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Especially for Parents and Caregivers
Substance Abuse in Adolescents and Teens

After spending most of their life being influenced by their parents/caregivers, teens are also being influence by other individuals – most often their peers. 

Risks facing teenagers are very real.   Peer pressure – the urge to fit in. During this time, your kid may seek greater independence and acceptance by friends, risk taking, rebellion.  Teens today are exposed to a different set of cultural/societal pressures not found during the baby boomer years.  According to Monitoring The Future – NIDA survey, the drugs most frequently abused by teens: methamphetamine, prescription drugs, marijuana, alcohol, nicotine, inhalants and ecstasy.  While they may seem like harmless party drugs, all of them carry serious short and long term side effects.

When your kid reaches adolescence they still need their parents close enough to talk about problems yet far enough so they can make informed decisions for themselves.   Use the early adolescent years and teen years to connect with your teen and help guide them through these interesting and challenging years. 

Here are some helpful hints from the APA:

  • Spend time together – talk open and honestly
  • Praise your teen on their accomplishments, no matter how small.  Be careful not to criticize.
  • Listen to them.
  • Have regular meals with your teen and the family – despite all of their extracurricular activities
  • Know your teen’s friends and know their parents.  Do they respect your rules?
  • Set rules and limits
  • Discuss risky behaviors
  • Be firm but not intrusive or too restrictive
  • Be specific about substance abuse and avoidance – discuss scenarios they might encounter and what to do when “pushed to the wall” when offered drugs and/or alcohol
  • Set consequences for breaking rules
  • Do you know where your teen is after school and with whom he/she is spending time?

Despite all the education and awareness given by both parent and school, adolescents and teens are still going to be confronted with reality. 

Be observant:

  • Is your teen unusually stressed – family life, academic/sports pressures or physical appearance?
  • Is your teen susceptible to peer pressure, lack strong coping skills, depressed or suffer from anxiety?
  • Does your teen bore easily and is in constant need for stimulation and excitement?
  • Noticeable changes in behavior, attitudes or grades?
  • Is your teen going through a transition – new school, neighborhood, entering middle school or high school, learning how to drive?
  • Is your teen already experiencing minor legal trouble?
  • Is your teen surrounded by a family with a history of substance abuse, violence or mental health problems?

If you notice unexplained changes in physical appearance or behavior, it may be a sign of  substance use – or it could be a sign of another problem. You will not know definitively until a professional does a screening.

Physical Signs

  • Change in sleeping patterns
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Slurred or agitated speech
  • Sudden or dramatic weight loss or gain
  • Skin abrasions/bruises
  • Neglected appearance/poor hygiene
  • Sick more frequently
  • Accidents or injuries

Behavioral Signs

  • Hiding use; lying and covering up
  • Sense that the person will "do anything" to use again regardless of consequences
  • Loss of control or choice of use (drug-seeking behavior)
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Emotional instability
  • Hyperactive or hyper-aggressive
  • Depression
  • Missing school or work
  • Failure to fulfill responsibilities at school or work
  • Complaints from teachers or co-workers
  • Reports of intoxication at school or work
  • Furtive or secretive behavior
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Locked doors
  • Going out every night
  • Change in friends or peer group
  • Change in clothing or appearance
  • Unusual smells on clothing or breath
  • Heavy use of over-the-counter preparations to reduce eye reddening, nasal irritation, or bad breath
  • Hidden stashes of alcohol
  • Alcohol missing from your supply
  • Prescription medicine missing
  • Money missing
  • Valuables missing
  • Disappearances for long periods of time
  • Running away
  • Secretive phone calls
  • Unusual containers or wrappers

What Do You Do If You Suspect You Teen Is Using Drugs?

  • Learn all you can about alcohol and all types of  drugs
  • Sit down with your teen (when she/she is not high) and talk calmly with him/her about what you noticed and try to remain non-judgmental..
  •  Get an evaluation from a health professional skilled in diagnosing adolescents with meth, and other substance abuse problems. You may want to get involved with an intervention program to learn techniques that will help convince a drug user to accept help. For the user, there are self-help, outpatient, day care, residency, and 24-hour hospitalization programs.
  •  The right treatment program depends entirely on the circumstances and the degree of drug involvement. Here, you'll need professional help to make an informed choice.
  • Family participation is the key to success. This can mean personal or family counseling. It may also involve participating in a support group where you learn about co-dependency and how not to play into the problems that might prompt further drug use.
  • Act now and get help.


To Find out more About Alcohol and Drug Rehab Treatment Programs, call 888-287-6091 for information about treatment facilities in your area.  Or call your family doctor, local hospital or county mental health society or school counselor for a referral.

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