It can be frightening to think that your teen has been misusing drugs or alcohol. Teenagers are at a crucial stage of development, and drug or alcohol misuse at this stage of their brain development can have dire consequences on their overall health and well-being.
Peer pressure, self-exploration, and mistakes are natural parts of growing up and, as much as we would like them not to, many teens experiment with drugs and alcohol. However, there is a difference between one-time drug use and chronic use.
If your teen has been misusing substances, it is essential to seek professional help. An adolescent mental health specialist can guide you on the steps you can take to prevent the onset of dependence and drug addiction. If your teen is already addicted, evidence-based teen-friendly treatment programs are highly effective.
How Do I Know If My Teen Has Been Using Drugs?
You may notice some worrying behaviors in your teen and jump to the conclusion that they have misused drugs or alcohol. It is likely that your teen’s mood swings, withdrawal, rebelliousness, and unusual behavior stems from their racing hormones and developing sense of the world around them, however, there is a chance it could be from substance misuse.
It is essential to recognize the early warning signs of teen drug misuse so that you can take effective action to help them.
According to Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, early warning signs of teen drug use include(1):
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed hobbies and activities
- Secrecy about whereabouts
- Health problems
- Sudden change to social group
- Unusual sleeping patterns
- Increased irritability, aggression
- Drastic weight loss or gain
- Missing prescription drugs
- Possession of drug paraphernalia (rolling papers, needles, bongs, empty spirit bottles, burned spoons)
What Are the Behavioral Signs of Teen Drug Use?
Behavioral signs are usually the first signs of teen drug use that parents and loved ones notice. Common behavioral signs of drug or alcohol misuse to look out for include:
- Coming home late
- Frequently asking for money
- Withdrawing from the family
- Absence from school or work
What Are the Physical Signs of Teen Drug Use?
Physical indicators of drug or alcohol misuse in teens include:
- Neglect of personal hygiene
- Bloodshot eyes
- Frequent nosebleeds
- Sores on mouth
- Large dilated pupils
- Extreme tiredness
- Shakes and tremors
- Sudden weight loss or gain
What Are the Risk Factors for Teen Drug Use?
FACTS is an acronym you can use to understand the risk factors for teen drug use.
F – Family History
Suppose there is a history of substance misuse in the family. In this case, a child or teen is more likely to use drugs and develop an addiction(2). SAMHSA reports that children with first-degree relatives who have Substance Use Disorder are eight times more likely to misuse substances than those without(3).
A – Age of First Use
The younger a person is when they first use drugs or alcohol, the more likely they are to develop an addiction(4). Teen brains are at a crucial stage of development, and drug or alcohol misuse at this time can shape how the brain continues to grow and develop.
C – Craving
Drug or alcohol misuse can lead to dependence. When dependence occurs, the teen experiences intense cravings for the substance when it is not available. Teens may not yet have developed the ability to tolerate the distress associated with these cravings, making them more vulnerable than adults to addiction.
T – Tolerance
Tolerance to a substance’s effects builds up the more it is used. If your teen needs to use more of a drug in greater frequency to achieve the desired effects, they are at high risk of dependence and addiction.
S – Surroundings
Exposure to drug or alcohol misuse in the home or in one’s peer groups increases the likelihood of drug or alcohol use, and prolonged exposure normalizes the behavior. A teen may notice that family members or friends use drugs or alcohol in stressful times and learn to do the same.
Should I Talk to My Teen About Drugs?
It’s essential to talk to your teen and listen to their opinions and perceptions about drugs and alcohol. By speaking with them about the reality of substance misuse, you create a trusting, supportive relationship in which they feel comfortable talking about their experiences.
Talking goes a long way in reducing the risk of substance misuse. Make sure that when you talk to your teen, you do so with compassion and understanding. Hostility and confrontation will not help.
If you have discovered that your teen has been misusing drugs or alcohol, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Effective interventions and treatments are available and can help your teen curb their drug use before addiction takes over.
You’re never too young for recovery. There are treatment centers and support groups across the United States dedicated to helping teens find recovery.
At Enlightened Solutions, we offer our clients numerous tools to move forward in their sober lifestyle. We focus on healing the whole person and not merely treating the addiction. Enlightened Solutions is a licensed co-occurring treatment center; we can treat both substance use disorders and the mental health issues that frequently accompany addiction. Our treatment program rooted in the 12-Step philosophy provides each client an individualized recovery plan. At Enlightened Solutions, we offer a range of treatment modalities, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), family constellation therapy, art and music therapy, yoga and meditation, massage, acupuncture and chiropractic care, and equine-assisted therapy. Our location near the picturesque southern shore of New Jersey allows us to provide optimal healing and relaxation. If you want to be free from addiction, or if someone close to you does, please call us at (833) 801-5483 for more information about our treatment options.
(1) Ali, Shahid et al. “Early detection of illicit drug use in teenagers.” Innovations in clinical neuroscience vol. 8,12 (2011): 24-8.
(2) Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2004. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 39.) Chapter 2 Impact of Substance Abuse on Families. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64258/
(3) Lipari, R.N. and Van Horn, S.L. Children living with parents who have a substance use disorder. The CBHSQ Report: August 24, 2017. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Rockville, MD.
(4) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); Office of the Surgeon General (US). Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health [Internet]. Washington (DC): US Department of Health and Human Services; 2016 Nov. CHAPTER 2, THE NEUROBIOLOGY OF SUBSTANCE USE, MISUSE, AND ADDICTION. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK424849