How to Tell if Your Teen is Using Drugs

As parents, it’s easy to forget the challenges our teens face in our popularity-driven culture. The overwhelming pressure of fitting in, the emotional toll of rejection, and the stress of academic success can all increase a teenager’s risk of caving in to any number of dangerous behaviors.

For some teens, drug and alcohol abuse is a tool to fit in or cope with the hardships of growing up. But, the truth is that too many parents miss the warning signs associated with teen substance abuse which, too often, wind up revealing themselves much too late.

Here are a few signs to look for:

Physical Signs

  • Bloodshot eyes: Sure, maybe your teen was up all night studying for an exam, but expanding blood vessels in the eyes is common in alcohol, cocaine, and marijuana use. Abnormal changes in pupil size may also be caused by substance use.
  • Changes in hygiene: Teenagers go through quite a few physical changes, which can be both seen and smelled. But are these differences a result of a changing body or their changing habits? Substance abusers often have a tendency to neglect their hygiene and personal appearance.
  • Change in appetite: Depending on the substance, appetites can either increase or decrease, leading to sudden fluctuations in eating habits and weight gain or loss.

Behavioral and Psychological Signs

  • Academic performance: Substance abuse changes the brain in many ways, so if your teen’s grades are suffering- especially if they had previously averaged good marks- this may be an indicator of substance abuse.
  • Missing items: Drugs and alcohol cost money. If you’ve been suspiciously losing cash or other valuables recently, they may be funding your teenager’s habit. Also, pay special attention to disappearing prescription medications that are accessible throughout the home.
  • Changes in friends: Teen substance abuse is common in kids struggling to fit in. If they’ve recently begun “fitting in” with an unusual crowd, drugs and alcohol may be at the heart of this friendship.
  • Mood or personality changes: This one may seem laughable because, well, they’re teenagers. But outbursts of spontaneous anger or agitation may be an effect of drug or alcohol use.

Looking back at these possible signs of substance abuse, it’s understandable how each one could easily be mistaken for today’s typical teen. Even so, if you observe any combination of these changes in your child, question the reason behind them. Be objective and open to the possibility that your teen could be using drugs or alcohol, even if that means accepting this commonly denied truth.

Take a look at a more comprehensive list of signs and symptoms here:

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