How can I Tell if my Teenager is Abusing Drugs?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 19 October 2019
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Teenager drug abuse is often marked by warning signs, but many parents miss these indicators because they’re often not too different from what is often seen as regular teenage behavior. Some of the physical signs may indicate physical illness instead of drug abuse. If you notice some of the following possible symptoms of drug abuse, your first stop might be to insist on a medical professional physically examining your teen.

First, it is important to note that teenager drug abuse does not simply apply to “street drugs.” Many teens also abuse prescription drugs, like Ritalin®, or over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. Further, some teens may experiment with inhalants that are potentially deadly on the first try. If another family member takes prescriptions and the pills come up short, it's important to keep a close watch, and perhaps keep these prescriptions under lock and key. As well, researching OTC drugs and household chemicals that might be subject to abuse can give you valuable information.


Drug abuse can have a variety of symptoms in teens. These include physical and emotional symptoms, and changes in social life, school life, and problems with family relationships. Some or all of these might apply to teenager drug abuse, but on the other hand, may merely indicate problems with adolescent life and changing bodies, or physical or mental illness. Should you see these symptoms emerging, it is better to go the extra mile in identifying the cause, since drug abuse in teens can quickly lead to long term addiction, permanent physical damage, or accidental death.

Physical symptoms of drug abuse can include excessive tiredness, persistent cough, red or watery eyes, and frequent illnesses. You may be able to tell if your teen has used drugs or alcohol by smelling his or her breath, noting hangover symptoms, or by the teen clearly acting disoriented or stoned. When the cause is not evident, the above symptoms should be cause for a physical examination of the teen to make sure no other illnesses are present and to rule out teenager drug abuse.

Drug use can also result in mood changes. These could mean a teen becomes more withdrawn or secretive, or seems depressed. Sudden mood changes are also suspect. Lack of interest in life or low self-esteem may also be caused by drugs. When these mood changes occur, many attribute them to normal teen behavior, but a child who persistently has quick mood changes or who has suddenly become withdrawn and secretive may be best served by examination by a mental health professional.

While it is normal for teens to have more conflict with family as they assert their independence, constant arguments or complete withdrawal from the family may suggest teenager drug abuse. Constant rule breaking, like ignoring curfews, could also be caused by drug use. The teen's school might report a drop in grades, cutting school, or poor behavior. When this behavior is sudden in a teen who has generally gotten along well in school or at home, you should consider drugs as a possible cause.

You also need to evaluate the type of friends your teenager has. Friends who appear to exhibit poor judgment, or who you know do abuse drugs, are more likely to exert social pressure on your child to use drugs or alcohol. Getting to know your kids’ friends and what they are like can often be an excellent way to help prevent teenager drug abuse. Kids that exhibit these symptoms are a risk factor for your teenager.

Most studies suggest that parents do not talk to their teens soon enough, or long enough, about drug use. This needs to be an ongoing discussion in your home. Teenagers also benefit from supervision, and attending parties that are not chaperoned, or “hanging out” without providing parents with an itinerary often leaves the teen more open to using drugs. Insisting on greater vigilance of a teen is not going to win a parent any popularity contests, but this vigilance can prove life saving. If your teen can’t thank you now, he or she very well may thank you later.


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Post 3

High school variables have changed a lot in couple of years, now teens experiment more and more with anything that gets them high. Even teens abuse prescription drugs like vicodin, oxyContin, etc.

Post 2

anon19712 - I haven't heard of people smoking vicodin. I thought it was only taken in pill form. I suppose one could smoke it, but I don't see how that would benefit them any more than just taking it in pill form.

Post 1

Do people smoke vicoden??

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