Is Your Teen Using Drugs? Look for These Signs

Is my teen using drugs? This is perhaps one of the scariest questions you’ll ever ask yourself as a parent.One of the most important things a parent can do is to have a conversation about the risks involved with using drugs. Since adolescents are susceptible to peer influences and not always able to judge consequences before they happen, be sure to include (realistic) expectations and standards for behavior in that conversation with your teen. It may not be a fail-proof way to insure your loved ones don’t experiment with drugs, but it is helpful for teens to have some foundation upon which to base their life choices.Unwillingness of parents to invade their children’s privacy, or busy work lives that don’t leave time to notice unusual changes in their children are frequently cited reasons for lapsed communication between parents and teens. Being aware of some risk factors may help you help your teen and your family before drug use happens or gets out of control.

Is your teen using drugs? Do any of these risk factors apply?

Risk factors for Substance Abuse

  • Poor impulse control
  • Untreated mental health issues
  • Low perception of dangers involved with using drugs
  • Aggressive behavior in early childhood
  • History of trauma or abuse
  • Boredom
  • Proximity to neighborhoods with high crime

Adolescents are not great at seeing the link between their present actions and future outcomes. Many people think that experimentation with risky behaviors is a normal part of growing up. Using drugs is not a “rite of passage” and it is important as a parent to be aware of what is normal adolescent behavior and what could be a sign that your teen is on drugs. Possession of drug paraphernalia is an obvious indicator, but some objects, like tin foil, Ziploc baggies, balloons, mirrors, or folded paper envelopes might get past a parent’s radar.

Crankiness, locking doors, and not wanting to hang out with the family very much are frequently innocent–if annoying–consequences of puberty. Excessive importance placed on these behaviors, or in combination with some of the warning signs below, might indicate to you that it is time to step in.

Is your teen using drugs? Look for these physical, behavioral, and psychological signs:

Physical warning signs

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Unusually large or small pupils
  • Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Frequent nosebleeds or drippy nose (may indicate snorted drugs like meth or cocaine)
  • Impaired speech or body coordination
  • Rapid decline in personal grooming standards
  • Marked changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Withdrawal symptoms like picking at skin or hair

Behavioral and psychological warning signs

  • Paranoia
  • Hyperactivity
  • Theft
  • Poor academic performance and/or skipping classes
  • Change in relationships, friends, and hobbies
  • Use of “concealing” products, like eye drops, air freshener, perfume, or incense to cover up drug effects or odors
  • Excessive demands for privacy, isolation
  • Insistence on skipping family meal times

If you recognize some of these warning signs, it could mean your teen is using drugs. While doubtless you’ll be racking your brain for all the things you could have done differently as a parent, beating yourself up mentally is counter productive. There’s no such thing as a perfect parent or child and blaming yourself isn’t going to help. In fact, it could worsen things by creating divisions in the family at exactly the moment when sticking together is most important.

Be aware of how your reactions and behaviors may rub off on your teenagers. Any parent of adolescents is probably all too aware of how hard it can be to get your big kids to communicate with you. Jumping to conclusions or being judgmental is an easy mistake for a concerned or protective parent to make. It’s one you really want to avoid, however, as one of the most important things you can do if you suspect your teen is on drugs is to make sure he or she feels comfortable coming to you for help.



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