The teenage years are a time of great change. Many teenagers experiment with drugs and alcohol for the first time during this stage in their lives, while at the same time they experience new emotions and feelings about their bodies. A growing teenager may exhibit strange behavior such as mood swings, outbursts, and other aberrant behavior. During this time of great chance, you may wonder what is going through your teenager’s mind, or whether they are possibly hiding something from you. It’s important that you are able to distinguish between the signs of a normal growing teenager and the signs of a drug or alcohol addiction. Here are some of the signs your teen is using illicit substances.
More Secretive Than Usual
Teens are naturally distrusting of their parents. They don’t want parents to be involved or know what they are doing because they long for independence, so it’s not uncommon for them to crave privacy. However, if you notice that they are repeatedly lying about their whereabouts, adamant that you not enter or clean their room, or attempt to sneak in and out of the house, there may be a problem.
Making Excuses and Lying
As stated above, teens generally don’t want their parents to know what they are up to, but if your teen is chronically lying about their whereabouts or who they are hanging out with, there’s a chance they may be purposely hiding something from you. If they’re chronically missing or making excuses to why they’re late, they could be hiding illicit drug use.
Significant Weight Loss or Gain
During teenage years, the body will undergo a lot of changes, but sudden weight loss or gain is never a natural part of life. If your teen experiences rapid weight loss or chronic loss of appetite, they could be amusing stimulants such as methamphetamines, cocaine, or prescription stimulants such as Adderall or Ritalin which suppress the appetite. Alternatively, if they seem to be packing on the weight, they could have a problem with binge drinking, which leaves excess carbs in the body, or binge eating following alcohol or marijuana usage.
Loss of Interest in Old Hobbies
If your teen suddenly abandons a long time interest in something such as a hobby or sport with no apparent explanation, they could be developing a drug addiction. It’s not uncommon for teens to grow out of childhood interests, but if they begin to replace the time they used to spend on their hobbies and interests with time spent doing unknown activities, there may be cause for concern. Addiction tends to swallow up other activities in a person’s life, so watch out for this sign.
Poor Academic Performance
Not everyone is an A student. However, by the time they’ve reached their teenage years, it should be apparent what their academic skills are. If your teen experiences a sudden or significant drop in their grades and academic performance, this could be a serious sign that they may be experimenting with or have a full blown addiction to an illicit substance. Look out for signs such as GPA drops, calls from teachers, and serial tardiness.
Unexplained Spending or Extra Cash
Typically, drugs and alcohol do not come free. If your teenager has a job, they may have disposable income that can go towards paying for illicit substances. If your teenager has a job but seems to spend all their money on unknown activities, this could be a sign they are buying drugs. Alternatively, if your teenager seems to always have unexplained cash, they could be buying and selling drugs to other teenagers. This is usually a big red flag to look out for.
Interest in Drug Culture, Drinking Culture
What kind of music and television shows does your teenager consume? Odds are, if they are a fan of certain artists or characters that advocate a certain lifestyle, they could be experimenting with those substance they see depicted on television and in music. Check out their Netflix history or Spotify library to see what they are tuning in to.
Paranoia, Irritability, Anxiety
Some of the side effects of common drugs that teenagers try include anxiety, paranoia, and irritability. For example, marijuana is known for inducing paranoia and even paranoid delusions. Stimulants cause people to feel intense elation and pleasant feelings, but as a downside they always experience withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety and irritability. If your teenager is drinking at night, they may wake up feeling less than rested, leading to extra irritation during the day.
Unexplained Injuries / Accidents
Unexplained bruises or damage to property such as a car could be a sign that your teenager is engaging in unsafe behavior while under the influence of a substance. Binge drinking increases the risk of someone hurting themselves, as does consuming hallucinogenic substances and operating motor vehicles. If your teen seems to appear with new injuries or cuts, or has a dubious explanation for why they wrecked their car, they could be hiding a substance dependency.
Abandoning Old Friends, Suspicious New Friends
It’s not uncommon for teenagers to shed their childhood friend groups, but if your teen is hanging out with shady characters or older teens, there may be a problem. If your teenager starts to hang out with other teens known for smoking, drinking, or doing other drugs, they may also be experimenting with illicit substances.
Matthew Boyle is the Chief Operating Officer of Landmark Recovery, a drug and alcohol recovery center. He has been working in the healthcare space for 7 years with a new emphasis on recovery. Before his ventures into healthcare, Matthew graduated from Duke University in 2011 Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree. After Duke Matthew went on to work for Boston Consulting Group before he realized where his true passion lied within Recovery. His vision is to save a million lives in 100 years with a unique approach to recovery that creates a supportive environment through trust, treatment, and intervention.
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