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How to Spot the Signs Your Teen Is Using Drugs

July 31, 2017

How to spot the signs your teen is using drugs

As a parent, your teen's well-being is one of your top concerns. Unfortunately, the road to healthy, happy adulthood isn't always easy.

No parent wants to learn that their child is doing drugs, but this is a reality faced by thousands of Americans. Tragically, 40% of 12th graders have admitted to using drugs at least once in the last year, putting teens across the country at risk for long-term abuse.

It may be hard to confront the idea of drug use, but the sooner you know, the sooner you can help. Here's how to spot the signs that can help you identify illicit substance use.

Look for Paraphernalia

Possibly the most obvious sign, drug or alcohol paraphernalia is a strong indicator that your teen is using drugs. However, for parents not involved in the drug scene, properly identifying the tools used to ingest drugs can be a bit of a challenge.

  • Marijuana: rolling papers, pipes, bongs, baggies with dried green herbs, lighters
  • Heroin: spoons, tin foil, pipes, plastic pen cases or drinking straws, needles, syringes
  • Cocaine: Pipes, pieces of mirror or glass, rolled up papers or straws, razor blades
  • Inhalants: rags for sniffing, glue, balloons, aerosol bottles
  • Acid: decorated pieces of paper
  • Alcohol: bottles and cans, mixers like soda and Gatorade

In addition to these common paraphernalia items, parents should also watch for items used to cover up drug use, like air fresheners, dryer sheets, eye drops, mouthwash, breath mints, and sunglasses.

Teens often go out of their way to hide these kinds of signs, so you may not notice indicators lying in plain view. If you are suspicious, you may be able to find evidence of use in backpacks, purses, bedrooms, or cars.

Pay Attention to New Friends

Many teens are social butterflies, flitting from one friend group to another as they discover who they truly are. While many young adults will maintain long-time friends to some degree, trying new people and ideas is a natural part of growing up.

New friends can be a sign of trouble, however, especially for teens who befriend the wrong kinds of people or those involved in a drug-related lifestyle. Many teens are easily influenced by those around them, and that can be both positive and negative. Teens who befriend other high performers are likely to excel in school and take on extracurricular activities, while teens who fall into the wrong circles may let their previous interests and ethics slides.

Radically different social groups can be a sign of trouble, especially when habit changes, like new hobbies, take place concurrently. If your teen met some new people and now seems like a different person with evolving interests, drug use could be at fault.

Be Watchful of Lying or Secretive Behavior

Independence and personal exploration are par for the course for many teens. As childhood gives way to adulthood, it's only natural for young people to want to make their own choices and embrace their own ideas. They may not want to tell parents about their activities, share who they're friends with, or where they're going, and to a point, this is okay.

However, for many teens, lying can be a sign of less than ideal habits. Instead of using the freedoms that come with adolescence, like driving, to explore the world, some teens turn to drugs instead. Due to the justifiably unsupportive attitude of most parents related to drug use, teens often go to great lengths to hide these new-found habits.

In order to mask use, teens using drugs regularly isolate themselves from their parents and evade questions about plans. They may spend a lot of time locked in their rooms, sneak out after dark to party with friends, or blatantly lie about where they're going and who they're spending time with. If your previously open-book child is now refusing to share anything, drug use may be at fault.

Carefully Observe Academic Performance

Despite the monotony of spending year after year in school, many teens do value the educational process. High school is essentially a springboard for college – a period of new challenges and freedoms many teens are extremely excited to experience – and strong grades are required to get into a good school and move out. Drug use, however, can compromise academic performance, leading to worse grades and a lack of interest in high achieving coursework, like Advanced Placement or honors classes.

Numerous studies demonstrate the link between suffering academic performance and drug use. In fact, of students who receive mostly Ds and Fs, 62% use alcohol at least monthly, 48% use marijuana at least monthly, and 41% have used prescription drugs without a valid prescription. This same study also indicates that only 2% of A students have used marijuana on school property while only 1% have tried cocaine or injected illegal drugs.

If your child had his sights set on college or has always had a history of academic excellence, changes to this can be a clear indication of regular drug use.

Confronting the Signs

If you see signs of drug use in your child, it's important to stay calm. Don't react with anger or rage; these emotions are likely to cut off any chance of a rational discussion. Bring up your concerns in a cool, collected manner, and listen to what your teen has to say. If he lies, evades the question, gets defensive and angry, or reacts with violence or aggression, drug use is likely a reality. How you move forward is up to you, but professional assistance can be the difference between quick recovery and years of struggles, so the faster you act, the better.

Teen Treatment Center is a comprehensive resource for teens facing the challenges of abuse and addiction. With detox and rehabilitation programs designed to break the cycle and help teens recover in a safe, secure, and stable way, we can help your child get clean and stay clean. Call (844) 319-5239 today to learn more.

Related Articles:
Recognizing the Symptoms of Teen Depression 
Can Teens be Addicts? 
How to Drug Test Your Teen 

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