As parents, we strive to create a safe and nurturing environment for our teenagers. However, the turbulent years of adolescence can be challenging to navigate, especially when it comes to identifying potential substance use. While it’s important to trust our teens and respect their privacy, it’s equally crucial to stay vigilant for warning signs that may indicate they are experimenting with drugs or alcohol. In this blog, we’ll discuss six key warning signs that your teen may be using substances and provide you with practical guidance on how to approach this sensitive issue.

Changes in Physical Appearance and Health

Adolescence is a time of rapid physical and emotional changes, making it somewhat difficult to discern whether certain behaviors are typical or indicative of substance use. However, several physical signs may raise red flags. One common sign is bloodshot eyes and dilated or constricted pupils, which may indicate the use of drugs like marijuana, cocaine, or opioids. Another sign to watch for is unexplained weight loss or gain. Sudden and significant changes in weight, without a clear explanation, can be a sign of substance abuse. Additionally, frequent or unusual nosebleeds, especially if accompanied by other warning signs, could suggest the use of cocaine or other substances that are snorted. If you notice any of these physical changes in your teenager, it’s important to have an open and non-judgmental conversation to understand the underlying cause and seek appropriate help if necessary.

Behavioral and Emotional Shifts

Adolescence is a time of emotional volatility, but certain behavioral changes can be indicative of substance use. One warning sign to be aware of is a sudden decline in academic performance. If your teen’s grades have drastically dropped, and there is a lack of interest or effort in school, substance abuse may be a contributing factor. Another sign is unexplained changes in social circles. If your teen suddenly distances themselves from old friends and starts associating with a new group, it may be worth investigating whether drugs or alcohol are involved. Additionally, frequent mood swings or uncharacteristic irritability, beyond what is typically expected during this developmental stage, may be signs of substance use.

These behavioral and emotional changes should not be ignored. Instead, take the time to communicate with your teenager openly and empathetically, expressing your concerns and offering support. Depending on the severity of the addiction and which drugs are being used, you may need to seek the support of a mental health professional or care at a residential teen treatment center. They can help your child detox from substances in a healthy way and gain the best mental health support necessary to start living a drug and substance-free life. These centers understand the various phases that teens go through and can help them learn ways to better cope with stressors. If there is trauma involved, they can also help your teen start the long road to healing from that as well.

Neglected Responsibilities and Hobbies

Substance use can cause a decline in motivation, leading to a neglect of once-enjoyed activities and responsibilities. One warning sign is a loss of interest in hobbies or extracurricular activities. If your teen suddenly loses enthusiasm for activities they previously enjoyed, it could be a mental health issue or it could also indicate substance use. Another sign to watch for is frequent absences or tardiness. Substance use can interfere with a teen’s ability to meet commitments, resulting in a higher number of missed classes, skipped assignments, or tardiness. Additionally, neglecting personal hygiene and appearance, such as infrequent bathing, unkempt hair, or body odor, may indicate substance abuse. Encourage open communication with your teen and inquire about their disengagement from responsibilities. By showing genuine interest and understanding, you create a supportive environment for them to share their struggles.

Changes in Sleeping Patterns

Disturbances in sleep patterns are another indicator of substance abuse. One sign to be aware of is insomnia or oversleeping. Look for signs of insomnia, difficulty falling asleep, or staying asleep, as well as excessive daytime sleepiness that may be caused by substance use. Another indication is an unusual sleep-wake cycle. If your teenager starts staying up late at night or displays a drastic shift in their sleep schedule without a reasonable explanation, it could be a cause for concern.

Secretive Behavior

Teens may exhibit secretive behavior when experimenting with substances. One warning sign is increased privacy and isolation. If your teenager becomes unusually secretive, spending more time alone in their room or avoiding family interactions, it could be a sign that they are concealing something. Another sign is frequent and unnecessary lying. Teens experimenting with substances often resort to lying to cover their tracks. Look out for inconsistencies in their stories and unexplained absences. Additionally, unusual requests for money or missing valuables may indicate substance abuse. Substance use can be costly, and teens may resort to stealing money or valuable items to fund their habits.