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Signs Your Teen May Be Using Drugs Or Alcohol And What To Do About It

Would you know if your kid was experimenting with drugs or alcohol? I didn’t. When my daughter first drank, she said she had too many cokes and I believed her. I had no idea when she started smoking pot. I certainly never dreamed my kid would participate in drug and alcohol use, it just didn’t even cross my mind. She was a “good” kid!

Statistics show that 1 out of every 8 teens has abused an illicit substance in the last year and 50% of teens have misused an illegal substance at least once. Teenage drug and alcohol use is a serious problem with life-altering consequences. It doesn’t matter how “good” of a kid you have, the pressure on them to try drugs is intense. Although not every kid will succumb to the temptation, no kid is immune to it. no matter how honest, responsible, or strong we think they are. It is important as parents to keep our eyes out for the signs that our teens may be dappling in this particular danger so that we can try and get help for them early. 

Drug use can be a difficult thing to identify, especially as many of the symptoms can be indicators of mental health problems as well (which teens commonly try and deal with through drug or alcohol abuse). If you are noticing any combination of the following signs, you may want to reach out for help.

Physical Signs

  • Bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils
  • Red, flushed cheeks or face
  • Smells of alcohol or marijuana on breath or body
  • Shows a lack of caring for their 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 or mood, increased irritability, and angry outbursts
  • Silent or uncommunicative, avoiding eye contact
  • Acting sneaky or secretive about where they spend their time
  • Hyperactive or anxious
  • Decreased motivation
  • Inability to focus or seems “out of it”
  • Uncooperative or disrespectful of family rules
  • Distrust of others with no explanation
  • Loss of interest in family activities
  • Spends a lot of time alone in their room
  • Becoming verbally or physically abusive

Signs at School or Work

  • A 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 remember how it occurred
  • Always needing money or having money that you don’t know where it came from
  • Disappearance of money or valuables
  • Reckless driving, car accidents, or unexplained dents in the car
  • Hidden stashes of alcohol
  • Disappearance of prescription or over-the-counter pills, alcohol, or cigarettes
  • Smell of smoke or other unusual smells in room, car, or on clothes or breath
  • Finding 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 the mouth
  • Queasy, nauseous
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Wetting lips or excessive thirst (known as “cotton mouth”)

If you suspect your kid is trying drugs and alcohol or has a substance abuse problem it can be understandably upsetting. Disbelief, betrayal, heartache, worry, rage, hurt. All of these are reasonable and natural feelings. Our first response is always to march in there and let our kids know the dangers of using. We plan to scare the desire for drugs right out of them with the facts, or at the very least with our well-established “mom look” and threats. However, this is rarely the most efficient approach to actually resolving the problem. 

What your kid needs most of all is to know that you love them unconditionally: reckless choices and all. We need to reassure them that we are on their side and want what is best for their future. This is best done if we take some time to get control of our emotions before addressing our suspicions to our kids. Before ever addressing your teen, first:

  • Reach out to someone for support so you can let out all your tears, heartache, fears, anger, hurt, and frustration. 
  • Talk to your spouse to make sure you are both on the same page.
  • Research how to talk to your teen about drugs and alcohol in a way that they will be responsive to. 
  • Determine some possible next steps that will not only help support your child but also you as the parent.

Then, when you have the conversation with your teen you can be coming with a calm and loving presence that opens the door for communication instead of a raging and accusing mom lecture that slams it shut. 

None of us want our kids to try drugs or alcohol. It is one of our greatest fears in raising big kids. However, as the statistics show, it is sadly extremely common for our kids to experiment with these things. They may do it because they gave in to peer pressure, to satisfy their curiosity, or to cope with mental and emotional health struggles. Discovering your teen’s drug or alcohol use can be heart-shattering, but remember that discovery doesn’t change who your kid is. They are still as funny, loving, talented, intelligent, witty, or whatever other traits you love about them as before. They have simply made a big mistake… and all of us are guilty of doing that. They need help, they need support, and they need your love now more than ever. Drug or alcohol use is not the end-all and it doesn’t mean you have failed or are raising a “bad” kid. By knowing what to look for, and reaching out for the help both you and your teen need, your child can get back on the right track and be stronger than before to make wise choices.

Looking for more help? Check out our resources page, shoot me an e-mail ([email protected]), 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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