What Are The Signs of Teen Drug and Alcohol Abuse?

It happens all the time: a teen gets arrested, rushed to the hospital (or worse) for abusing alcohol or other drugs and his or her parents are caught completely off-guard, insisting they had no idea their child had ever tried drugs. The warning signs of drug abuse are often subtle, bur for vigilant parents, recognizing them is the first line of defense against teen drug abuse and addiction. Substance addiction is defined by the Scripps Research Institute as “a chronic relapsing brain disorder characterized by a compulsion to take a drug with loss of control over drug intake.” Teens are especially susceptible to substance abuse and developing an addiction. Adolescence is a time when both the body and brain undergo significant changes and social expectations shift. Stress, peer pressure and curiosity are all factors that can drive a teen toward drug abuse. However, recent studies point to drug use early in life as a huge risk factor in the development of addiction, which makes identifying teen drug abuse early on all the more important. There are numerous signs of drug and alcohol abuse, with different drugs often causing different physical symptoms; however, many of the warning signs are the same. Keep in mind that anyone who abuses drugs, regardless of age, will typically hide symptoms and problems for as long as possible, blatantly lying if necessary.

Physical Signs of Teen Drug Abuse

While changes in health and appearance due to drug or alcohol abuse varies from person to person and drug to drug, below are some of the more common warning signs to look out for:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Sudden weight gain or loss
  • Eyes that appear glassy, bloodshot, unfocused, with constricted or dilated pupils
  • Impaired coordination, slurred speech
  • Overall sickly or haggard appearance
  • Changes in sleeping patterns, such as insomnia or drowsiness

Psychological Signs of Teen Drug Abuse

The psychological warning signs of drug abuse in teens can be a little more difficult to pin down, as many of these signs are also perfectly normal during adolescence. If one or more of these signs show up along with behavioral or physical changes, however, drug abuse may be the cause:

  • Sudden, dramatic mood swings, including angry or even violent outbursts
  • Listlessness, appearing “out of it”
  • Manic episodes of hyperactivity or giddiness, sometimes followed by depression
  • Paranoia, anxiety

Behavioral Signs of Teen Drug Abuse

Like the psychological signs of drug abuse, the following behaviors, when in isolation, could simply be part of growing up:

  • Sudden change in friends
  • Poor academic and work performance
  • Engaging in high-risk behaviors
  • Sudden personality changes
  • Defensive secretive behavior
  • Unexplained spending habits
  • Withdrawal from recreational and social activities

Other Signs of Teen Drug Abuse

Besides the warning signs exhibited by your teen, there may be other signs around the household that should raise a red flag:

  • Missing money or valuable possessions, such as jewelry
  • Prescribed medication that goes missing or suddenly needs refills more often
  • Missing bottles of wine or other alcoholic drinks
  • Drug paraphernalia, including syringes, pipes, needles, burnt foil or spoons, liquor bottles and cigarette butts in and around the home

Remember, many signs and symptoms of drug abuse, such as mood swings or moderate weight gain, are also a normal part of adolescence for many teens. In isolation, one or two of these signs may not be cause for concern. Be wary, however, if multiple signs of drug abuse occur. At the same time, beware of denial. It can be hard to accept that your child needs intervention, and teens who abuse alcohol and drugs do not fit into any one stereotype. A high-achieving student may abuse drugs to cope with stress and improve performance just as often as a star athlete may take up heavy drinking to unwind after a game. Very few teens seek out treatment for drug abuse when they need it, but early intervention is key to preventing severe physical and social problems later on in adulthood. Recognizing the signs of drug and alcohol abuse may then be seen as the first and necessary step toward addiction prevention, rehabilitation and setting your teen up for success in life.

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