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Is Your Teen Using?

Recognize the signs of teen alcohol or drug abuse

How do you know if your adolescent is using alcohol or drugs?

Do you know the signs?

The first time my oldest child drank, she told me she had drunk too many cokes and I believed her. When she started smoking pot I didn’t know. I always thought if anyone would be able to tell if their child was using drugs and alcohol, it would be me. I think in large part, I was in denial, “Not my kid!” And, there was another part of me that didn’t recognize the signs. The truth is, it’s not always easy to tell. For one thing, some of the signs mentioned below can be typical adolescent behavior. Other times, it can point to mental health issues, such as ADHD, depression or anxiety. To confuse things even more, some adolescents that struggle with mental health issues use alcohol or drugs to help cope and feel better. Whatever the case may be, we are wise parents to pay attention. We must recognize the signs in order to address the problems our children are facing.

If your child is using alcohol or drugs, early intervention is important. I like what Mark Gregston, from Heartlight Ministries, has to say on this subject, “Regardless of what teens may hear, see or believe, there is no such thing as harmless drug use or getting drunk safely. The longer the risky behavior is allowed to continue, the higher the chances are that your child will wind up getting hurt. So, if substance abuse is evident, get support. Take the steps to help your child right away.” (Click here to read on how to talk to and help your adolescent if you suspect they are using alcohol or drugs)

If you think that your child may be abusing alcohol or drugs, below is a list of possible warning signs compiled from numerous resource sites:

Physical Signs

  • Blood shot eyes or dilated pupils
  • Red, flushed cheeks or face
  • Smells of alcohol or marijuana on breath or body
  • Sloppiness, shows lack of caring for appearance
  • Sudden weight gain or loss
  • Burns or soot on fingers or lips (from “joints” or “roaches” burning down)
  • Track marks on arms or legs (or long sleeves in warm weather to hide marks)

Emotional Signs

  • Unexplained changes in attitude, mood, increased irritability, and angry outbursts
  • Silent, uncommunicative, avoids eye contact
  • Act sneaky—secretive about where they spend their time
  • Hyperactive or anxious
  • Decreased motivation
  • Inability to focus or seem “out of it”
  • Uncooperative or disrespect for family rules
  • Distrust of others with no explanation
  • Loss of interest in family activities
  • Spends a lot of time in room
  • Verbally or physically abusive

Signs at School or Work

  • Sudden drop in grades
  • Being late or refusing to go to school
  • Sleeping in class
  • Failure to fulfill responsibilities at school or work
  • Defiant behavior
  • Authority issues
  • Reduced memory and attention span
  • Doesn’t seem to care
  • Loss of interest in extracurricular activities, hobbies, or sports
  • Complaints from teachers or co-workers
  • Reports of intoxication at school or work

Personal Behavior, Habits or Actions

  • Change in relationships with family or friends
  • Lack of interest in eating or sleeping
  • Going out every night
  • Frequently breaks curfew
  • Unable to recall what they did last night or if injured, unable to recall how it occurred
  • Always needing money or have money and you don’t know where it came from
  • Disappearance of money or valuables
  • Lies about activities or secretive
  • Reckless driving, car accidents, or unexplained dents in the car
  • Laughing at nothing
  • Hidden stashes of alcohol
  • Disappearance of prescription or over-the-counter pills
  • Missing alcohol or cigarettes
  • Smell of smoke or other unusual smells in room, car, or on clothes or breath
  • Chewing gum or mints to cover breath
  • Appearance of unusual containers or wrappers, or seeds left on surfaces used to clean marijuana, like frisbees,
  • Appearance of unusual drug apparatuses, including pipes, rolling papers, plastic baggies, roach clips, small medicine bottles, eye drops, butane lighters, or makeshift smoking devices, like bongs made out of toilet paper rolls and aluminum foil
  • Unusual clumsiness or lack of coordination
  • Secretive phone calls
  • “Munchies” or sudden appetite
  • Heavy use of over-the-counter preparations to reduce eye reddening, nasal irritation, or bad breath
  • Makes endless excuses
  • Unable to speak intelligibly, slurred speech, or rapid-fire speech
  • Disappearances for long periods of time

Health Issues Related to Teen Substance Abuse

  • Skin abrasions/bruises
  • Sweatiness
  • Headaches
  • Shaky hands
  • Accidents or injuries
  • Nosebleeds
  • Runny nose, not caused by allergies or a cold
  • Frequent sickness
  • Sores, spots around mouth
  • Queasy, nauseous
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Wetting lips or excessive thirst (known as “cotton mouth”)

I know it can be upsetting if you’re noticing several of these signs in your child. It’s really easy to be reactive when you are scared and upset—especially when your child comes home drunk or you discover they’re using drugs. Get the support you need first so you can calmly address the issue.

This may include:

  • learning how to talk to your child about alcohol and drugs (click here)
  • talking to your spouse before you talk to your child in order to get on the same page (click here)
  • talking to a friend beforehand so you can remain calm when you talk to your child
  • determining some possible next steps (click here), can be not only supportive to your child, but also to you as the parent

Above all else, you want to assure your child that you care and love him or her. Remind your child that you are on his or her side and only want the best for his or her future.

Check out our resources page, shoot me an e-mail, or if you have a specific question about your child’s drug or alcohol use, text 847HELP to 274637 to immediately connect with a licensed specialist who can assist you on a 24/7 Text-A-Tip line. http://www.textatipline.com






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