Signs of Drug Abuse in Teens

There are a number of signs of drug abuse in teenagers; being able to recognize them is critical. Hormones sometimes bring out the worst in teens, especially when it comes to moodiness and some degree of rebellion. But when your gut tells you that something else might be going on, it's good to know the warning signs and how to react.

"Why Weren't You at School Today?"
Samantha always loved going to school. A popular high school sophomore, she enjoyed going to class, having lunch with her friends and participating in extracurricular activities. She appeared to be like any other healthy, well-adjusted teenager.

In her parents' eyes, Samantha seemed to change almost overnight. Her interest in school dwindled. On several occasions, she was caught playing hooky. Other times, she would claim to be ill so that she didn't have to go. Teachers who once praised her began to complain that she was talking back in class and not living up to her full potential. Her grades also began to suffer.

According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, truancy, attitude problems and a sudden, dramatic drop in grades could be signs that a teen is abusing drugs. While there might be other reasons for such behavior, it is important not to ignore the signs that something is amiss. Parents should also merely avoid reprimanding the teen without closely investigating the problem.

Paul was generally an upbeat teen. Though he would occasionally argue with his parents about curfew or using the family car, he was not one to let negative feelings fester. It was more important to him to get along with his parents and have peace at home than it was for him to always have his own way.

Over time, Paul became more moody and confrontational. He would snap at his younger siblings over trivial things, barely speak to his parents and lock himself in his room for hours at a time. He became hostile toward his family and would increasingly raise his voice, use profanity and slam doors. His mom thought that perhaps he was depressed over a recent breakup with a girlfriend, which made perfect sense given that they had dated since seventh grade. The thought never would have occurred to her that Paul was abusing alcohol.

Although it is common for teens to experience occasional mood swings and sometimes test their parents' boundaries, dramatic changes in behavior should not merely be attributed to teen angst. When teens begin to form negative patterns of behavior at home, such as picking fights with family members, ignoring and breaking curfew and other rules, or withdrawing, this should raise concerns about potential drug abuse.

For years, Zach cherished his childhood friends, Rick and Troy, whom he had known since the fifth grade. They would hang out at each other's houses regularly, and all of their parents knew each other well.

During Zach's junior year of high school, his parents saw increasingly less of Rick and Troy in their home and more of a new kid at school named Spencer. Spencer was not very warm or friendly whenever he came around, and Zach seemed to be a different person when he was with him. Rather than hang out at the house, they would leave and be gone for hours. Zach had been grounded several times for breaking curfew, which he never did when he was with Rick and Troy.

When teens suddenly change friends and their behavior changes for the worst as a result of these new associations, this should present a red flag for parents. New friends who show little interest in your family, or who encourage your child to break the rules, deserve close scrutiny. While it's normal for kids to test boundaries and to seek associations with older teens, especially those who can drive, some of these friendships can leave younger teens vulnerable to peer pressure.

Jacqueline had always been a beautiful girl. Quite statuesque for a high school freshman, she had her share of admirers and was never without a boyfriend. She also was highly outgoing and enjoyed cheerleading, drama and working on community service projects.

Toward the end of her freshman year, Jacqueline's parents began to notice that she was losing a great deal of weight and wanted to sleep every chance she got, instead of participating in the activities that she had previously enjoyed so much. When she was awake, her eyes were often red and she was very lethargic. Her parents attributed her behavior to burnout, regretting that they had not talked to her previously about pacing herself and committing to too many activities. What they didn't realize was that Jacqueline was abusing drugs.

When a teen begins to look worn out, act sluggish and lose a substantial amount of weight over a short period of time, this may be a sign that he or she is abusing drugs. Another sign is red eyes and the excessive use of eye-drops or cologne, which may be an attempt to cover up one of the tell-tale signs of marijuana use.

Time is of the Essence
If you notice any dramatic physical or behavioral problems in your teen, it is important to act quickly. Even if your teen is not abusing drugs, he or she may be suffering from depression or have another health issue that warrants immediate attention. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry recommends taking your teen to the doctor for a complete physical, and following up if necessary with an evaluation by a mental health professional. Your prompt intervention can make all the difference in your teen's health and well-being.

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