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Teens and Substance Use: How to Recognize It

Did you know an individual is seven times more likely to develop a substance abuse problem if they try drugs before the age of 21? That’s why parents need to be diligent about their children abusing substances.

However, it’s not always easy to identify teen substance use. Your teen wants to hang with friends, they could be stressed from school, or are going through normal teenaged mood swings.

But teen substance use comes with its own unique set of warning signs. Here’s how to recognize teen addiction and what you can do to help.

Behavioral and Physical Signs

The easiest way to recognize teenage drug use is to identify changes in their behavior. Certain behavioral patterns make the presence of alcohol and drug use easier to recognize. But alcohol and drug use present unique behavioral patterns that are easier to identify.

Some signs of alcohol and drug use to look for include:

  • Ignoring or breaking curfew
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Asking for money (more than usual)
  • Being irresponsible
  • Locking their door
  • Stealing from you or others
  • Isolation
  • Making secretive calls and texts
  • Withdrawing from school and slipping grades
  • Missing school and/or work
  • Making excuses or lying
  • Resisting your discipline
  • Abandoning friends
  • Losing interest in activities and hobbies

Keep in mind, these behaviors may not always present a drug or alcohol problem. While some, such as breaking curfew, are obvious, there could be many other reasons why your teen is avoiding eye contact or asking for money.

That’s why you’ll also want to look at these physical symptoms:

  • Bloodshot or glazed eyes
  • Change in appearance
  • Paranoia
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Difficulty staying focused
  • Changes in attitude and mood
  • Large pupils
  • Track marks on arms or wearing long sleeves in warm weather
  • Mouth sores
  • Shaky hands
  • Puffy face
  • Frequent headaches
  • Rapid weight loss or gain
  • Extremely hyperactive or tired

Keep in mind, when we say “substance use problem,” we’re not only mentioning drugs and alcohol. Cigarettes and vaping are dangerous to health and finances. Also look for symptoms of nicotine addiction, especially at such an early age.

What You Can Do

As a parent, you understand you can only control so much. But if you suspect your child has a substance use problem, you need to address it before it spirals out of control.

First, never ignore the warning signs stated previously. If something seems off, confront your child. However, you don’t want to be a helicopter parent. Try and subtly get them to start talking.

For example, let’s say your child pursued music and suddenly stopped. You also noticed other symptoms, such as wearing long sleeves when it’s warm outside. You may have noticed them being more isolated.

Start by asking them why they don’t pursue music anymore. If they don’t give an answer, remind them it’s hot outside and they may want to change clothes. If they’re still not talking, then try and be more diligent about what they’re doing when you’re not around.

Something else you can do is talk to their friends, especially if they no longer talk to close childhood friends. A common situation that occurs is your teen developed a new social circle and ditched their old friends for their new ones.

Their old friends will likely know about a substance use problem before you, and a good friend will be willing to talk to the parent in order to prevent a bad situation.

What if you do discover your teen is abusing substances? A mistake that parents make is rationalizing their behavior. It’s best to have open and honest discussions. Try to not intimidate them or make them feel like they’re in trouble.

The most important thing is to avoid a bad situation or a substance use problem. By addressing the dangers of substance use to your child early on, you may be able to turn their life around early.

Risk Factors

While this isn’t always the case, there are many risk factors that can leave a teenager prone to developing a substance use problem in the future. We can use the FACTS acronym: Family, Age, Cravings, Tolerance, and Surroundings.

  • Family: If substance abuse is in your family, your child will be more likely to develop a problem themselves.
  • Age: The younger a person is when they start experimenting with substances, the more likely they will develop a substance use disorder.
  • Cravings: Related to age, the younger a person is when they experiment with substances, the more they will deal with cravings.
  • Tolerance: As they start using substances more, they will develop a tolerance to use more of the substance and at larger doses.
  • Surroundings: The child’s surroundings play a major part in them developing a substance use disorder. The prime example is the friends they have.

It’s also common for someone to develop a substance use problem because they have an existing mental disorder.

Why You Need to Act Now

Many teenagers experiment with drugs and alcohol. They may not think it’s dangerous. However, casual drug and alcohol use can lead to an addiction, which can cause financial problems, health issues, and even legal trouble as your teen grows up.

As a parent, it’s important to not only enforce discipline but to spend time with them. Check-in regularly with all aspects of their life, such as school and their friends.

Always remember that addiction is a disease. It doesn’t mean your child is a failure or you’re a bad parent. But understand it’s never too late to change your child’s life for the better.

Get Help for a Teen Addiction

Teen addiction can be treated early on to ensure that these problems don’t continue in their adult years. If you’re based in Houston, we offer an adolescent inpatient treatment program.

We not only provide education but also offer multiple services to ensure your teen lives a healthy life. These services include individual therapy, dual diagnosis problems, and recovery aftercare. We accept all teens between the ages of 13-17 with a substance use problem.

Are you ready to get started? Contact us today.

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