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Signs of Drug Use in Teens

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Teenagers are prone to experimentation. The beginning of adolescence and puberty can be stressful and confusing. Teens want to create a new, more adult version of themselves. This often involves trying out “adult” habits but without the benefit of having adult experience and judgment. It can become scary for parents of teens to wonder if everything is fine or if their teen is showing signs of drug use.

Most adolescents who use drugs do not become drug abusers or drug addicts in adulthood. However, drug use in adolescence can put their mental, emotional, and physical health at risk. It may also put a few vulnerable teens at risk for ongoing substance abuse into their future.

When Experimentation With Drugs Begins

Your child may be using alcohol or drugs if you notice a dramatic change in the teen’s appearance, friends, or physical health. Sometimes when a teenager has started using drugs, they begin to spend less time with old friends. A new friend or group of friends may become more central to their social lives. They may lose interest in activities that were once quite important to them. 

Teens may begin to break house rules or curfews that they previously respected. They may sleep more or less often than normal as a result of drug use. Teens who are using drugs may experience changes in mood. They may exhibit signs of anxiety, depression, or anger. If they already deal with a mental health diagnosis, the symptoms of it may increase with drug usage.

Signs of Drug Use in Teens

Signs of drug addiction can be physical, including:

  • Weight loss or gain
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Pupils are smaller or larger than usual
  • Nosebleeds or runny nose
  • Shaking
  • Swollen face
  • Mouth sores
  • Cold or trembling hands
  • Difficulty sleeping or staying awake
  • Track marks on arms or legs from injection sites
  • Poor hygiene habits

Signs of drug use many also be behavioral, and may include:

  • Spending money and asking for money more frequently
  • Stealing 
  • Lying 
  • Avoiding eye contact and conversations with family members
  • Isolating from friends and family
  • Having a new group of friends they are secretive about
  • Locking themselves in their bedrooms
  • Conducting clandestine phone calls, texts, and video chats
  • Defying consequences for bad behavior, such as leaving the house when they are grounded
  • Skipping school and missing out on work
  • Failing classes, being suspended, or dropping out of school
  • Acting paranoid, depressed, or stressed out regularly

Open Up Regular Lines of Communication

One of the most powerful tools at our disposal in reducing the prevalence of teen drug use is communication. If you or a loved one suspects that their teen is using drugs, it is important to communicate directly with your teen. A series of talks can help your teenager open up and give you insight into what they are going through. Ask pointed questions, rather than just making accusations. We’ve broken down by category some examples of questions to ask that can get a dialogue started.

Changes in friendships:

“I know how close you used to be with (old friend’s name). What happened that keeps you two from hanging out now?” 

“I noticed you’re spending a lot of time with (names of new friends). What about them feels like a good fit for new friendships?”

Loss of interest in activities:

“I see that you have lost interest in (hobby/activity). Can you tell me what changed your mind about it?”

“Is there another pastime you’d like to try so that you have a fun outlet to replace the one you stopped doing?”

Changes in mood:

“I’m worried about how angry/depressed/anxious you seem to be so often these days. What’s going on that contributes to this?” 

“What can I do to help you change your mood and feel better?”

Bad behavior:

“As your parent, I care about and love you tremendously. Do you understand that you can talk to me about anything?”
“Do you know that even if you are doing something illegal or that you believe will disappoint me, I will still love you?”

When It is Time to Seek Professional Help

There is an urgent need for parents, school teachers, and healthcare providers to be familiar with the early signs and symptoms of drug and substance abuse to be able to implement preventive measures.

When a parent realizes their child has developed a drug problem, it is important to act quickly. Even if their child has demonstrated a refusal to cooperate, parents and guardians should play a key role in facilitating timely treatment.

The earlier you seek help for a teen’s alcohol or drug problem, the better. A qualified family therapist can evaluate and assess your child, then provide appropriate treatment. This may include outpatient therapy or therapy in a residential treatment facility.

Drug Addiction Treatment in Los Angeles

Clear Behavioral Health offers detox, residential, and outpatient treatment for mental health and substance abuse in the South Bay. We provide individual, family, and group therapy, along with holistic treatments and alumni support. Contact Clear Behavioral Health today to find out how we can help.

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