Shocking Signs of Substance Abuse Among Teens

Shocking Signs of Substance Abuse Among Teens

June 10, 2022

As children grow, parents often face several challenges associated with various aspects of adolescent and teen development. As a parent, it can be difficult to determine if your teen’s behaviors are “normal” parts of their emotional and physical growth or if there is something deeper you should be concerned about. Wondering whether your teen is using drugs or alcohol can be painful for parents. There are several indications of substance abuse among teens that you can look for if you are concerned that they may need help with drug or alcohol addiction. 


Facing the idea or knowledge that your teen is using drugs or alcohol is challenging. In some cases, parents may even choose to avoid talking to their teen about substance abuse because they (parents) do not know how to manage or cope with the answers their teen may provide. Unfortunately, while avoidance may seem more straightforward, actively denying the possibility or presence of a problem only enables your teen to continue using as there is little consequence for their actions.


Statistics on substance addiction suggest that early intervention in a teen-focused addiction treatment program is a key to achieving lasting sobriety and recovery. The sooner you can help your teen get into a comprehensive treatment program, the better their opportunities for healing. 


Is it “Normal” Behavior or Addictive Behavior?

As children grow, their behaviors naturally change. The behaviors that are part of a teen’s everyday routine are typically more extreme and unpredictable than those of youth and pre-teens. The teen years are a time of exploration, personality development, and boundary testing. These years, teens strive to exercise personal preferences and learn more about who they are. 


It is not uncommon for teens to actively separate themselves from parents and siblings by wanting more privacy and presenting a certain level of displeasure when “forced” to participate in family activities. Many teens prefer to spend more time with friends or alone in their rooms than with family participating in family-oriented activities. Although parents often find this change in preference upsetting, it is considered “normal” teen behavior in many cases. 


The behavior of teens with a drug or alcohol addiction often looks different. Compared to healthy teenage development, teens engaging in drug or alcohol abuse are more likely to display unusual, alarming, and highly disruptive behaviors. Recent statistics show more than 20% of high school seniors in the United States will experiment with or regularly use illicit drugs. The overwhelmingly high frequency of teen drug use suggests the vital importance of learning more about teen substance use and the signs of drug and alcohol addiction. 


Statistics on Teen Drug Abuse

Marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco products are among the most widely abused substances among teens, although they are not the only ones. The 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows approximately 2.3 million youth between the ages of twelve and seventeen started drinking alcohol in 2017. During the same year, just over one million youth from the same age group drank alcohol for the first time. In addition, another 604,000 began experimenting with tobacco products. Hallucinogenic drug use, inhalant abuse, prescription opioid abuse, and other illicit drug use have also increased over the last decade among teens between the ages of twelve and seventeen. 


Teens who start using drugs or alcohol at an early age are at an increased risk of developing a chronic substance use disorder. Ongoing drug and alcohol abuse in teens can also lead to significant medical and mental health complications, some of which may lead to lifelong physical and psychological effects. Understanding the signs and symptoms of teen substance abuse can help your teen get the support they need to stop using. 


Signs of Substance Abuse Among Teens

Although separating typical teen behavior and substance abuse can be difficult, there are several possible indications your teen may be using alcohol or drugs. 


Changes to Their Normal Habits

As a parent, you are likely familiar with your teen’s daily habits and routines. Consequently, you are likely to notice if your teen begins to make or has made drastic changes to these expected parts of their day. It is important to note; that these are also changes that are most likely overlooked or ignored as they sometimes seem like isolated events. It is helpful to watch for changes in your teen, such as new cravings, increased appetite (or lack of appetite), a significant difference in their social circle, failing grades, and complaints from teachers about their behavior. 


Changes in Physical Appearance

Alterations in physical appearance will depend on the substance the individual uses; consequently, they may be harder to spot. Watch out for bloodshot eyes, flushed cheeks, disheveled appearance, poor hygiene or nosebleeds, and runny nose. The use of some drugs may result in unexplained bruises or track marks on the arms. If your teen is wearing long sleeves in hot weather, it may also indicate injectable drug use. Other important signs of drug use may include shaking or tremors, continually licking the lips, unexplained nosebleeds, or a runny nose. Again, physical changes will vary from person to person and substance to substance, so look for those things that are different specifically in your teen.


