Signs of Substance Abuse in Teens

Teen Addiction Myths

Parenthood is a fantastic phase of life – you get to watch a child you love and adore grow, learn, and play. But sometimes, it can also be the most challenging part of your life – primarily through 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 worldwide struggle to cope with aspects of life that are relatively new to them: adult emotions, physical changes, responsibility, and the like – it can be hard to manage. This can develop into behavioral troubles if left unchecked, or even more dangerous activities such as substance abuse. Below is our list of five warning signs your teen is drinking or abusing drugs.


Sometimes when children and teens begin to experience the complex emotional, mental, and physical changes that come 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 vital signs of developing an addiction.

If your child suddenly 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 firm 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.


Do you know your child’s friends? If you don’t, you need 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 certain individuals, forbidding contact or any other drastic measure may backfire. But by making your opinion and your concerns known, your child will re-evaluate that person’s place in their life.

Teen with substance abuse disorder

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 used to, or your son suddenly has a new best friend who seems to be perpetuating this shifty behavior. Please 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.


Where oh where did your sweet baby go?! Suddenly, there’s the attitude being spewed constantly, slamming doors, missed curfews,or loss of interest in hobbies. 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 various illicit substances can also trigger 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 be open with you about anything.


If your child utilizes 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 covering all the core subjects or several shorter courses from which they migrate back and forth. Either way, it’s not uncommon for parents to want their children 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 automatically associate a correlation between this decline and substance abuse; it can come from many causes, including stress, a new environment, trouble in the home, or other reasons. However, as with the other signs on this list, if you do suspect a problem with substance abuse, early intervention could be what stands between your child and a path best left unfollowed.


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

Does your child always seem to need to stay home the day after a missed curfew or another 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 entirely 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 standard across all substances for withdrawal, which can occur after any amount of drug use. If your child seems to exhibit these symptoms continuously, take the steps necessary to investigate their source.

If you suspect your teen is struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, Safe Landing is here to help. To get advice or learn more about our teen substance abuse treatment programs, call 844-486-7205.


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