We’ve seen it in the movies, on TV shows, and social media. Many of us have witnessed it in real life – the obvious, epitomized illustration of someone being “high” on drugs: Red eyes, slurred speech, poor coordination, changes in appetite. However, while it’s true there are some tell-tale signs of being high, there is not a perfect science to figuring it out. Not all people display these obvious symptoms. Many signs and side effects go unnoticed. Many parents struggle to tell whether their kid is high or drunk, or whether they’re simply displaying typical teen behavior.
If you’re questioning what “high” really looks like in teenagers, you are not alone. At least one in eight teenagers have used an illicit substance in the last year, but not all have been caught by their parents.
This is not surprising, as many of signs of teen drug use mimic normal (and hormonal) teenage behavior. Many signs of drug use in teenagers also overlap with symptoms of other mental health issues, like depression and anxiety. As a result, it’s hard to know whether your child is high, struggling, or simply acting their age. This guide is designed to help you unblur that line.
How to Tell If Your Child is High:
It’s important to note that different drugs have different side effects, and will create different symptoms of being high. For example, marijuana causes youth to feel more lethargic, while cocaine will cause more hyperactive symptoms in users. Alcohol and other drugs can trigger a lack of coordination and slurred speech. Be sure to research the signs of different types of drug use. However, here are some common ways to tell whether your teenager is high.
- Look for the physical signs of drug use:
- Red or watery eyes
- Red or flushed cheeks
- Glazed expression
- Excessive or frequent sweating
- Difficulty focusing or concentrating
- Difficulty standing still
- Slurred or confused speech
- Rapid-fire speech
- Lack of coordination or balance
- Shifty eyes
- Avoidance of eye contact
- Nosebleed or runny nose
- Sudden change in appetite
- Burn marks on fingertips or lips
- Track marks on arms or legs (if drugs were injected) – also wearing long sleeves in warmer months, to hide these markings
- Smell of certain drugs (e.g. marijuana) on clothing or fingers
- Sudden use of mouthwash, mints, body spray, and/or air fresheners
- Appearance is messier than usual
- Vomiting or sickness
- Look for changes in mood and personality:
- Lack of motivation
- Silent and uncommunicative
- Avoidance of you or other family members
- Deceitful or secretive
- Uncooperative and hostile
- Unable to focus
- Unusually elated
- Unusually hyperactive
- Unusually aware, worried, or anxious
- Unusually tired
- Sudden feelings of invincibility or loss of inhibition
How to Tell if Your Child is Using Drugs:
The above signs are direct, and short-term side effects of a teenager using drugs. These happen immediately or within the period of time that a person is intoxicated. However, what if you miss the period in which your teen is “high”? What if you still have suspicions your child might be using drugs? You can also look for these signs of more frequent drug use.
- Behavioral changes:
- Sudden changes in friend groups
- Disrupted relationships with family members and previous friends
- Loss of interest in school, work, and activities
- Poor academic performance/drop in grades
- Increasing forgetfulness
- Disappearing for long periods of time
- Frequently coming home after curfew
- Secretive use of their phones and whereabouts
- Hiding away in their bedroom/locking doors
- Sudden shifts in mood, such as periods of excitedness and hyperactivity followed by low periods with lack of motivation/catch-up sleep
- Unusual changes in behavior (e.g. your child is jittery in the mornings, and calm at night)
- Physical changes:
- Sudden or dramatic changes in weight
- Different sleeping patterns, including excessive sleep and periods of insomnia
- Frequent sickness or complaints of ailments
- Chronic nosebleeds (cocaine use)
- General lack of energy and motivation
- Neglected personal hygiene or appearance (teenagers typically care about how they look, so this is not normal!)
- Other tangible evidence:
- Carrying around mints, mouthwash, body scents (more than usual)
- Possession of eye drops or nasal sprays to help with irritation
- Sudden issues with money (stealing from parents, requesting money without reason)
- Owning drug paraphernalia, such as pipes, tin boxes, syringes, etc.
Suspect Your Child is High? What Parents Should Do:
If you suspect that your child is coming home high, drunk, or intoxicated at any level, it’s important to address your concerns. However, you must do so in a planned and appropriate manner. We recommend:
- Waiting until your child is sober and in a good head space. This can ensure you have the most productive conversation, and will help mitigate any miscommunication, defensiveness, anger, and other reactions felt by your teen.
- Talking to your partner or spouse, prior to confronting your teen. This will ensure you both are on the same page about your expectations and potential next steps. For example, make sure you agree on the boundaries or rules you’d like to enforce in your home. Talk about the consequences you will lay out for your child’s drug use. Further, set goals for the conversation with your child, and talk about the ideal outcomes afterwards.
- Being transparent, supportive, and also direct with your teen. It can be difficult to establish trust with your teenager, but being open, honest, and transparent with them will help to close that gap. Further, let your teen know that you support them and love them. Try not to be angry or judgmental, but rather show your concern. Furthermore, ask direct questions to your teen during the conversation. Avoid accusations, but instead ask questions like “Are you using drugs?”, “Which drugs have you used, exactly?”, and “Why do you feel the need to use drugs?” This will set you up for the most productive conversation, and allow you to collect information about the state of your teen’s drug use and mental health.
- Having a plan for treatment. If your child is repeatedly using drugs, coming home high, and disobeying the house rules, it may indicate a larger need for treatment. Your teen may be facing a substance use disorder or other mental health issues. Be prepared to talk to your teenager about this and, if needed, have a plan in place to get them access to a drug screening, treatment, and/or therapy.
If your child is addicted to drugs or alcohol, professional treatment is recommended. Adolescents and young adults have a great chance at recovery from addiction, but proper intervention can make all the difference in their long-term success. A teen and young adult rehab center can create a personalized treatment plan for your teenager, and connect them with a network of sober, supportive peers who have walked this road before. If you are interested in learning more, contact Turnbridge here.