Teen drug use has been a well-documented topic in recent years, and it appears to be a more extensive problem than parents and guardians might suspect. As a result, there is a pressing need for family members and healthcare treatment providers to be familiar with substance abuse and identify the early signs of drug use in teens in order to implement preventive measures.
Drug and alcohol use can be hard to identify without understanding the signs of use. Substance abuse can alter the way individuals present themselves, how they feel, and how they behave, and the signs of use can be physical, behavioral, and psychological.
When identifying the signs of drug use in teens, it is worth noting that they can be similar, if not the same, as typical behavior traits shown in young adults. There is also a similarity in the signs of substance use and symptoms of mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, and in many cases, the two issues are interlinked.
While symptoms of drug use might be mistaken for typical behavior among adolescents due to their similarities, drug use signs are predominantly highlighted by more severe alterations in mood or behaviors in this age group. These physical and behavioral changes experienced by individuals, brought about by substance abuse, can have profound health implications.
What Are The Risk Factors of Teen Drug Abuse?
Teenage drug use can have detrimental impacts both mentally and physically, and the effects will vary based on the type of drug being taken.
During adolescence, an individual’s brain is still undergoing considerable maturation. Teen drug abuse can hinder this and damage processes such as decision-making and memory, leading to long-term cognitive disability.
The impact of teen drug abuse on cognitive functioning can also put this demographic at higher risk of drug addiction and developing a substance use disorder further on in life.
Drug use will end up having a profound effect on the neurons in the brain when used repeatedly. These changes are often long-term, and can still affect the brain circuits after an individual stops using drugs.
Drug use in teens can also increase the risk of dangerous behavior taking place. For example, engaging in illegal activities, violence, mental health, and suicidal thoughts could be the result.
How to Take Action
Drug abuse and substance abuse can arise from the use of recreational drugs, prescription drugs, but also over-the-counter medication.
If you are worried about drug use among family members or a loved one or have reason to believe they are falling under the influence of drug abuse, it is important to know the early warning signs. Help is available through mental health treatment centers.
Initially, this can be done by asking simple, but direct, questions such as “Have you been using drugs or drinking alcohol?” No parent or guardian wants to hear “yes,” but being prepared for this answer is important so that positive intervention can take place.
Spotting Signs of Drug Use
If an individual misuses drugs or alcohol, they may show a number of physical signs of drug abuse. Many of these signs may be clear to see, yet others can be easily disguised or arise as gradual changes. Some physical signs of drug use include:
- Regular illness
- Seizures and/or vomiting
- Lethargic, unusually tired/drowsy
- Slurred speech, mumbling of words
- Nosebleeds and/or runny nose that isn’t caused by allergies or a cold
- Unusual sores and spots, especially around the mouth area
- Sudden weight gain
- Sudden weight loss
- Skin bruises
- Constant sweating
Mood and Personality Changes
If you have a child or loved one who is struggling with drug or alcohol use, drastic changes to their mood and personality might be one of the biggest indicators. Signs may include:
- Hostile and Aggressive
- Depressed or withdrawn
- Quiet, uncommunicative, or unusually reserved
- Hyperactive or unusually elated
- Secretive or devious
- Issues concentrating
An individual who misuses drugs or alcohol may act out of character. Behavioral signs of drug and alcohol use are just as common as physical signs, and some of the most significant are:
- Mood swings
- Locking doors
- Suspicious use of phone
- Constant excuses
- Drastic changes in relationships with friends and family
- Cash flow issues
- Unusually clumsy
- High energy and/or sleeplessness
Appearance and Hygiene
A number of drug users and alcoholics start to neglect their personal hygiene which can also have an effect on their appearance. Signs of drug use affecting appearance include:
- Unusual smells on breath or clothes, such as smoke
- Grubby or dirty appearance
- Body odor
- Basic personal hygiene
- Rosy cheeks
- Burns on fingers or lips
- Track marks on limbs
How and Where To Look For Signs of Drug Use in Teens
The majority of drugs have a distinct smell, particularly when they are consumed through smoking. Due to this, your sense of smell can be crucial in detecting drug use.
Whether it is at family dinners or in a more casual setting, having in-person conversations when your child or loved one comes home after being with friends will provide you with a better idea of whether there is drug use taking place. If your child has been smoking or drinking, the smell will be noticeable from either their breath, clothing, or hair.
One of the most indicative signs of drug use and drinking is noticeable changes in the eyes. If when focusing on an individual’s eyes, they are bloodshot and the pupils are dilated, there is a good chance drug use has taken place.
However, certain drugs will have different effects on the appearance of an individual’s eyes. For example, red eyes with constricted pupils might signify smoking marijuana whereas dilation of the pupils can indicate the use of drugs such as cocaine, hallucinogenics, and amphetamines.
Similarly, binge drinking will also lead to pupillary dilation along with the difficulty of focusing the eyesight. Additionally, other physical signs of drinking that can be identified through a face-to-face conversation include rosy cheeks or flushed color of the face.
Drug and alcohol use can have a significant effect on the behavior of individuals. Monitoring their behavior after a night out with their friends is a good way of gauging whether your child is suffering from drug abuse.
If your child is being noisy and obnoxious or having hysterical laughing fits, these are signs of substance use.
If they look withdrawn, queasy, or they’re struggling with their balance, and being unusually clumsy, these are also warning signs of teen drug use or substance abuse.
Searching your child or loved one’s space may seem intrusive, but if there is a genuine cause for concern regarding drug use, it is important to get to find out if your concern is valid.
Regardless of whether or not you warn them about it prior to the search, you should be prepared to justify your reasons for doing so. The main point to convey is that you are doing it from a place of concern and care.
Drug use can lead to drug abuse and in turn, substance use disorder, so defend your reasons for searching if you are challenged.
The most frequent places to hide alcohol, vapes, or drug paraphernalia include:
- Inside drawers and cupboards
- Inside books and magazines
- Roofs and loose floorboards
- Small boxes, bags, or cases, such as pencil cases, makeup bags, jewelry boxes, briefcases
- Under and/or in-between furniture such as beds and sofas
- Plant pots
- Inside empty candy wrappers
If your suspicions turn out to be true and your search shows evidence of drug use, it is important as a parent or guardian, to prepare for the conversation with the drug user.
If you find out that drug use is unlikely to have been taking place, this may be a sensible time to seek clarification on the changes that brought about your suspicion. Your teen could be experiencing underlying mental health problems and seeking professional help might be necessary.
Seeking Professional Help
If you or a loved one is struggling with drug use, alcohol abuse, or any form of substance abuse, seeking professional help is of paramount importance. We know that seeking emotional support usually takes an enormous amount of strength and bravery, but identifying that there is an issue is often the first step toward recovery.
Understanding if your child or loved one is showing signs of drug use or substance abuse can be a challenging and worrying time. As previously mentioned, many signs of drug use can be misinterpreted as typical young adult behavior. However, if you are still concerned or have evidence of use, there are various mental health services that can offer support.
At Clearfork, helping teens recover from substance abuse and addiction is our expertise. Not only do we offer a sounding board for those struggling, but we also offer addiction treatment. We have an incredible team of psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, and master’s level therapists to help give you the best chance for a healthier and happier life.