Signs of Substance Abuse in Youth
Youth substance abuse can increase the likelihood of a teen developing an addiction to drink or drugs when they reach adulthood. Substance use disorder is becoming more prevalent in schools as shows and media demonstrate false glorification of the effects of drug usage.
It’s important, though to make a distinction between the routine use of alcohol and drugs by teens and substance abuse to the extent that addiction sets in. If you discover that your son or daughter is using drugs or alcohol, this could be simple experimentation rather than addiction. It’s not correct to call it a full-blown drug abuse or alcohol abuse problem without proper identification.
Also, if you notice a sudden shift in the mood or attitude of your teen, this does not necessarily signify substance abuse. Teenagers can be moody in general while experiencing any range of issues from body image issues, puberty, teen romances, mental health issues and so on. If you or a loved one are experiencing any range of issues, it’s best to just do a quick evaluation of their typical behavior and use that as a baseline rather than jump to the conclusion that they’re addicts easily. The occasional bad day and foul mood are to be expected when you have teens in the house, ongoing and dramatic mood swings are not normal. If you feel you’re witnessing dramatic mood swings and physically violent outbursts in your teenager, consider this a potential marker.
Often, it’s not one single thing, but rather a collection of clues that lead you to broach the subject of drug abuse with your teen. If you encounter these mood swings in combination with finding suspected drug paraphernalia in your teen’s room or noticing some physical signs of drug abuse, it could be time for a frank discussion about substance abuse and health.
Before we walk you through some of the most common signs of substance abuse in youth, we’ll explore some of the reasons they use drugs in the first place.
Why Do Teens Experiment with Drugs?
More than 50% of all new drug users are under-18s. For the vast bulk of teens who flirt randomly with one drug or another as a simple form of experimentation commonplace among this demographic. You may have tried using drugs yourself in much the same way when you were younger before consigning them to a distant memory as you entered adulthood.
What prompts so many teens to try illicit drugs, then?
Well, there are myriad reasons behind any individual decision to use drugs, but we’ll highlight some of the most common among teens.
- Peer pressure: Even if you don’t think you are influenced by others, peers can subconsciously shape the things you say and do. Peer pressure is arguably at its most intense among teens. The pressure to conform and to gain the approval of a group is strong enough that thousands of teens each year will succumb to that peer pressure by smoking weed or snorting a line of coke.
- Curiosity: For some teens, simply encountering drugs in real life for the first time is enough to stimulate the desire to try those drugs. Curiosity alone leads to many teens experimenting with drinks and drugs. Alcohol and substance abuse can easily follow.
- Performance-boosting: Many teens experience acute academic pressure during high school and college. Some turn to the perceived benefits of prescription stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin in the hope of improving focus and academic performance. Others use weed as a means of relaxing after a sustained period of study.
- Escapism: Teens are constantly seeking out new experiences. This is all part of feeling your feet in the world. In many cases, a desire to escape the mundanity of the day-to-day prompts some teens to experiment with drugs.
- Self-medicating emotional problems: Teenage years are rife with fluctuating hormone levels and emotions in freefall. In response to this turmoil, many teens turn to drink or drugs as a coping mechanism and method of self-medicating.
- Mental illness: Sometimes teens have undiagnosed mental illnesses and problems they think are better coped with through numbing life pain with substances.
This is by no means an exhaustive list but covers all the main reasons behind teen substance abuse.
What, though, puts your child at heightened risk of abusing substances?
Risk Factors for Teen Substance Abuse
There are some factors, both environmental and biological, that can influence your child’s risk of abusing alcohol or drugs, including but not limited to the following:
- History of addiction in the family: If you have a history of substance abuse in your family, there’s more chance your teen could end up using substances to the extent that they end up in drug rehab
- Genetics is responsible for roughly half the risk factor of developing an addiction to drink or drugs.
- Traumatic childhood experiences: If your teen witnesses any traumatic incidents when growing up, from surviving a natural disaster through to suffering physical or mental abuse, this adverse childhood experience, commonly abbreviated to ACEs, can heighten the chance of drink or drug abuse in later life.
- Prevailing cultural norms: Many teens see drug use glamorized, from the weed-smoking, lean-drinking hip-hop artists to movie stars taking drugs. Throw in peer pressure to the volatile mix of popular culture and drug use, and it’s no surprise many teens use drugs.
- Mental health conditions: Depression, anxiety disorder, and ADHD are just some of the mental health conditions that increase the risk of your teen using drink or drugs as a means of self-medicating. Getting your teen the proper treatment for any mental health issues is vital, and can help to reduce the risk of substance abuse.
- Impulse control problems: Does your teen have problems with impulse control? If so, there is more chance their willingness to engage in risky behaviors will extend to drug use.
