone.