Know the Warning Signs of Teen Substance Abuse
It's hard to tell the difference between a moody teen and one who is abusing drugs. Look for these signs of substance abuse in your teen.

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Picture of young girl smoking Know the Warning Signs of Teen Substance Abuse

It can be hard to tell the difference between a moody teen and a moody teen on drugs.

Know the signs that your child may be using alcohol or other drugs.

Some behaviors can throw you off-guard. They are normal for teens, who are developing their own identity and asserting independence from their parents. But changes that are extreme or last for more than a few days could be a warning sign of drug or alcohol abuse.

Signs of possible drug use include:

  • Evidence of drugs and drug paraphernalia, such as pipes, rolling papers, lighters
  • Unusual smells on clothing or breath
  • Borrowing more money from parents or friends
  • Stealing
  • Abrupt changes in mood or attitude, unusual temper flare-ups
  • Withdrawal, isolation, depression, fatigue
  • Bloodshot eyes, pupils that look too large or too small, slurred speech
  • Frequent use of eye drops, breath freshener, or mouthwash
  • Unusual hyperactivity or talkativeness
  • Paranoia
  • Chronic cough or runny nose
  • Needle marks
  • Shaky hands
  • Increase in accidents or injuries (bruises, scratches)
  • Neglected appearance
  • Sudden decline in attendance or performance at school or work
  • Sudden resistance to discipline at home or school
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and/or sports
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Being awake at unusual times
  • Befriending a new group of people who use drugs
  • Heightened secrecy about actions or possessions
  • Wearing t-shirts and other clothing that have drug-related language

If you think your teen is using drugs or alcohol, one of your first steps is to talk to your child's doctor. Some of these signs could also signal other medical or emotional conditions. A doctor can identify signs of drug use or symptoms of another problem, such as a medical condition, depression, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

A teenager's brain is still in development. Skills for judgment and self-control are still forming. Kids need your help to make good decisions.

Know where your teens are at all times. Know what they are doing and who they are with.

By Geri K. Metzger, Staff Writer
Created on 08/22/2000
Updated on 07/07/2011
  • Drug abuse and addiction.
  • Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE). Warning signs.
  • American Council for Drug Education. Signs and symptoms of drug use.
  • American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Facts for Families. Teens: alcohol and other drugs.
  • American Academy of Pediatrics. Children's Health Topics. Substance abuse.
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