Secretive Behavior and Increased Isolation

Some teens are naturally more withdrawn and reserved than others, so this may be normal for your teen. However, when a teen who usually is extroverted and outgoing starts getting quiet or an introvert begins to withdraw more, it may be time to look closer at the reasoning. Look for changing behaviors such as locking doors, avoiding eye contact, stealing, going out at night, or disappearing for an extended time. Other indicators may include skipping classes, missing extracurricular activities, or not showing up for work.


Changes Within Your Home

Parents know their home environment better than anyone. Some changes within your home may be subtle, whereas others should stand out as a blatant sign that something is wrong and your teen may need addiction help. If you suspect substance abuse may be a challenge for your teen, look for unusual events and changes around your home. These include containers or wrappers you do not recognize, missing substances (such as prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, or alcohol), and the presence of drug paraphernalia such as smoking devices, eye drops, butane lighters, burnt spoons, and syringes.  


Changing or Failing Grades

While academic concerns are mentioned in previous paragraphs, these potential signs of substance use are worth a second mention in their own category. When teens begin using drugs or drinking alcohol, their grades are often one of the first things to suffer. Depending on your teen and the substance abuse level, their grades may rapidly decline or slowly worsen over time. You may also receive calls from the school indicating concerns about your teen’s lack of participation in extracurricular activities, sports, clubs, or social events they were once actively engaged in. 


Seeking Addiction Help for Your Teen at Hillcrest

If your teen has a drug or alcohol addiction, don’t wait to get help. Many teens with a substance use disorder need support while detoxing. Some substances, such as alcohol and opioids, can be painful or even deadly to attempt to withdraw from without medical help. This process, known as medically supervised detox, occurs in a setting like Hillcrest’s teen-focused residential treatment center. In a medically supervised detox program, medical professionals can monitor your teen’s vital signs and administer medications to help reduce painful and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.  


After detox, once the effects of withdrawal have resolved, your teen can begin addiction therapy. Our individualized treatment programs are designed to treat your teen’s addiction and any underlying medical or coexisting mental health conditions they may have. It is essential to treat all conditions simultaneously, as chronic substance abuse can lead to other mental health conditions and vice versa.


It is complicated to recover from substance abuse and maintain sobriety if your teen still experiences a mental health condition’s painful and complicated symptoms. This is especially true if the mental health condition was the reason behind using drugs or alcohol. 


Treatment programs for addiction can take place in a variety of settings. If your teen has reached a level of addiction where detox is necessary, an inpatient treatment program such as that offered at Hillcrest is likely the safest choice. At Hillcrest, our highly trained team of medical providers, nutritionists, therapeutic providers, nutritionists, and other care staff work with your teen to help them learn to manage the symptoms of their addiction. Through individual and group therapy sessions, your teen will learn how to manage triggers or other day-to-day situations which lead them to reach for alcohol or drugs as a method of coping.


We understand that sending your child to an inpatient treatment program away from home may be one of the most challenging decisions you have to make as a parent. However, the lasting effects and dangers of ongoing substance abuse often far outweigh the initial challenges of beginning an addiction treatment program. If your teen has a drug or alcohol use disorder, seeking treatment and attaining sobriety are vital to helping them return home to a clean, healthy, and productive life. Unfortunately, teens who do not receive addiction help often fight against a substance use disorder well into adulthood. In these cases, their addictions impact employment, relationships, their family, and their loved ones. 


If you believe your teen’s behavioral changes or other alterations in their routine, physical or emotional health, do not wait another day to seek help. Contact a member of our admissions team today to learn more about teen addiction treatment at your Los Angeles, CA program. Our experienced, compassionate providers are here to answer your questions and help your teen and family begin their journey towards healing.