Warning Signs: Detect and Prevent Teenage Drug Abuse at an Early Stage


The illicit use of drugs is a pressing issue among teens today. There is statistical evidence that teenage drug abuse is far more widespread than most parents or guardians suspect. In the United States alone, the rate of drug overdose deaths among teenagers has increased by 19% from 2014 to 2015.

Drug abuse can have serious consequences including dropping out from school, legal troubles, addiction, STIs and even overdose.

In most cases, unsuspecting parents remain unaware of their child’s involvement in illicit drug use. Between frequent mood swings, ever-evolving interests, self-exploration and a constant desire to navigate the precarious road to adulthood on their own, it becomes difficult for parents to differentiate the signs of a bigger problem from the ordinary behavior of a teenager.

This post is a guide to identifying the signs of teenage drug abuse so that the parents can take necessary steps to prevent the problem from becoming a major issue.


Behavioral Changes

Have you noticed that your child no longer hangs out with his childhood friends and instead has acquired some new friends? Does your teen remain isolated and withdrawn from family and friends? Such changes in the behavior and mannerisms of your teen are one of the earliest warning signs that point to teenage drug use. Being uncommunicative and lack of interest in activities they previously enjoyed are some other signs that parents must look out for.

Also, if you find that your child is demanding money or perhaps stealing from around the house, it’s likely a sign that the money is required to buy more drugs.

Mood Swings

Mood instability is another red flag that might indicate drug-related problem among teens. Teenagers who abuse drugs generally become alienated and introverted and sometimes remain holed up in their rooms. Showing disinterest in activities and things they were passionate about a while ago is another warning sign of potential drug use problem. Teenagers who abuse drugs might also become irrational and dramatic in their actions. Increased irritability, use of abusive language and violence are some other tell-tale signs parents must be careful about. Other symptoms include apathy, depression, crying spells, etc.

Changes in Appearance

According to drug addiction treatment experts, exhibiting drastic changes in appearance is one of the most definitive signs of illicit drug use. Bloodshot eyes indicate that the teen is using marijuana, while and dilated or pinpoint pupils signify the use of cocaine, amphetamines, hallucinogenics, barbiturates, or heroin.

Having a face-to-face conversation once the teens return home after socializing can help parents identify warning signs of drug use.  If they have been smoking or drinking, their breath will tell. Slurring of speech is another tell-tale sign of alcohol consumption.

Physical Changes

Drugs also take a huge toll on physical health. Because of this, the bodily changes become the tell-tale signs of drug abuse. Sudden unexplained weight gain or weight loss can be a result of addiction. Poor oral hygiene and appearance of needle tracks in the arms are some other signs of drug use. The needle marks are an indication of using substances that are injected into the body, like heroin. To cover up these marks, teens may wear clothes with long-sleeves even during hot weather.

Drowsiness and constant fatigue might also point towards the use of illicit drugs. A nose that is frequently dripping may be a sign of cocaine use. Furthermore, if the teen persistently scratches or picks at his or her hair and skin, it can be a withdrawal symptom from amphetamines or cocaine.

If parents or guardians notice any of the above physical changes and other organic causes have been ruled out, they may be signs of drug use.

Lack of Motivation

Drug addiction treatment specialists consider a lack of motivation to be one of the red flags for illicit drug use. If a teenager portrays apathy, low productivity, poor self-control, apathy, and aggressive behavior, it might be indicative of a bigger problem. Lack of interactions with family, friends, and withdrawal from family routines and activities are all signs of lack of motivation. Teens who are using may also choose to stay home and left alone in their room.

Neglecting personal hygiene, paying little attention to grooming, and adopting unusual dressing habits without caring much about appearance are all signs of a low self-image and might signal drug use. Some teens who are involved in drugs also tend to wear inappropriate makeup or get tattoos and body piercings.

Possession of Drug Paraphernalia 

The most definitive sign of drug abuse among teens is the possession of any equipment, product or material that is used to take drugs. Drugs such as marijuana, heroin, cocaine, etc. require drug paraphernalia for consumption. Smoking pipes, cigarette lighters, butane torches, tin foil, weight scales, ziplock bags, bongs, hypodermic needles, balloons, mirrors, aluminum foil wrappers, short straws, capsules, etc. are all drug paraphernalia that indicates drug abuse.

Other Signs to Look For

Apart from the above mentioned red flags, several other signs indicate drug abuse. These include:

  • Discovering drug residue like seeds, stem, and powder, or finding a hidden stash of alcohol and cigarettes.
  • A strong fragrance of perfume from your teen’s room, which is commonly used to cover up the smell of drugs.
  • Missing cash, valuable items, medications, alcohol, etc. from home.
  • Missing classes or a marked decline in the teen’s academic performance.

Not all of the signs that have been listed above signal drug abuse. Some are just indicative of their transitioning age or other unrelated problems. However, these signs should not be ignored.

Once the parents are familiar with the common warning signs, it goes a long way towards spotting drug abuse at an earlier rather than later stage. Even if no direct evidence is discovered, it’s important to take action by having a real conversation with your teenager. Parents must also not hesitate to seek help from drug addiction treatment centers if necessary.

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