Prevention Tips: The 9 Most Common Signs of Drug Use in Teenagers

teenage drug abuse

There were more than 47,000 opioid-related drug deaths in 2017.

With staggering numbers like that, it’s no surprise that parents are hyper-vigilant about signs of drug use in their teenagers. Parents want to keep their kids safe, and no one can argue that.

Here are the top 5 most common signs of drug use in teenagers.

Signs of Drug Use in Teenagers Can Be Difficult to Monitor

Because teenagers are going through so many changes, it can be difficult to pinpoint whether the changes they’re experiencing are normal life changes, or due to drug use.

1. Be Aware of Mood Changes

Teenagers are moody, so a mood change alone shouldn’t be cause for alarm. If your normally happy and talkative teen is suddenly moody and sullen, it could just be that they got left on open on Snapchat — or it could be a sign of drug use.

Teenagers are experiencing huge change and high school is a difficult time. With that in mind, while mood change is the first red flag, there are some other signs to watch for.

Another thing to consider is changes in personality. If your teen is normally bubbly and happy and is suddenly sullen and withdrawn, that may be a sign of drug use. Parents should also be mindful of whether their child is experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety.

2. New Friend Groups

Your teen getting a new friend group, along with mood changes as discussed above, is an indicator that your child may be using drugs. The change of friends may be sudden, gradual, and/or frequent. Typically, the friends are those whom their parents are unfamiliar with or disapprove of.

Again, a new or evolving friend group can’t be the only sign that sends you off the deep end into believing your child is using drugs. Keep an eye out for multiple red flags.

3. Curfew Violations

Suddenly beginning to violate curfew is another warning sign of drug use in teenagers. A one-time slip up shouldn’t be cause for alarm, but developing a pattern of disregard for the curfew or time agreements you set in place is something to look in to.

While sometimes kids do just get caught up with their friends or boyfriends or girlfriends, a teen who is seeking drugs or using drugs and losing track of time (or disregarding time completely) will likely make up lies to cover their tracks.

4. Lack of Motivation

Are you noticing a drop in your teenager’s normal good grades? This is another warning sign to look for. Is your teen no longer interested in going out with family or friends, instead preferring to hang out in their rooms, alone?

A lack of motivation paired with one or more of the other warning signs above is another red flag that your teen may be using drugs.

5. Changes in Appearance

Is your teen all of a sudden dressing differently? Have they either dropped or gained a significant amount of weight in a short period of time? Are they suddenly careless about their hygiene?

Carelessness in hygiene in a previously image-conscious teen is a giant red flag that your turn is abusing drugs. In addition to an unusual fluctuation in weight, these are a couple of things to keep your finger on the pulse of if you suspect your teen is at risk.

6. Skipping Class or Skipping School Altogether

Skipping class or skipping school altogether is something parents should be cautious of when considering whether their teen is using drugs. Truancy and drug use go hand in hand: It may start with one or the other, but research has shown that an increase of one generally begets an increase in the other.

Unsupervised teens are more likely to act out in ways such as drug or alcohol use. Similarly, teens who are already abusing drugs will seek out unsupervised time to continue the use of said drugs.

7. Possession of Drug Paraphernalia

Obviously, if your child has a pipe or other blatant paraphernalia, it’s time to talk about drug use with your kid. Other types of paraphernalia can be more subtle.

Zip to lock jewelry bags, sandwich bags, aluminum foil, scales, lighters, needles, short straws, razors, vials, or capsules, can all also be paraphernalia and cause for alarm. Your teen may also have a grinder, rolling papers or cigars, vape pens, or Juuls.

9. Family History is a Risk Factor

If you or someone else in your immediate family has a history of addiction, it’s actually a risk factor when considering whether other family members will suffer from addiction.

There have actually been genetic studies done that reflect a real correlation between genes and addiction. This is especially true if your child was exposed, at any age, to drug use. Research has shown that teens exposed to illicit drug and alcohol use have a heightened risk for adult substance dependence, among other serious risk factors, including the risk of incurable STDs, teenage pregnancy, and crime.

What Now?

It can be difficult to parent a child on drugs, and it’s easy to blame yourself. It is also easy to mistake the signs of drug use in teenagers for regular teenage rebellion. Either way, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open between yourself and your teen.

Not everything has to be difficult. Click here to find out how to talk to your teen about drug use.

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Content Reviewed by Jacklyn Steward

Jacklyn StewardJacklyn is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and an EMDR trained trauma therapy specialist with over 6 years of experience in the field of addiction. She has a Masters Degree in Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counseling from Nova Southeastern University.