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Trouble Signs with Teens and Drugs

Whether you’re the parent, sibling, relative, friend or educator of a teen, it pays to know the signs they may be in trouble with drugs. Throughout the U.S., drug use – illegal and prescription – is on the rise. Teens, natural experimenters and risk-takers, often gravitate toward drug use as an offshoot of alcoholic consumption. For teens, the average age to smoke marijuana is 14, while drinking alcohol may begin at 12 (or even younger). By the time teens enter high school, use of marijuana combined with alcohol is commonplace.

If you’re involved with teens, especially parents, watch out for these warning signs:

• Behavioral changes – Teens may ditch old friends and start hanging out with a new crowd, one that does drugs on a regular basis. They may start to act irresponsibly, drive while under the influence of drugs, take extraordinary risks, including sexual.

• Personality and emotional changes – Teens under the influence of drugs on a more or less constant basis will exhibit mood changes, sometimes abrupt, personality changes (from the responsible, outgoing individual to completely unreliable and loner type, for example), depression, paranoia, feelings of hopelessness, despair and suicide, low self-esteem, and irritability, among others.

• Problems at school – Low grades, tardiness, absenteeism, problems with discipline and general lack of interest in school (especially in teens who previously were enthusiastic and excelled in school and school activities) – all are potential warning signs that drug use may be prevalent.

• Lying, stealing, urgent need for money – Things go missing from the home, or you notice your teen is suddenly flush with cash, or is always asking for money for this or that school-related project, book, activity, etc. These may be indicators your teen is involved with drugs, buying, selling, or both.

• Familial breakdown – Your teen may initiate arguments, or discussions escalate into full-blown tirades. He or she may begin to stay away or withdraw from the family, missing dinners, disappearing into their room, rushing off to be with friends. Constant rule breaking is also a warning sign to be on the lookout for.

• Changes in appearance – If your formerly well-groomed teen now lacks good personal grooming habits, dresses in dirty clothes, or adopts a radically changed appearance – these could be signs that drug use is altering his or her life.

• Physical signs – Persistent cough, glazed and red eyes, numerous physical ailments, fatigue, lack of coordination, exaggerated movements, slurred speech – if you see these signs, you know something is wrong.


What you can do

Once the warning signs appear, they will only increase if left uncorrected. When drug and/or alcohol use begins at an early age, it can lead to consequences such as increased serious health and psychological problems, difficulties with the law, impaired judgment leading to unwanted pregnancies, AIDS and/or other sexually-transmitted diseases.

Teens may not admit to drug use – despite all the signs to the contrary. They may say, “I only use occasionally,” or “I can quit any time I want,” or “It’s no big thing, everybody’s doing it.” Don’t buy it. Take them for a medical examination by a doctor and follow up with evaluation and potential counseling by a child or adolescent psychiatrist or mental health professional. Narcotics Anonymous or other support group may be able to provide the support the teen needs to go forward.

Recognize that your teen probably won’t appreciate your help and interference – and will more than likely rebel. But you may be the only one capable and willing to talk with them about their drug use and abuse. It’s also possible that they will understand that this means you really care for and about them – and it will encourage them to want to change their drug habits. With your love and support, it may make all the difference in the world.

Learn more about Teen Drug Abuse

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