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Understanding the Signs of Teenage Substance Abuse



The older a child becomes, the more a parent begins to worry about the potential temptation for their teen to start experimenting with drugs, alcohol, or tobacco. While some teens will try these types of substances a few times before giving them up entirely, other kids find themselves unable to control their impulses to use. When a teen becomes unable to stop using, experimenting with drugs and alcohol can transform into substance abuse.

Why Do Teens Experiment?

When it comes to experimentation, teens can try a variety of substances, including alcohol, cigarettes, household chemicals, over-the-counter medications, prescription drugs, and illegal drugs. The most common legal substance teens experiment with is alcohol, while marijuana is the most frequently used illegal drug by teens.

Teens experiment with these substances for a variety of reasons that include:

Teens are also drawn to taking risks and trying new things. Using drugs or drinking alcohol offers a chance to do something exciting, which may also hold the appeal of making them appear more daring in the eyes of peers.

The type of teens most likely to have experimentation transform into substance abuse is those with a family member who suffers from addiction, teens who feel ignored by or unconnected with parents, and those who suffer from depression or other mental health concerns.

Signs of Substance Abuse

Parents who suspect their teen may have started abusing drugs or alcohol need to become aware of the signs of substance abuse, which include:

  • Red eyes and frequent health complaints, such as begin exhausted or tired. If your teen always has a bottle of eye drops handy, he could be experimenting with marijuana and trying to cover the bloodshot eyes the drug can cause.
  • A decreased interest in schoolwork, a drop in GPA, and a habit of skipping classes or school.
  • Making new friends who seem isolated or cut off from family, and who don’t have an interest in outside activities or school.
  • You keep finding items that could be used as drug paraphernalia, such as lighters, straws that have been shortened, small plastic baggies, or rags or papers soaked in chemicals that could be used for inhaling vapors.
  • Your teen may also start to seem withdrawn, sullen, temperamental, cut off from friends, and disinterested in activities and hobbies.

Problems Caused by Substance Abuse

Substance abuse can lead to a variety of serious problems such as trouble at home, a loss of friends, poor performance at school, and legal concerns. Drug and alcohol abuse ranks as the leading cause of teen injury or death related to drowning, violence, suicides, and car accidents. Substance abuse also raises a teen’s risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease and becoming pregnant.

Studies have even shown that teens who only use alcohol occasionally increase their risk of developing a future drug or alcohol problem. Even the casual use of certain narcotics can cause serious long-term health problems, such as brain damage or overdose. With no legal regulations, illicit drugs can greatly vary in potency and may contain unsafe chemicals or substances that can have dangerous effects when ingested.

Talking to Your Teen

If you discover your teen to be using tobacco, alcohol, or drugs, you need to take the matter seriously. The best way to deal with the issue is to talk openly with your teen about the problem and encourage him or her to open with you about what they’re experiencing. Try to avoid the use of harsh, judgmental words, and try to stay as supportive of your teen as possible. Hostile confrontations with a teen often result in both sides being pushed farther apart, rather than closer together. If you don’t know how to talk with your child about the issue, seek help from a psychiatrist, psychologist, or pediatrician.

If your teen’s problem has advanced beyond what words can fix, your child might need to seek treatment. The type of treatment your teen will need depends on how problematic their substance abuse has become. If, for example, your teen has only experimented a handful of times, having an open and frank conversation should address the issue.

However, if your teen has developed a substance abuse problem, he or she needs to seek treatment from a doctor or counselor. If your son or daughter has become addicted to alcohol and drugs, your teen may need to enroll in a detoxification or substance abuse program. No matter how far your teen’s substance abuse problems have reached, the soon you get your child the help he needs, the better chance he has of overcoming substance abuse, to begin with.