As your child ages, you will likely see many changes in his behavior. In general, most of these shifts in goals, ambitions, and hobbies will be positive, or at the very least neutral. Sometimes, however, this may not be the case. Problematic behavior, like drug use, may be at the root of the differences you are seeing in your teen.
For many teens, rebellion starts slow and changes happen gradually over time. Perhaps new friends entered the scene, or your teen quit a favorite hobby seemingly out of nowhere. While these scenarios might sound innocent – and in reality may be nothing to worry about – a pattern of changing behavior can be one of the first signs of drug abuse.
Warning Signs of Drug Abuse
While most parents logically understand the connections between teens and drug use, many are blind to the signs in their own children. After all, addiction is something that only happens to other families, right?
Realistically, this logic is wrong. With nearly 40% of teens trying drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes by twelfth grade, there's a strong chance your teen will have a beer or try a joint before he graduates from high school. And, unfortunately, a few harmless nights of fun can be all it takes to kick start a dangerous cycle. Addiction is a disease that can happen to anyone at any time, including teens.
Experimentation and addiction are not the same, of course, but one often leads to the other. If you start to notice these warning signs in your teen, your child may be on the road to a dangerous drug addiction.
A Change in Habits
As teens age, it's natural for interests to evolve over time. However, a rapid change in habits is often one of the first signs of a drug abuse problem. If your child played a sport, an instrument, or had a much-loved hobby that he suddenly dropped out of nowhere, drugs could be at the root of the problem.
Drugs, even when used recreationally, can lead to a distinct shift in priorities. Instead of spending time after school on homework or training, teens will begin to prioritizing buying drugs and getting high. This change may happen slowly, like skipped practices here and there, or quickly, like quitting a team out of nowhere.
Many teens value alone time, especially as they draw closer to adulthood. A locked bedroom door, one word answers, and an unwillingness to discuss activities can be par for the course during adolescence. However, there's often a difference between teen angst and secrecy.
If your previously open teen is now panicking when you touch his phone, becoming nervous when you enter his room, or getting agitated when you question his activities, drug use may be at fault. Drug abuse often goes hand in hand with paranoia and extreme secrecy, so if your teen is determined to hide something, the reality may be less innocent than you think.
A Drop in Grades
Academic performance can slide for any number of reasons, like an increased extracurricular schedule or trouble at home. When grades start to sink for no particular reason, your teen switches from AP, IB, or honors classes to regular level studies, or college becomes less of a priority, drug use may be to blame.
Numerous studies have shown conclusive ties between drug use and grades, with nearly 50% of marijuana users and 41% of prescription drug abusers receiving mostly Ds and Fs in school. As such, when grades start to fall, drugs are often at fault. If your teen's grades are dropping and college ambitions are fading, drug use may be contributing to an educational backslide.
Rotating friend groups is fairly normal for teenagers, but a stark shift from one kind of friend to another can be a sign of something bad. As a parent, it's not always easy to tell a good friend from a negative influence – ambitious, clean cut youths can be very good at hiding recreational drug abuse – so relying on your instincts may be more valuable than you realize.
If childhood pals fall by the wayside at once or your teen begins to talk down about his previous group of friends, a new group with a powerful draw may be moving in. It's not always easy to identify who your teen is spending time with, but a drastic change in friend groups can be a bad sign.
A Bad Attitude
Many teens lash out during adolescence, especially when parental rules stand in the way of their own interests. This can include numerous forms of antagonistic behavior, like fighting, sulking, and back talk. Sullen or angst-ridden actions aren't necessarily a sign of concerning drug use, but a change in attitude can be a red flag parents should know about.
Most drugs, especially those common in teens like prescription opioids, alcohol, cocaine, and heroin, can cause personality changes in young adults, leading to increased anger, anxiety, and agitation. When your child is demonstrating high levels of paranoia, rage, or insolence, especially in response to a normal, innocuous question, there's a chance drug abuse may be affecting his attitude at home.
A little rebellion is fairly normal in teenagers, even for those who generally demonstrate sound judgment. Sooner or later, most teens will sneak out of the house, lie about whereabouts, or try drugs and alcohol with their friends. These kinds of behaviors, while not necessarily acceptable, are often a standard part of adolescence.
More severe signs of rebellion, however, may mean something worse is afoot. Teens who run away, steal money or items, lie about serious issues, and run into legal troubles may be driven by drug use rather than a resistance to following rules. When rebellious behavior begins to escalate, substance abuse is likely a part of the problem.
If you suspect drug use in your teen, physical signs can be one of the best indications of abuse or addiction. When use begins to spiral out of control, users find it very challenging to take part in normal events, like family dinners, school functions, and job duties, without being under the influence of drugs. As this process accelerates, drug use may start to interfere with these kinds of activities in a visible way.
While signs of drug use vary from one substance to another, many drugs lead to erratic behavior, irregular breathing and heart rate, trouble communicating, paranoia, and motor skill shortcomings. If your teen is showing any signs of being high while in a public situation, this can be a sign of drug use that has crossed the boundary into addiction.
Addicts of any substance need regular doses of their drug of choice. For those who are unable to access drugs in regular intervals, withdrawal symptoms may begin to appear after longer lapses in use. In severe cases, especially for users of heavy drugs like heroin or cocaine, withdrawal symptoms can appear in a matter of hours.
If your teen seems shaky, sweaty, pale, disoriented, or nauseous, withdrawal could be causing these symptoms. This situation can be very serious, as some drugs cause life-threatening effects like seizures. Should your teen show signs of abuse to the point of withdrawal, getting help is absolutely essential.
The Next Steps
If you are seeing warning signs for drug abuse, the time to take action is now. Whether you choose to speak to your child about the changes in his behavior or have sufficient reason to believe that professional treatment is required, ignoring these signals can mean a lifetime of struggles with addiction.
When you need help with teen drug abuse, Teen Treatment Center is here. As a licensed, certified facility offering detox, rehabilitation, and vocational services to teens in need, we can provide the support necessary to help your teen embrace sobriety and return to a normal, healthier way of life. Call (844)319-5239 to speak to one of our counselors today.