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Signs of Drug Use in Teens

teenage girl using drugs

Is your teen using drugs? According to the Centers for Disease Control, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the looming climate crisis, and social media anxiety, there has been a drastic increase in teenage drug use as they seek relief from stress and worry.

Below, we talk about the hallmarks of drug addiction and what drug use can look like in teens and young adults. Later we talk about the harmful effects that using drugs can have on the developing brain and offer resources for parents who want to get help for their child.

Experimentation with drugs at an early age can lead to teen drug abuse or alcohol abuse as an adult.

Signs of Drug Dependency

Addiction is a chronic brain disorder that will bulldoze forward regardless of who or what is in its path. According to medical research, people who are addicted will continuously engage in compulsive actions to find and secure their next fix, regardless of the consequences. When someone develops an unhealthy or uncontrollable craving for drugs or alcohol, they may be addicted. The definition of addiction recently changed to include categories outside of drug and alcohol addiction. Medical researchers now classify addiction as “any unhealthy activity that is a compulsory and uncontrollable habit.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people dependent on drugs exhibit specific characteristics that clue others into their dependency. Drug-dependent substance users don’t take a day off. Instead, they spend most of their day using their preferred drug of choice or engaging in drug-seeking behaviors. Clinical neuroscience research, reports that the dangers of substance use disorders can include developing poor judgment that can lead to safety issues, drug overdose, or even death.

5 Signs of Drug Use in Teens

Not all signs of teen drug use are as evident as glassy or dilated pupils or the telltale smell of liquor. Wearing long sleeves in warm weather or constantly having a runny nose are clues that high school seniors or college students may be engaging in marijuana use or using drugs as an escape from their troubles.

Below are five risk factors to help you figure out if your teen is displaying mental health risk factors, if it is just a phase your teen is going through or if they are displaying the early warning signs of drug use in teens.

Sign #1. – Persistent Requests or Demands for Money

One of the most apparent signs of teen drug use or abuse is when young adults make persistent requests for money. A teen who is suddenly asking for, borrowing, or stealing increasing amounts of cash may need it to purchase drugs. Sometimes a child will resort to blatantly obvious theft as a cry for help, knowing that a loved one will notice, and hoping they will take action. If your child has recently needed more money for seemingly no reason, they may be using.

Sign #2. – Antisocial Behaviors

Have you noticed that your child’s friend group has recently changed? Pay close attention to who your teenagers hang out with in their free time. Oftentimes when a teenager begins to use drugs, they will spend more time with other teens or adults who also use drugs. If they have been withdrawing from activities and interactions with their old friends, it can be a sign that their values are changing and that your teen is now gravitating towards other drug users.

Sign #3. – Changes in Sleep Patterns

While adolescents aren’t always known for having sensible and consistent sleep patterns, changes to their typical sleep schedule may be a sign that a teen has been drinking or under the influence of drugs. If your child has taken to sleeping in for long periods of time on the weekend or is often late to school on weekdays, something in your teen’s life may have changed.

Sign #4. – Sudden Bursts of Anger or Violence

If your teen is suddenly prone to bursts of angry or violent behavior, this can be a critical indicator that they are using or abusing drugs. Drug use in teens can alter the normal brain chemistry and cause erratic behavior towards friends and family members. Addiction can turn even the kindest individuals into mean, cruel shells of their former selves. If your child is using drugs, and you start to feel unsafe around them, it is vital that they receive treatment. This is especially true if your family history reflects a pattern of addiction or mental health issues.

Sign #5. – Physical Changes in Appearance

Sudden weight loss is one of the physical changes associated with substance abuse and drug use. Many substances such as cocaine, or Adderall reduce the appetite of the user. Additionally, substances such as tobacco and methamphetamine can yellow the user’s teeth. Lastly, the way that your child dresses could indicate drug use. If they are wearing long-sleeved clothing when it’s hot outside or wearing sunglasses when it’s not sunny, they may be trying to hide evidence of drug use.

How Drugs Affect Teen Behavior

One of the most insidious problems with teenage drug use is that an adolescent’s brain is likely not fully developed when they use drugs, and drugs have the capability to alter their brain chemistry permanently. Teenagers who abuse narcotics may experience impaired thinking skills or increased levels of anxiety and depression. Teens addicted to drugs can have extreme mood swings and periods of high and low energy that don’t appear to have any specific cause. They may show signs of emotional distress or emotional instability. Most teens who start using drugs before the age of 18 are at an increased risk of developing problems with addiction and impulse control later on in life.

Drug use in teens is also likely a sign of an underlying mental illness. Parents need to understand that often, teens use drugs to self medicate for a mental health related issue that they are struggling with. Drug use goes hand in hand with depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar disorder, and more. Teens need to develop healthy coping mechanisms to achieve their goals and sustain long term success.

Getting professional help and support can typically reverse the early effects of adolescent drug use and can address any underlying mental health conditions.

Where to Get Help for Teen Substance Abuse

Parents who want to get drug addiction treatment for teen drug abuse can start by researching addiction treatment options in their area. A wide range of substance use treatment centers and mental health services are available for a variety of specific circumstances and support.

Addiction treatment centers provide options that help people find inpatient and outpatient options for mental health treatment and drug and alcohol use disorders in teens. Inpatient treatment typically lasts around three to six months and includes group therapy, individual counseling, and drug rehabilitation, while outpatient treatment options may last anywhere from one week to twelve months and include groups or meetings and individual counseling. Detoxification centers offer short-term residential care for young adults who want to get clean before returning home or seeking longer-term outpatient care.

Teens struggling with the adverse effects of alcohol, tobacco, nicotine, marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, amphetamines, prescription drugs, or other substances, should seek help before their dependency or addiction becomes too much to handle.

If you are a parent of a teen struggling with substance abuse, consider Clear Recovery Center’s Teen Program in Los Angeles. Our program provides evidence-based, individualized treatment for teens struggling with drug abuse and mental health. Visit our treatment page to learn more about our program and what sets us apart from the rest.