Signs of Substance Abuse in Teenagers 

Since addiction is a progressive disease, it can be difficult to identify substance use in teenagers. Unhealthy patterns can develop into substance use disorder if left untreated. It’s important to communicate with your children frequently so that you know their passions, interests, and hobbies. This will help you recognize the early warning signs of addiction, as it will become more apparent when something is wrong.

Often, mood swings can be attributed to changing hormones and development during adolescence. Although, if physical or behavioral changes are present in addition to shifts in mood, this may indicate a bigger problem. A teenager’s brain is more susceptible to addiction because it is still developing. As a parent, you can never intervene too soon. When you can recognize the signs and symptoms of drug abuse in teens and young adults, you will better understand when to seek professional help.

What are some early signs of drug or alcohol use in teenagers and young adults?

There are several behavioral, psychological, and physical signs and symptoms that may indicate drug or alcohol use. These can include:

Behavioral symptoms

  • Avoiding eye contact.
  • Ignoring or breaking curfew.
  • Changing friends or social circles.
  • Missing school, work, and/or extracurricular activities.
  • Poor performance at school or work (decline in grades). 
  • Getting into conflicts or trouble.
  • Stealing, borrowing, or frequently asking for money.
  • Unusual mood changes (becoming defiant, uncooperative, or hostile).
  • Displaying aggressive behavior or anger.
  • Increased illegal activity or behavior, acting irresponsibly.
  • Loss of interest in activities, passions, or hobbies.
  • Isolating themselves from friends or family.
  • Acting secretive and/or having a new demand for privacy (locking bedroom 

doors, etc.).

  • Lack of respect for authority.
  • Complaints from teachers or classmates regarding unusual behavior.
  • Making excuses or lying.

Psychological symptoms

  • Poor concentration or ability to focus.
  • Memory problems.
  • Paranoia or being fearful for no apparent reason.
  • Extremely tired or hyperactive. 
  • Irritability, anger, or emotional instability.
  • New symptoms of depression and/or anxiety.
  • Extreme highs and lows.
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior.

Physical symptoms

  • Rapid weight gain/loss or changes in appetite.
  • Poor hygiene/changes in appearance.
  • Glazed and/or bloodshot eyes.
  • Frequent nosebleeds or runny nose (due to snorting substances).
  • Coordination problems.
  • Sweating, headaches, or nausea/vomiting. 
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Excessive thirst (may result from marijuana use). 
  • Puffy, swollen face.
  • Seizures (without a history of epilepsy or other seizure disorders).
  • Cold, sweaty palms, shaking hands, tremors, or teeth clenching.
  • Frequent accidents or injuries (bruises, cuts, sores, etc.). 
  • Constant scratching (common sign of opiate use).
  • Track marks on arms or legs from intravenous substance use.
  • Wearing long sleeves, even when it’s hot out (to cover up marks).

It’s important to note that some of the symptoms listed above may also indicate another condition, unrelated to drug and/or alcohol use. Although, the more of these signs that are present simultaneously, the more likely it is that your teen or young adult is struggling with a substance use disorder.

What are risk factors that can contribute to developing a substance use disorder?

There are various risk factors that can predispose adolescents or young adults to drug and/or alcohol use. These can include family, individual, and miscellaneous risk factors. 

Family risk factors

Studies have revealed that if there is a history of addiction in parents and/or other family members, then there is a higher likelihood of children developing a substance use disorder. Research from the Yale University School of Medicine indicates that first-degree relatives (children, siblings, and parents) of alcoholics have eight times the risk of developing alcoholism than individuals without a family history. 

Additionally, there are several other family risk factors that can contribute to the development of a substance use disorder. These can include inadequate parental supervision, inconsistent or severe discipline, poor communication, family tensions/conflicts, violence, physical or emotional abuse, mental illness, and unstable home environments.

Individual risk factors

Another important risk factor is an individual’s age. The younger a person is exposed to alcohol and/or drugs, the more likely they are to develop an addiction. Research from the National Institute of Mental Health suggests that the brain isn’t fully developed until a person reaches their mid-twenties. This means that alcohol and drug use can damage the brain as it’s developing, resulting in future issues. 

Furthermore, exposure to stress and certain behavioral traits in individuals can put a person at risk for drug and/or alcohol use. For example, being impulsive or aggressive, struggling with an undiagnosed mental health condition, or suffering from trauma due to emotional or physical abuse in early childhood are just a few contributing factors. When a child struggles with emotional, social, or academic difficulties, this can greatly influence whether they turn to drugs and/or alcohol as well. Many teens struggling with addiction also have a co-occurring mental health disorder. 

Miscellaneous risk factors

There are many additional factors that can contribute to the development of a substance use disorder. For instance, peer pressure and lack of support can play a major role, particularly when substance use is “normalized” among peers. When adolescents spend time with other teens engaging in risky, unhealthy behaviors, they are more likely to engage in those behaviors themselves. Despite what teens may think, even casual drug use can lead to abuse and addiction, causing health issues, financial problems, and legal trouble.

Additionally, socioeconomic status, level of education, living environment (high crime neighborhoods), and ease of substance availability can also be considered contributing risk factors.

Treatment for addiction in teens and young adults 

At Feinberg Consulting, we understand that it’s difficult to navigate the next steps when your child is struggling with a substance use disorder. Our team of highly trained and experienced professionals is here to offer the necessary guidance and support. We can help you determine the best care options for your child. This may consist of a program that includes coaching, therapy, and accountability, or if necessary, a treatment facility level of care.

When given the right care and support, teenagers and young adults struggling can move forward on the path toward hope and healing. Remember that it’s never too late to seek help for your loved ones. 

Are you or a loved one in need of support and guidance?

When your teen is struggling with a substance use disorder, it can be challenging to find the right care and recovery resources. At Feinberg Consulting, our team of highly trained professionals is here to help you. Contact us today to learn more.

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