7 Common Signs and Symptoms of Teen Drug Use

Behaviors fluctuate in adolescence. However, there are key signs of drug use that should trigger ACTION! More here on 7 common signs of teen drug use and what to do about them.

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Daily Drug Use Signals a Problem

While there are some surveys that indicate drug abuse among teenagers is decreasing, that does not mean the problem has gone away. It’s still common for teens to experiment with drug use for the purpose of fitting in, escaping from reality, or simply out of curiosity.

Could your teen be on the way to daily drug use? If you notice one or more of these seven signs of teen drug use in your child, it’s time to have a conversation with him or her and seek treatment if necessary.

Signs of Teen Drug Use

1. The Desire for Privacy Increases. 

All teenagers want some private space and that is completely normal. For this reason, you should remember to knock before entering your teen’s room. However, when the need for privacy becomes extreme, it could be a sign of drug use. There are some distinct ways that this can manifest.

For example, a teen who is attempting to hide their drug use might not answer openly to questions such as, “When will you be home?” or, “Who is going to the party?” Instead, s/he might become defensive and seek distance. So, when a child who typically responds to these questions openly begins to view them as an invasion of privacy, it is a sign that something may be wrong.

2. Old Friends Fade Away and New Ones Take Over. 

Childhood relationships don’t always make it through to adulthood. It’s a normal process if your child sees less of an old friend and begins to spend time with a new one. However, it becomes a concern if the entire crowd is replaced by new people.

This potential symptom of drug use is even more concerning when your child does not want you to meet those new friends. They might even get angry when you mention an old friend. This is because they understand that you may pick up on signs that those new buddies are involved in something that’s not in their best interest.

3. Hygiene and Clothing Habits Change. 

Another sign that your teen is using drugs includes changes in dress or hygiene. For example, your child used to do a good job of taking a shower, brushing after meals, and using deodorant. Lately, that seems to happen a little less each week. At first, it was a shower skipped one night, then it becomes several days in between baths. Things like brushing the hair or even washing the face just aren’t important anymore.

Teen drug use may manifest through other changes. For instance, even clothing choices may change. Perhaps your child used to take pride in creating outfits with matching pieces and made sure they were clean and free or any rips or tears. Now, it’s no big deal to step out in clothing that hasn’t seen the inside of a washing machine in some time.

Less diligence with personal hygiene, including the clothing your teen wears, could mean that something else has become more important than being clean and looking good. That something could be one or more drugs.

4. Former Interests Are Replaced With New Ones or Nothing at All. 

Hobbies and other interests do change over time. Typically, the changes are gradual rather than happening in quick succession. If your teen’s interests quickly change and the new interests seem to draw the teen further away from family and former friends, drugs may be involved.

You should also be concerned if those former interests are not replaced with anything at all. Apathy and lethargy can be symptoms of drug use.

A child who no longer finds joy in prior interests and would rather spend their time isolated or sleeping could be developing a serious drug dependency.

5. An Increased Need for Cash. 

Your teen may get a certain allowance which they can spend as they wish. If they begin to ask for more money than usual, it’s possible they could be spending that money on drugs. They might even lie about what they need the money for. For example, they might ask for money to go see a movie but then not be able to present a ticket stub to you.

If a teen with a drug abuse problem is not able to get the money they need to support their habit, they may resort to stealing money. If you notice cash missing from your wallet, this could be a sign of drug use.

6. Things Disappear Around the House. 

In addition to stealing money, teens addicted to drugs may also begin to steal items from their own house. Have you noticed any electronic devices, watches, jewelry, or other personal items missing from where they are normally stored? If so, it’s possible that your teen might have sold these items to raise money for drugs. When drug use becomes an addition, teens will do whatever it takes to get their hands on the drug. That includes stealing from people they love.

Keep in mind that if you mention the missing items, your teen may hint around that someone else is to blame while also denying any involvement. Be especially concerned if the denial comes with what appears to be an inordinate amount of anger. People with something to hide are more prone to respond in this manner when others are getting a little too close to the secret.

7. Grades and Attendance Have Declined.

Although drugs are not the only reason why your teen may start skipping classes or failing to do coursework, it is one of the more common reasons. While you want to keep a cool head, lower grades and reports that your child is not attending classes should be taken seriously. If the underlying cause is drugs, taking action now will save your teen from larger problems later on in life.

Teen Drug Use Can be Treated

You love your teen. You want the best for your child. If you see any of these symptoms developing, don’t write them off as being a natural part of adolescence.

Talk to your teen and find out if drugs are involved.

If your teen is taking drugs, know that help is available. Seek professional help for your teen and for yourself. With the aid of the right program, it’s possible for your teenager to recover from drug abuse and enjoy a productive life.

About the author
Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY17766), a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist and a Certified Youth Residential Treatment Administrator. Dr. Nalin is the Founder and Clinical Director of Paradigm Malibu and Paradigm San Francisco Adolescent Treatment Centers. He has been responsible for the direct care of young people at multiple institutions of learning including; The Los Angeles Unified School District, the University of California at San Diego, Santa Monica College, and Pacific University. He was instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.
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