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Signs Your Teen Is Using Drugs

Mom sits on bed and tries to talk to child after learning signs her teen is using drugs, but her teen is hiding in her hoodie

Watching a loved one struggle with addiction is confusing, frustrating, and heartbreaking, feelings that are compounded when that person is your child. Experimentation with alcohol and drugs is widely thought of as expected in the teenage years. While perceptions about drug and alcohol use can be influenced by social media, pop culture, and peers, the most significant influences come from home. It’s important to know the signs your teen is using drugs.

Parents need to be vocal and frank about the dangers of teenage alcohol and drug use. Research indicates that one in four teens who begins using drugs or alcohol before 18 will develop a substance use disorder (SUD) later in life. Do not wait to intervene if you suspect your teen is using drugs. Help is available at Vertava Health’s teen addiction treatment program. Call 844.470.0410 to learn more.

Statistics on Teenage Drug Use

While alcohol is the most abused substance among teens and young adults, teenage drug abuse is a prominent public health concern. Early drug abuse can profoundly affect development and correlate with substance use and mental health problems later in life.

According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics:

  • 46.6% of teens have used illicit drugs by 12th grade
  • 11.2% of all overdose deaths occur among 15-24-year-olds
  • 788,000 teens ages 12-17 met the criteria for illicit drug use disorder (IDUD) in the last year
  • Among 15-24-year olds, overdose deaths involving opioids have increased 500% since 1999
  • High school students who legitimately use prescription opioids are 33% more likely to misuse opioids after high school

The prevalence of co-occurring disorders among teens is high. Research suggests that up to 45% of teens and young adults with mental health disorders have a substance use disorder (SUD), while 65% or more of this population diagnosed with SUD have a co-occurring mental health disorder. Parents must educate themselves about the signs and symptoms of mental health and substance use disorders.

Signs Your Teen Is Using Drugs

Early warning signs of teenage drug use can be hard to detect because many mimic typical teen behavior, like moodiness, irresponsibility, and withdrawal. When parents know their teen’s interests, hobbies, friends, and habits, early warning signs can be easier to spot because they can sense when something is amiss.

While every teen is different, there are some global warning signs of teenage drug abuse parents can watch for, including:

  • Marked changes in school performance
  • Dropping old friends for a new group
  • Breaking the rules and resisting discipline
  • Avoidance of or withdrawal from family members
  • Frequently asking for money or stealing
  • Poor hygiene or changes in physical appearance
  • Missing school or work
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities or hobbies
  • Secrecy, making excuses, or outright lying
  • Significant changes in sleeping or eating habits
  • Unprovoked anger or other considerable mood swings

Casual or “experimental” drug use in teens can quickly spiral out of control if ignored or brushed off as “a phase.” If you suspect teen drug use, you can never intervene as soon as a parent or other concerned adult.

Tips for Talking with Your Teen About Drug Use

Informal interventions can help prevent experimentation and allow parents to gauge where their teen is regarding substance use. The goal is to educate them about the potential dangers of alcohol and drug use and dispel any misinformation they may have. Consider the following tips to help navigate this critical conversation:

  • Educate yourself – Gather up-to-date, accurate information on drug use, its impacts, and potential risks so you are prepared to correctly address questions, concerns, or disagreements.
  • Choose the right time and place – Find a comfortable and private setting where you can have an uninterrupted conversation, and avoid doing so when your teen is already upset or stressed.
  • Practice active listening – Give your teen the space to express thoughts, feelings, and opinions, and listen without interrupting.
  • Be non-confrontational – Demonstrate that you genuinely care about your teens’ well-being and intend to help, not lecture or accuse them.
  • Be empathetic – approach the conversation with understanding, demonstrate empathy, and validate their feelings.
  • Use open-ended questions – encourage your teen to share their knowledge and experiences with drugs by using open-ended questions, like “What do you know about the risks of teenage drug use?”
  • Set clear expectations and boundaries – Communicate your expectations about drug use, emphasizing your teen’s well-being, and outline the consequences for breaking the rules.

Above all, understand that your attitudes and behaviors regarding drugs significantly impact your teen’s perspectives, so model the behavior you’d like to see in them. Finally, ensure your teen knows they can always come to you for help, support, and guidance.

Contact Vertava Health’s Teen Addiction Treatment Program

Vertava Health is committed to helping parents and teens address substance use, mental health, and co-occurring disorders. Contact us at 844.470.0410 to learn the signs of teenage drug use. We can help your child heal and grow.