Substances Most Commonly Abused by Teens
Just as teenagers decide to use drugs for different reasons, so they use different drugs.
According to NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) data, teens most often abuse alcohol and marijuana.
Beyond these, teens also routinely abuse:
- Prescription stimulants
- Prescription opioids
Common Signs of Teen Drug Use
If you’re monitoring your teen for signs of drug abuse, these signs will vary according to the drug in question.
You can, though, look out for some common markers of substance abuse. These can be either physical signs or behavioral signs.
Physical Signs of Drug Use in Teens
- Bloodshot eyes
- Neglected personal hygiene
- Licking lips
- Enlarged pupils
- Clammy palms
- Extreme fatigue
- Ongoing sickness
- Flushed and red cheeks
- Vacant expression
- Fidgeting and itching
- Puffiness to the face
- Dramatic weight loss or weight gain
- Runny nose
- Shaking hands
- Sores around mouth
Behavioral Signs of Drug Use in Teens
- Isolating behaviors
- Abandoning old friends
- Irresponsible actions
- Loss of interest in hobbies
- Discontinuing normal activities
- Avoid eye contact
- Acting secretively
- Locking bedroom doors
- Unraveled relationships
- Asking for money
- Lying or being evasive
- Neglecting responsibilities
- Resistant to discipline or dialogue
- Attendance issues at school
- Grades at school dropping
What If Your Teen Admits to Taking Drugs?
Now, assuming you have encountered some of the above warning signs and decided you should confront your teen about substance use, there’s every chance they will admit to using drugs.
If this happens, try not to overreact, and try not to lash out. Drug abusers do not respond well to violent outbursts. This will be counterproductive. Instead, encourage your teen to speak openly and honestly with you. Establish ongoing dialogue, and make it clear they can speak with you about all aspects of drug use. Whether its marijuana use, other drugs or alcohol, speak to a treatment facility about your options for intervention and recovery.
When your teen admits to drug use, point out to them why this concerns you, and ensure that they feel loved and supported rather than persecuted. A confrontational attitude is highly unlikely to yield the kind of change you are looking for.
Of course, you may feel that there’s overwhelming evidence suggesting that your teen is abusing drugs, but they point-blank deny this. Supportive and understanding family members are what is important in aid the recovery process.
What If Your Teen Denies Taking Drugs?
Teens may lie about their drug use for a variety of reasons.
If you’re pretty sure your child is using drugs and they simply won’t admit it, you can consider taking some proactive measures, from home drug testing kits to professional help from a therapist or addiction specialist. Substance Abuse problems often stem from a variety of things and pressures. There is help for your teen whether its with support groups at treatment facilities or speaking to a provider about plans for action. Addiction is a treatable issue and there are many options for healing.
Addiction Treatment for Teens
In the vast majority of cases, teens addicted to drink or drugs can engage in outpatient addiction treatment. This can be easily arranged around school commitments.
For most teens, addiction has not yet had the opportunity to develop into the severe dependence that calls for residential rehab.
Your teen’s healthcare provider will play a pivotal role in referring your son or daughter to any appropriate substance abuse treatment programs. You are also, of course, free to explore your own avenues of treatment providers.
It will also fall upon the doctor to underscore to your teen the manifold negative outcomes stemming from teen drug abuse, from impaired academic performance to legal problems, from damage to the brain and general health issues.
If you take the time and trouble to find the right treatment program, your teen will have all the support they need in place to start leaving drink or drugs behind. The right treatment provider will give you many referrals to institutions and plans that will help your teen overcome their addiction to drugs and/or alcohol.
You should make it clear to your teen that they will enjoy your full support throughout all aspects of detox, recovery, and ongoing sobriety.
Even if your teen manages to engage with suitable addiction treatment and cleans up, addiction is a relapsing disease. There is every chance, particularly among teens, of relapse occurring. You should explain to your child that recovery from addiction is a process rather than an event. You can also help to educate them regarding relapse. If this happens – and it does in around 40% of all cases – it should be viewed as a learning opportunity. All that counts is re-embracing sobriety and moving forward, while learning from any slip-ups along the way.
What can you do if you feel you need to take action now, then?
Treatment for Teens at The District Recovery Community
If you feel your teen would benefit from an outpatient drug rehab program in Orange County, we can help out here at The District Recovery Community. Substance use problems and alcohol abuse don’t have to ruin your teen’s life, there are many ways to get started on the right help today.
Everything starts with a detailed assessment so your teen can get the precisely tailored care they need in order to leave drugs behind and focus fully on life.
If you have established that your teen is not only abusing drugs but is also addicted, time is of the essence. Addiction is a disease, and it’s also a progressive disease, so the quicker you help your teen to recover, the easier it will be. Make that happen today by calling 844.287.8506.