5 Warning Signs of Teen Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Recognizing the Signs of Teen Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Parenthood is an amazing phase of life: you get to watch a child you love grow and learn. But sometimes it can also be the most challenging part of your life – especially during puberty and adolescence. It’s only natural that eventually our children will want more freedom and one day leave the nest; but sometimes the signs we interpret as typical teenage angst are more than that. Sometimes our teens cry out for help in ways we don’t even realize.

Teenagers the world over struggle with coping with aspects of life that are relatively new to them: adult emotions, physical changes, and additional responsibility. This can develop into behavioral troubles if left unchecked, or even more dangerous activities such as substance abuse. Below is our list of 5 warning signs your teen is drinking or abusing drugs.

1. Shifty Behavior/Social Withdrawal

Sometimes when children and teens begin to experience the complex emotional, mental, and physical changes that come along with approaching adulthood, one of the primary signs is a withdrawal from communication or sudden disconnection from others. That’s understandable: how can you communicate something you don’t quite understand yourself? However, it’s important not to brush these things off as just a “teenage thing,” as you could be ignoring important signs of a developing addiction.

If you child sudden insists you don’t enter their room or avoids questions regarding their whereabouts, it’s a sure sign that something is amiss. Sneaking out, missing curfews, and other abnormal behaviors meant to hide their actions are also definite signs that it’s time to intervene. While you may not want to push or prod in fear of worsening the situation, you mustn’t ignore your parental instincts either. Be strong in your intent, but soft in your delivery; you want your child to know you love and understand them, not view you as a judgmental figure.

2. Changes in Their Friend Circle

Do you know your child’s friends? If you don’t, you need to get to know them: they are the second most influential relationships your child has outside of the family. Being able to spot troubling characters among the people your child spends most of their time with can help you intervene before trouble begins. Understand, however, that though you may express your concerns about this person, forbidding contact or any other drastic measure may backfire. But by making your opinion and your concerns known, you child will re-evaluate that person’s place in their life.

If you do know your child’s circle of friends, have you noticed any changes? Maybe your daughter doesn’t talk about Vicki as much as she use to, or your son suddenly has a new best friend who seems to be perpetuating this shifty behavior. Take note of these things: yes, they may be nothing, but it’s better to be safe and conscious of these things than to be blindsided by a later revelation.

3. Personality Changes

Where oh where did your sweet baby go?! Suddenly now there’s attitude being spewed constantly, slamming doors, missed curfews, loss interest in hobbies, and the like. Your child that was once a chatterbox now hardly says a word. Your easy going little boy has suddenly developed a short fuse; your little princess has become unruly and defiant. You may again think this is simply part of growing up and going through puberty and, at least partially you’re right: the emotional turbulence which signifies chemical changes in the brain could very well be the culprit for why you are suddenly living with a stranger.

The trouble is that a variety of illicit substances can also rile these kinds of changes: alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, meth, etc. Of course, that in itself is not enough cause to invade your child’s privacy to do a drug sweep or take other drastic measures; but it is enough to sit down and have a serious heart-to-heart about what may be causing these changes. Make sure your child feels heard and knows you are always there for support and guidance, then leave the ball in their court. Establishing this kind of trust early in your relationship will help them to be open with you about anything.

4. Decline in School Performance

If your child is in utilizing the traditional means of getting an education, odds are they spend anywhere from six to eight hours in school. Depending on their grade level and school curriculum, they may have one central class which covers all the core subjects or they may have several shorter classes from which they migrate back and forth. Either way, it’s not uncommon for parents to want their child to perform at their best when it comes to school, so a notable decline in school performance can be alarming.

I urge you not to just to a correlation between this decline and substance abuse; it can come from any number of causes including stress, a new environment, trouble in the home, or other reasons. However, as with the other signs on this list, early intervention could be what stands between your child and a path best left unfollowed.

5. Getting Sick More Often

Kids get sick; it’s all a part of growing up. You come into contact with new, foreign viruses and bacteria and you catch the common cold, the flu, or chickenpox. Some of us may have even  tangoed with an even more dangerous  illness like pneumonia or malaria. However, if it seems your child is constantly sick and there’s no medical reason for it, it might not be illness: it might be a hangover, or other ill effect of substance abuse.

Does your child always seem to need to stay home the day after a missed curfew or other unexplained lapse in time? Are they lethargic and cranky? Sensitive to sunlight and prone to bringing breakfast back up? Don’t those sound like classic symptoms of a hangover? Don’t rule that option out completely just because your child is underage, especially if you keep alcohol on hand or it is available at someone else’s house for consumption. These symptoms are also fairly common across all substances for withdrawal, which can occur after any amount of drug use. If your child seems to continuously exhibit these symptoms, take the steps necessary to investigate their source.

If you suspect your teen is struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, Safe Landing is here to help.


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