Warning Signs of Teen Drug Use

What's this?We may know the challenging statistics about teen drug use, but the majority of us are caught off guard if we discover that our child has a drug problem. Most parents believe that their child would never use drugs, and many of the warning signs of drug use can often be excused as normal teenage behavior. Here is your chance to educate yourself on the warning signs of teen drug use, so that you can, if necessary, identify and intervene with your teen early:

Change in routine. One of the biggest warning signs of drug use is a change in your teen’s daily habits. For example, a teen who begins using drugs may start to withdraw from the family, spend a lot more time with friends, sleep during the day and stay up at night, or act secretive. Of course, these are common changes for any developing teen, so parents can feel confused as to whether these are problem behaviors or simply normal teen conduct. Don’t just assume that if your teen wants to hang out with their buddies more, they are taking drugs. Look for these changes in conjunction with other signs as well.

Change in personal appearance. Look for changes in your teen’s appearance. Some drugs can cause weight gain or loss. They also can cause a lack of motivation, leading to poor hygiene. Clothing choices can also be an indicator – perhaps wearing a certain look that matches other drug users or wearing long sleeves in warm weather to cover track marks.

Change in attitude. Your teen’s emotional state is a good barometer for what’s going on in their life. While mood swings are common in teens, excessive swings from high to low could signal more serious problems. Some drugs can make people feel hostile, aggressive, defiant, or defensive. Additionally, another red flag is if your teen loses interest or begins expressing a negative attitude about things they previously enjoyed.

Change in peer relationships. If your teen changes social circles, take notice. Drug use can cause some teens to struggle to get along with their peers. Or, a teen may switch friends to hang out with those youth who are using drugs. If your teen has a friend that you know is using drugs, there is a strong likelihood that your teen may also be using. Get to know your teen’s friends because chances are that the way their friends behave is the way your child behaves when you’re not around.

Problems in school. Dropping grades, skipping classes, and behavior problems at school are key indicators of drug use. When teens use drugs, many lose their motivation and are no longer interested in school. If their grades fall or they lose interest in extra-curricular activities, find out the root cause. Another sign of drug use is becoming defiant with authority – parents, teachers, coaches, and even the principal. Finally, truancy is a big indicator of drug use because students will skip classes during the middle of the school day and get stoned on school grounds! A study conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that over 60% of teens reported that drugs are used, kept or sold at school and 52% said there’s a place on or near school grounds where students go during the school day to use drugs, drink or smoke cigarettes. Do not assume that their school will contact you if there is a problem. Call the school from time to time and ask for your teen’s attendance record.

Change in health. If you notice sudden, unexplained changed in your teen’s health, try to find the root cause. A teen using drugs may have bloodshot eyes, frequent nosebleeds, a constant runny nose, or frequent headaches. If you notice changes, but aren’t sure what they mean, schedule an appointment with your teen’s doctor.

Frequent use of aromatic products. Teens using drugs will try to cover up telltale signs. To cover up the smell of smoke, your teen may become a big fan of Febreze or Lysol. They might burn incense or begin using an excessive amount of cologne or perfume. To mask the smell of alcohol or other drugs that could be detected on their breath, teens could become frequent users of breath mints or mouthwash.

Free Resources

  • Drug Guide App. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids’ Drug Guide for Parents is now available for quick and easy reference as a mobile app for Android phones and iPhones. Parents can access vital information on drugs most commonly abused by teens right from their smartphones, including photos, slang terms and short- and long-term effects. Download the app here.
  • Marijuana Talk Kit. Because of marijuana legalization, more teens are trying pot and parents are more confused about how to talk to their teens about this issue. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids is offering a brand-new Marijuana Talk Kit: How to Talk With Your Teen About Marijuana. The comprehensive guide equips parents with the facts about marijuana as well as real skills and examples that they can use to have meaningful, productive conversations with their kids. Download the free Marijuana Talk Kit here.
  • Teens4Safety Infographic. In honor of the 35th anniversary of Mother’s Against Drunk Driving (MADD), they have developed a great infographic that provides statistics and tips to prevent underage drinking and drunk driving. View the infographic here.


Final Thoughts…

As we enter the summer, it’s important for parents to know that risks for their teens increase. The Office of National Drug Control Policy reports that more American teens try cigarettes, marijuana and alcohol for the first time in the summer than at any other time of year. In April 2014, a survey from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) showed that teens whose parents tell them that underage drinking is completely unacceptable are more than 80 percent less likely to drink than teens whose parents give them other messages about underage drinking. Parents need to use their influence to help prevent teens from abusing substances.

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