Has your teenager suddenly become withdrawn or sullen? Does he rarely leave his room, avoid talking to family members or spend most of his time with a new crowd? It could just be teenage angst, or it could be a sign of a bigger problem. While you don’t want to overreact, you should also trust your instincts if you feel something just isn’t right. Teenage drug and alcohol use is more common than you might think.
According to a 2012 survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 13 percent of students in the eighth grade used drugs in the past year, and that number rose to 40 percent for seniors. Nearly eight million adolescents between the ages of 12 and 20 reported to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism that they had drank alcohol in the month prior to a 2015 survey.
Here are some warning signs that your teenager may be using or abusing drugs or alcohol:
Changes in Physical Health
Keep an eye on your child’s health and physical condition if you suspect she is using or abusing drugs. Look for sudden, unexplained changes, but keep in mind that these symptoms could also be a sign of mental or physical illness.
- Does she have red or bloodshot eyes? Do her pupils look too small or too large?
- Can you smell smoke, alcohol or anything else unusual on her breath?
- Has she stopped paying attention to her appearance?
- Is she eating more or less than normal?
- Has she suddenly started sleeping more or less than usual?
- Has there been any unexplained vomiting, headaches or seizures?
- Has she had any unexplained injuries or bruising?
- Is her speech slurred? Is her coordination impaired? Do her hands shake?
- Has she had a lot of nosebleeds recently?
Changes in Behavior
These changes could be a result of your teenager trying to be more independent, or they could be a sign that something more troubling is going on. Again, sudden, unexplained changes warrant further investigation.
- Have money or valuable items disappeared from your home?
- Has your child started to get in trouble at school, miss class or get poor grades?
- Is he no longer interested in his hobbies or after-school activities?
- Do your child’s friends, teachers or other family members seem worried about him?
- Has he started to avoid social situations or act in a secretive manner?
- Does your child always lock his door, avoid you when he returns home or not make eye contact?
- Has he suddenly started using eye drops, incense or air freshener?
- Is your child getting in arguments with friends or family members?
- Has your teenager made a big change in his group of friends or where he likes to hang out?
Changes in Mental Health
Drug and alcohol abuse can change your child’s mood and her outlook on life. These changes can also be a sign of serious mental health issues regardless of drug or alcohol abuse. Please don’t ignore any of these symptoms.
- Has she had a sudden, unexplained change in attitude or personality that you don’t understand?
- Does your child have sudden mood swings? Or get angry or laugh for no apparent reason?
- Does she seem agitated, hyper or unusually active at times?
- Is her motivation and ability to focus suddenly gone?
- Does your teenager seem paranoid or anxious, and you have no idea why?
While abuse of alcohol and illegal drugs remains a problem, addiction to legal drugs is on the rise and includes both over-the-counter and prescription medications. Sadly, many children find their drug of choice in the family medicine cabinet. If you’re prescribed any type of controlled substance, especially pain relievers, keep them under lock and key, and keep an eye out for unexplained bottles of cough and cold medicines that contain dextromethorphan or DXM. This substance is abused by young people in search of a hallucinogenic high.
If you think your teenager may have a problem with drugs or alcohol, don’t ignore it and hope it goes away. Instead call your child’s doctor or a drug abuse center for guidance.