Your teen has been coming home after curfew. Your son won’t tell you where he has been. Your daughter won’t say who she’s been hanging out with. He’s hiding out in his room. She’s locking the doors behind her. Your child is coming off moody, distant, and no longer wants to talk about his or her day.
As much as you want to blame teenage hormones for these behaviors, you are worried that your son or daughter may be using drugs. And like any concerned parent, you want to get the facts. You want to know what your teen is up to so that you can keep him or her safe.
Unfortunately, there is no easy way to tell if your teen is involved with drugs. Because many signs of teen drug use also mimic typical, adolescent behavior, it can be hard to distinguish the two. Sometimes, the best thing a parent can do is to sit down and have a conversation with their child: To ask questions, to get answers, to establish rules and expectations, and to find out if there is a need for professional help.
But how do you bring up this conversation if you are unsure drugs are even the cause? As a parent, any concerns you have regarding your teen are ones worth addressing. But there are specific signs of drug use that can help confirm your apprehensions. We’ve detailed these below.
Physical and Emotional Signs of Teen Drug Use
- Changes in physical appearance – You’ve noticed a lack of hygiene or unusual changes in your teen’s style
- Sudden shifts in relationships or social circles – Your teen changes friend groups and does not introduce new friends to the family. Relationships with family members and old friends have also changed.
- Unexplainable mood swings and changes in behavior – Your teen is emotionally unstable and shifts from happy to hostile in minutes. He or she may be defensive, negative, paranoid, aggressive, or anxious.
- Sensitive and defensive – Your teen overreacts to criticism or your attempts at a serious conversation. In return, he or she acts rebellious.
- Distant and isolated – Your teen has stopped talking to you regularly about his or her personal life; he or she may no longer come to you for help with challenges at work or school
- Depression – Your teen seems unhappy and unmotivated
- Secretive or deceitful – You may feel your teen is hiding things from you by the way he or she is acting. Your child takes a long time to answer your questions, gives you indirect answers, makes endless excuses, locks his or her bedroom door, and avoids discussions when possible
- Lethargic or overly tired – You’ve noticed your teen is unusually tired and has developed seemingly off sleeping habits (e.g. periods of sleeplessness followed by long hours of “catch-up” sleep)
- Drastic weight loss or weight gain
- Your teen disappears for long periods of time or stays over friends’ houses for nights on end
Signs of Teen Drug Use in the Home
- Loss of interest in family activities – Your child no longer wants to hang out at home, sit down for family dinners, or attend your annual family parties
- Consistently borrows or asks for money – Your teen is always asking for money, but you don’t know where it’s all going. Or, you’ve noticed your teen carrying excessive amounts of cash around.
- Disrespects the family rules – Your teen disobeys curfew, disregards punishments, and seems to live by his or her own rules
- Lying or avoidance – Your teen does not tell you where he or she is going or lies about activities
- Money or valuables are missing from your bags or home – You’ve noticed some cash is missing from your wallet, or from your secret cash stash in the house.
- Prescription pills or bottles of alcohol have disappeared – You cannot find your old pain meds or that bottle of liquor you stashed away months back.
- You’ve discovered unusual containers, wrappers, baggies, or seeds left on surfaces in your home
- You’ve discovered pipes, medicine bottles, rolling papers, eye drops, lighters, roach clips, or makeshift smoking devices in your home
Signs of Teen Drug Use at School
- Grades have declined – You notice your teen’s grades have suddenly slipped or dropped dramatically
- Truancy – Your teen has missed classes, accrued random absences, or has been consistently late for school
- Loss of interest in schoolwork – Your teen no longer completes homework or has a poor attitude towards afterschool activities (sports, clubs, etc.)
- Defiance of authority – Your teen disregards teachers’ rules, consistently gets detentions, and you’ve heard complaints from teachers multiple times.
- Sleeping in class
- Reduced attention span or inability to focus
- Your teen does not inform you of teacher meetings, conferences, or open houses at school
If you have noticed several of the above changes occurring in your teen, there is a good chance that he or she may be using. Do not be afraid to make these changes apparent to your teen, as well. If you notice your teen is overly tired and distant of late, bring that to his or her attention. If your teen has been spending a lot of money lately, ask where it’s all going to. Ask if it is being spent on drugs. If you notice your teen has been ditching old friends for new ones, ask why. Ask if they are offering up drugs.
While you may not want to hear “yes,” to questions like these, you do want the truth. And you should be prepared for it. You should be prepared to offer your teen help or ready to find a teen rehab center should you need it. You should also be prepared if your teen says “no.” Most teens won’t admit to drug or alcohol use at first, and your child’s denial could indicate a larger problem is at hand.
That is why at Turnbridge, we highly recommend that you get a professional assessment to figure out what is going on with your child – through a counselor, a doctor, a trusted school authority or addiction professional. Teaming up with the right professionals can help ensure your teen works towards the healthy future he or she deserves.