The teenage years are difficult for everyone. It’s a time when teens want to assert their independence, try new things, and have more privacy. It’s a turbulent time as they struggle with finding an identity and a sense of belonging. It’s not always easy to tell the difference between normal teen behavior and warning signs of a more serious problem. The following are indications that your teen may be at risk for a substance use issue.
You have a substance use issue.
The biggest risk factor for a child developing a substance use issue is having a parent with a substance use issue. One reason is there’s a strong genetic component to addiction. We’ve identified several genes that are associated with addiction to various substances. Another reason your substance use influences your child’s substance use is that your kids learn by watching. They mostly assume that whatever you do is normal behavior, even if it’s drinking heavily or using other drugs. Having drugs and alcohol in the house also increases their access, allowing them to experiment with drugs and alcohol at a younger age. The best thing you can do to prevent your child from developing a substance use disorder is to get help for your own substance use issues.
His grades drop.
It’s very difficult to maintain good grades while using drugs or alcohol excessively. One study of college students by Penn State University found that students’ grades declined steadily as episodes of binge drinking increased. Students who reported not binge-drinking in the past two weeks had an average GPA of 3.19, whereas students who reported 10 or more incidents of binge-drinking in the past two weeks had an average GPA of 2.95. There are a number of possible reasons for this. One is simply that students are drinking instead of studying. They may also miss class because of drinking, although this is less of an issue in high school, where attendance is taken more seriously. Drinking and drug use can also interfere with sleep, and impair memory, concentration, and learning. Finally, he might just care less about school if he’s preoccupied with drugs or alcohol.
You notice changes in his behavior.
Drugs and alcohol use cause many behavior changes. As noted above, substance use can impair your memory, concentration, and learning, as well as disrupt sleep. Staying out late, staying up late, and seeming not to have slept or to have slept badly are cause for concern. He may become more private or secretive, talking less, and spending more time in his room. On the other hand, a normally quiet kid may start talking more and seem to have more energy. Any major personality chance could be a red flag.
If your child is spending a lot of money, asking to borrow money from you, or possibly even stealing money or valuables, that’s a clear cause for concern, as are lying and evasiveness.
You notice cognitive changes.
Many substances affect the way you think and affect basic cognitive functions. If you notice your teen is having trouble concentrating, is nodding off, is lacking in coordination, suddenly has a bad memory, is clumsy or uncoordinated, or has thoughts that seem to jump around, it may indicate substance use. Other signs include lethargy, slurred speech, paranoia, or mood swings. Teens are going through a lot of cognitive development, so not every unusual behavior is a sign of substance use but abrupt changes are always cause for concern.
He starts having health problems.
There are many health issues associated with substance use. Although the worst health issues–aside from overdoses–are typically associated with prolonged use, there are some that may show up pretty quickly. These may include changes in appetite and weight, sleep changes, nausea and vomiting, sweating, headaches, more frequent illnesses, nosebleeds, constipation, seizures, runny nose, tremors, or accidental injuries.
His appearance changes.
Substance use may also lead to changes in personal appearance. These might include poor hygiene, bloodshot eyes, injuries such as cuts and bruises from accidents, constant scratching, needle marks, wearing long sleeves in the summer, pinpoint pupils, strange smells, or burns on the fingers. As noted above, pay attention to sudden changes in weight or appearing tired from too little sleep.
His friends change.
Teens change friends all the time but a sudden change in friend group may be a sign of a problem. Substance use can be a way of finding social acceptance for some teens. They may also alienate their old friends with their behavioral changes. It’s a good idea to to know who your child is spending time with. If his friends are using drugs and alcohol, that behavior is likely to influence him.
You find physical evidence.
Perhaps the most direct evidence your teen has a substance use issue is finding physical evidence such as drugs, alcohol, or drug paraphernalia in his room or clothes. Common drug-related items include plastic baggies, lighters, spoons or foil, syringes, shoelaces, pipes, or rolled up bills.
He alludes to substance use on social media.
It may seem absurd to think your child would admit to drinking or drug use on social media but never underestimate a teen’s desire to look cool in front of his friends. If you suspect your child is using drugs or alcohol, a perusal of his social media activity might validate those suspicions.
If you see any of these warning signs, it’s important to stay calm and respond in a measured way. Most of these warning signs are evidence and not necessarily proof. Pick a time to talk to your child about your concerns. Approach it as a conversation and be willing to listen. Remember, your ultimate goal is to help your child, not to punish him.
At Fort, we offer a safe and nurturing space for teens to recover from the complex disease of addiction. Our team believes in inspiring each client to face his challenges, discover the root of his problems, and reclaim his life. Our programs are designed to treat the underlying causes of addiction and help each client create a plan for lifelong recovery. Contact us today at 817-382-2894 or by email, via our contact page.