Identifying Teen Substance Abuse

As parents, you do everything you can to raise your children right and put them on the path towards the best possible future. The only problem is that as they get older they develop minds of their own, and as soon as they step out your front door they have a hundred other influences that can make the values you’ve instilled in them vanish in a second. While you hope that the things you teach your teen will prevail over what their friends pressure them into doing, it’s an unfortunate fact that teens most often follow the crowd.

Along with doing whatever it takes to fit in, teens will also do whatever it takes to keep things hidden from you. As a parent, you have to know what to look for so that you know if your teen is engaging in substance abuse. Hopefully some of the tips below will help you to identify the problem in your own teen and put a stop to it before it gets out of hand.

Be Observant

If your once straight-A honor student with the same friends since grade school is suddenly failing classes and has new friends, you’ve likely got a problem on your hands. While it may not necessarily be substance abuse, there is something going on and it needs attention. Watch your teen closely and pay attention to their looks and mannerisms. This way you will notice a change right away and can address it.

Watch their clothing and style choices as well. If their entire look suddenly changes (especially to a baggy, grunge look), there’s likely a reason for it. New piercings or even tattoos can also be a sign that they are trying to fit in with a new group of friends. Also watch their bodies as well. If your teen suddenly begins dropping weight, has no appetite, has bloodshot eyes, or is suddenly tired all the time, there are likely drugs or alcohol involved. If they tell you that they are sick, insist on taking them to the doctor. Ignoring the problem will only allow it to get worse.

While it seems that you are prying and smothering your teen rather than offering them trust and independence, you’ve got remind yourself that it is up to you to protect your child and keep them from doing things they will likely regret. It’s not always your own teen that you don’t trust – it’s all of the others who will try and influence yours.

Watch and Know Their Friends

Always know who your teen is hanging out with, where they are going, what they are doing, and what time they will be home. You may be considered the “mean parent,” of the neighborhood for instilling strict rules and a curfew, but if you are the mean parent with the only child not abusing drugs and alcohol, then it’s surely a title you can live with.

Watch for changes in your teen’s friends. If they used to come over all the time and now you never see them, find out why. Also ask your teen about them if you suddenly stop hearing her talk about them. If your teen suddenly has a new group of friends, find out who they are and insist that you meet them before letting your teen go out with them.

When drugs or alcohol are involved, teens will usually drop their old friends and start hanging with a crowd that makes them feel “accepted.” It’s important that you know exactly who these friends are; they are going to have a substantial influence on your teen.

Don’t Be Fooled

Sadly, drug paraphernalia is sold in stores you have probably been to before. Just looking around your neighborhood mall you would be surprised how many of the stores are marketing drugs to teens. Drug paraphernalia nowadays is made to look like common objects that you use every day, or disguised as pretty knick knacks or trinkets that you would never guess were used for drugs.

Don’t be fooled; anything can be disguised. There are felt tip markers that actually conceal drug pipes, soda cans with false bottoms for stashing, and pipes that look like blown glass ornaments. If your teen is suddenly bringing home a bunch of new things, or you find something random in their laundry, take a closer look; it may not be what it appears to be.


The only way to know for sure if your teen is using drugs or alcohol is to talk to them. They may not want to talk, but find a way to make them. Hear what they are saying along with what they are not saying. Constantly making excuses for everything usually means that there is something they are trying to hide. Educate yourself on drugs and alcohol, lingo, signs, and anything else you can think of so that when your teen tries to hide it from you, you can call them on it.

While you want to offer your child their independence, they have to show that they can be responsible and are mature enough to make smart decisions. While they may hate you now for taking away their “freedom,” they will likely thank you later for not allowing them to mess up their lives before they had even begun.

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