Ten Signs Your Teen May Be Using Drugs

You’ve caught your high school student smoking marijuana. He swears it is the first time he’s tried it, and it won’t happen again. Is this just an adolescent “rite of passage”—or something far more serious?

“The drugs of choice among adolescents today are far different and much more powerful than those with which their parents may have experimented with as teenagers,” says Nancy Knott, MA, a Scripps substance abuse counselor and interventionist. “And the consequences of using them can be far more destructive, and even deadly.”

Drugs are more plentiful—and powerful—than ever before

The drugs of choice among adolescents today are far different and much more powerful than those parents experimented with as teenagers. Alcohol, marijuana and MDMA (“ecstasy”) are at the top of the list of the most popular drugs among adolescents. Prescription medications such as Oxycontin and Vicodin, along with over-the-counter cold medicines, are simply recreational drugs for some adolescents. Heroin began making a comeback several years ago and is now reaching epidemic proportions in some areas of the country.

Teen substance abuse is a significant problem. According to The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in 2009, 24 percent of high school students reported episodic heavy or binge drinking, and 10 percent reported driving a vehicle during the past 30 days after drinking alcohol. A 2010 survey conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), reported daily use of marijuana had increased among high school students from 2009 to 2010; among 12th graders, usage was at its highest point since the early 1980s

With increasing heroin use come other concerns. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports the purity of heroin in the U.S. increased from an average of approximately 7 percent a couple of decades ago to approximately 69 percent today. The increased purity, together with a decreased street price, are likely responsible for the growing number of young heroin users, who can snort the drug rather than inject it. Eventually, they may graduate to injecting the drug as their bodies become conditioned to its effects and they need stronger doses to get high.

How to recognize a problem before it's too late

Adolescent substance abuse can lead to number of other significant problems. Users are more likely to engage in risky behaviors such as unprotected sex or driving while under the influence.

How can you tell if your child is using drugs or alcohol? Finding drug paraphernalia is an obvious sign of substance abuse, but many other warning signs mirror typical adolescent behavior, such as:

  1. Mood swings or depression
  2. Dishonesty and secretiveness
  3. Anger, irritability or defensiveness
  4. Short-term memory loss
  5. Money missing in the home
  6. Suspicious phone calls or seemingly nonsensical text messages
  7. Unexplained weight loss, red eyes, poor hygiene
  8. Missing school or not coming home after school
  9. Associating with a new group of friends you barely know
  10. Trouble in school or with the police

Often, these warning signs go undetected for years. When parents write off such behaviors as “normal” without considering the possibility of a deeper problem, they miss the opportunity to recognize substance abuse until child has an addiction until it causes serious health, financial, or legal consequences.

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Lisa Ohmstede

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