Warning Signs of Teen Drug Abuse

There is a serious crisis in the US of teenagers abusing drugs. Did you know that as of 2015, “almost 50% of high school seniors have abused a drug of some kind?” The statistics are staggering. For these families, finding out that their teens are using and abusing drugs can be heartbreaking. Sadly, some parents confuse normal teenage behavior with some of the earliest warning signs. Teens can behave differently at the drop of a hat, but when these symptoms begin to stack up, the best thing you can do is bring them to a professional for an assessment. Here are some of the warning signs of teen drug abuse so that you can remain aware and vigilant in these trying times.

Changes in Behavior

According to Innovations In Clinical Neuroscience, “one of the earliest warning signs of teen drug abuse is changes in behavior and mannerism.” Changes in behavior can be characterized by sudden changes in friends, a change in sleeping habits, poor school performance and falling grades, or even a sudden desire for privacy or secrecy.

Changes in Friends and Interests

It’s normal for teenagers to make new friends and discover new interests; that’s part of growing up. But when your teenager is actively avoiding introducing you to their new friends or they’re simply leaving their old interests behind without seeking out a new one, that’s a huge red flag.

Take the time to ask about the sudden switch or disinterest. There’s a chance that your child could just be interested in exploring something new or that they’d like to take a break. In the same vein, don’t be fooled. A more serious matter could also be the cause.

Isolating Themselves

Your child might just be secretive or withdrawn by nature and that’s okay. But there’s a distinct difference between someone who is naturally more reserved and an extraverted child becoming more introverted, or an introvert withdrawing further. If this appears to be the case, take a closer look. Is your teen exhibiting any other signs of drug abuse? Are they avoiding eye contact and locking doors and disappearing for extended periods of time without explanation?

Illegal Activity/Behavior

Teens do push boundaries – some will tell white lies, skip classes, or act out just for the sake of acting out. However, this bad behavior could also be the result of illicit drugs. Skipping class could be the way they’re finding time to get high and stealing could be the way that they get the money in order to feed their habit. If you find that valuables and cash are suddenly missing, this could be the root of that.


Changes in Personality

With puberty, comes mood swings and while it’s easy to write off these personality changes as normal teenage behavior, it’s important not to ignore these signs. Apathy, lethargy, low productivity, and lack of self-control are major red flags for drug abuse in teenagers. Don’t take these lightly. Forgetfulness and an inability to focus are also key signs as often drug abuse leads to attention deficits and foggy headedness.

Manipulative/Aggressive Behavior

On the opposite side of the spectrum, teens under the influence can become manipulative and aggressive, arguing with their peers and authority figures and picking fights. Your child may become irritable, verbally abusive or even violent due to drug abuse. Teen angst is a real and completely natural part of growing up, but if a pattern arises, it’s important to reach out. Express your concern, gently explain things that you may have noticed and this could be the beginning of an important conversation.


Physical Changes

The physical changes that come along with drug abuse are quite apparent. Drugs take a physical toll on the body that can’t be ignored. Generally, a sudden and drastic disregard for their physical appearance is a sign of drug abuse. Sloppiness and decreased hygiene are two red flags that you shouldn’t ignore because they could also be the sign of mental health or medical issues. While this isn’t drug abuse, this still should not be ignored. If you or a friend is struggling, seek help. You are not alone.

These signs include:

  • Bloodshot Eyes
  • Sudden Weight Loss
  • Constant Scratching
  • Bumps and Bruises
  • Red, Flushed Cheeks
  • Fatigue and Drowsiness
  • Frequent Nosebleeds
  • Track Marks


Other Signs

Some of these signs are more noticeable than others. Similarly, the more signs are present, whether it be physical, personality, and behavioral changes, the more likely it is that your teen might be using. It’s really about context and nuance. You know your child best and can determine whether or not these changes are simply typical teenage behavior or the symptom of something more serious.

Serious red flags would be finding drug paraphernalia or residue or noticing that you’re missing medication, alcohol, or cigarettes. Once you begin to see these, it will become apparent that there is a serious issue. What’s most important now is that you make reach out to them and take action. Enlist the help of a primary care physician, school guidance counselor, or drug abuse treatment provider in your area. Most importantly, remember to get educated. That could make the difference between life and death.