Is Your Teen Using?

Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse

Guest Article by The Partnership at Drugfree.org

There’s no easy way to figure out if your teen is using drugs or alcohol. As you’ll see, many of the signs and symptoms of teen substance abuse listed below are also, at times, typical adolescent behavior. Many are also symptoms of mental health issues, including depression or anxiety disorders.

If you’ve noticed any of the changes related to substance abuse listed below, don’t be afraid to come right out and ask your teen direct questions like “Have you been offered drugs?” If yes, “What did you do?” or “Have you been drinking or using drugs?” While no parent wants to hear a “yes” response to these questions, be prepared for it. Decide, in advance, how you’ll respond to a “yes”. Make sure you reassure your child that you’re looking out for him or her, and that you only want the best for his or her future.

teen drug test

Of course, not all teens are going to fess up to drug or alcohol use, and a “no” could also mean your child is in need of help for mental health issues. That’s why experts strongly recommend that you consider getting a professional assessment of your child with a pediatrician or child psychologist to find out what’s going on. In the case of teen substance abuse, don’t be afraid to err on the side of caution. Teaming up with professionals to help your teen is the best way to make sure he or she has a healthy future.

Personal Appearance

Messy, shows lack of caring for appearance
Poor hygiene
Red, flushed cheeks or face
Track marks on arms or legs (or long sleeves in warm weather to hide marks)
Burns or soot on fingers or lips (from “joints” or “roaches” burning down)

Personal Habits or Actions

Clenching teeth
Smell of smoke or other unusual smells on breath or on clothes
Chewing gum or mints to cover up breath
Heavy use of over-the-counter preparations to reduce eye reddening, nasal irritation, or bad breath
Frequently breaks curfew
Cash flow problems
Reckless driving, car accidents, or unexplained dents in the car
Avoiding eye contact
Locked doors
Going out every night
Secretive phone calls
“Munchies” or sudden appetite

Behavioral Issues Associated with Teen Substance Abuse

Change in relationships with family members or friends
Loss of inhibitions
Mood changes or emotional instability
Loud, obnoxious behavior
Laughing at nothing
Unusually clumsy, stumbling, lack of coordination, poor balance
Sullen, withdrawn, depressed
Unusually tired
Silent, uncommunicative
Hostility, anger, uncooperative behavior
Deceitful or secretive
Makes endless excuses
Decreased Motivation
Lethargic movement
Unable to speak intelligibly, slurred speech, or rapid-fire speech
Inability to focus
Hyperactivity
Unusually elated
Periods of sleeplessness or high energy, followed by long periods of “catch up” sleep
Disappearances for long periods of time

School- or Work-Related Issues

Truancy or loss of interest in schoolwork
Loss of interest in extracurricular activities, hobbies, or sports
Failure to fulfill responsibilities at school or work
Complaints from teachers or co-workers
Reports of intoxication at school or work