How to Tell if Your Teen is Doing Drugs

kid high in a corner

Most people think of substances abusers as adults, but alcoholism and drug addiction affect men and women of all ages, ethnicities, and regardless of socioeconomic background. In fact, many people who suffer or have suffered from addiction report that they first began to experiment with mind-altering substances during their adolescent and teen years. At such a young age, it’s dangerously easy to develop a substance abuse habit, especially when there’s little preventing youths from getting carried away.

Although substance abusers tend to be secretive, there are, in fact, a number of signs that indicate when someone has an alcohol or drug problem. However, the signs of substance abuse are different when the substance abuser is a teen. It’s important for the parents of teens to be aware of the many signs of a teen substance abuse problem so that they can get their teens to help before the experimentation becomes an addiction.

Signs Your Teen Is Abusing Drugs

#1 – Sudden Change in Sleep Habits

Some of the first changes that occur to a person who’s developing a substance abuse problem at any age are changes in behavior and daily routine. Especially among youths who have substance abuse problems, the development of a substance abuse problem throws off the pattern of daily life, which translates into altered sleep habits. Depending on the substance or substances that are being abused, a teen might begin to sleep much less than he or she had been, or he or she might be sleeping much more than before. Whether it’s more or less, parents will surely notice that the teen’s sleeping habits are very different from what they were previously.

#2 – Sudden Change in Appetite and Eating Habits

In addition to a change in sleep habits, teens who are developing substance abuse problems will also exhibit a major change in their appetite. Again, it will depend on the type of substance that’s being abused whether the teen is eating a lot more or much less than he or she was eating previously. Moreover, the change in eating habits will inevitably cause either weight loss or weight gain, further differentiating the teen from the person they had been before alcohol and drugs.

#3 – Emotionally Withdrawn and Secretive

A very common side effect of having a substance abuse problem is a tendency to become emotionally withdrawn, especially from loved ones. However, this emotional distance escalates to secrecy with the teen seeming as though he or she has something to hide. For a teen, much of the secrecy is due to knowing that his or her parents wouldn’t approve of alcohol or drug use, resulting in the teen keeping his or her activities a secret. This also serves to protect them from potential punishments since parents could make it difficult for teens to continue with their substance abuse behaviors.

#4 – Decline in School Performance

It’s virtually impossible to have a substance abuse habit without the habit having a negative effect on one’s performance in relatively intensive activities. For a teen, this means that his or her school performance will decline significantly as a result of the frequent substance abuse. In particular, the teen completes less and less homework, spends less and less time studying, and may even begin skipping school to go get drunk or high with friends.

#5 – Socializing With a Different Group of Peers

Speaking of friends, when a teen develops a substance abuse problem, he or she usually begins to socialize with an entirely different peer group. The reason for this change is typically because the old friends weren’t substance abusers while the new friends are fellow substance abusers. By trading sober friends for fellow substance abusers, a teen effectively has accomplices who are able to help with procuring the substances of their abuse.

#6 – Other Family Members Missing Money or Valuables

When a member of a family develops an alcohol or drug problem, one of the most frequent signs that families report experiencing is having money frequently go missing. There’s a stereotype of teens in which they’re expected to snag a few dollars from a parent every once in a great while, but a teen with a substance abuse problem will likely take money from family members anytime the chance presents itself. If the substance abuse problem progresses, this could eventually include having valuables — jewelry, family heirlooms, expensive tools, collectible items, electronics, and so on — go missing, which occurs when the substance abuser is trading the valuables for the money needed to obtain more alcohol or drugs.

#7 – Frequently Uses Incense, Cologne/perfume or Other Powerful Fragrances

The use of products that are intended to make a room smell good or to cover unpleasant odors is another common sign that a teen has a substance abuse problem. When the use of an illicit substance involves giving off a distinct odor — an infamous characteristic of marijuana, for example — the teen will need to have some sort of plan in place to mask that odor, which will typically include the burning of incense, use of aerosol cans of air freshener, and the excessive spraying of cologne or perfume around the room.

#8 – Frequently Chews Gum, Uses Mouthwash and Uses Breath Mints

Substances that are administered or consumed orally will often linger on one’s breath. When a teenage substance abuser is trying to keep his or her substance abuse from others, he or she will frequently chew gum or use breath mints, which they’ll typically have on his or her person at all times. Additionally, they’ll brush their teeth and/or use mouthwash much more than would be expected and much more than they ever had before.

#9 – Has and Frequently Uses Eye Drops

The use of certain substances is known to have an effect on one’s eyes. The most easily identifiable changes include a pronounced redness of the eyes or when the eyes are noticeably and excessively glossy, appearing almost as if the individual is crying. The use of eye drops is known to alleviate many of the effects of substance abuse to the eye, which is why many teens and substance abusers of other ages will keep eye drops on hand.

#10 – Medications Throughout the Home Going Missing

When someone with a substance abuse problem is unable to procure his or her substance of choice, feelings of desperation will quickly set in. Whether a teen or an adult, the feeling of withdrawal symptoms evokes a sense of panic and will often cause substance abusers to search the home for any substances that they might be able to abuse in order to experience even a small high. If a teen’s family members have been prescribed controlled substances in the past, he or she will likely begin taking those and even certain over-the-counter medications.

#11 – Adamant About Parents Staying Out of His or Her Bedroom

It’s typically easy to infer whether a person is hiding something or if he or she has nothing to hide. A teen who’s developing a substance abuse problem will typically prohibit his or her parents and other family members from entering his or her bedroom; this usually means that the teen is hiding evidence of his or her substance abuse in his or her bedroom, whether it’s paraphernalia or some of the drug itself.

#12 – Paraphernalia Found Among His or Her Belongings

Without fail, a substance abuser will inevitably make a mistake and leave some type of paraphernalia in a place where a loved one will likely find it. Some of the paraphernalia parents of teens are likely to find include pipes and bongs, or water pipes, that are used for smoking marijuana, but it’s also possible to find small baggies or some type of credit card lying out with a shortened length of the straw. When found, paraphernalia is some of the most irrefutable evidence that a teen has a substance abuse problem.

#13 – Involved in Legal Troubles

No matter how safe and secretive they try to be, a teenage substance abuser is almost guaranteed to find himself or herself in legal trouble. In many cases, the charges a teen may face include trespassing, breaking and entering, burglary, and theft. When a teen finds himself or herself facing charges for crimes similar to those listed here, it’s very likely that he or she has an alcohol or drug problem.

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