Substance Abuse and Teenagers: Parental Resources

Research carried out in the United States over recent years paints a rather troubling picture of teenage substance abuse. While it’s no secret that a great many teenagers experiment with drugs at least occasionally during their school and college years, it’s a problem that may be more prolific than most realise.  Not only have study shown that around 15% of children have tried cannabis before they reach the age of 15, that approximately 60% of teenagers say that drugs are sold and used in their schools. Incredibly, somewhere in the region of 5% of under-15s have tried cocaine at least once, while approximately 50% of all teenagers will try at least one drug during their education.

According to the experts at, parents of teenagers have considerably more influence and control over their children’s lives than they may realise. While it is of course impossible to keep an eye on adolescents 24 hours a day, there is still plenty parents can do to help. Needless to say, the most important of all being that of remaining vigilant at all times when it comes to the potential signs and symptoms of drug abuse. What’s important to remember is that there is a big difference between attempting to control a teenager’s life and actively looking out for their best interests. In the case of the latter, being careful not to cross the line into 24/7 snooping is important, albeit a rather difficult balancing act to pull off.

So with this in mind, what exactly are the kinds of tell-tale signs and indicators parents should be on the lookout for, when it comes to determining potential cases of drug or substance abuse?

  1. Physical appearance. First of all, it is entirely possible that they may that they may display certain physical signs of substance abuse, which may affect their appearance, hygiene and general presentation. For example, any seemingly inexplicable change in physical appearance – bloodshot eyes, flushed cheeks, complexion issues, burns etc. – could well be signs of substance abuse. Not only this, but an apparent intention to hide their physical appearance may also be a sign that they are trying to keep something away from your attention. While it is not to say that any changes in physical appearance confirm substance abuse of any kind, it is also important not to overlook anything out of the ordinary.
  2. Habits and behaviour. In terms of the kinds of signs and symptoms that may not be immediately visible, it is common for those entering into substance abuse to either suddenly are gradually begin changing their habits and behaviour. In some instances, happy, outgoing and confident individuals suddenly become much more reclusive. Right at the other end of the scale, quiet and shy individuals may inexplicably become incredibly outgoing, energetic and confident for no apparent reason. It may also be that they begin behaving in a manner which is not characteristic to them. Breaking curfews, irritability, mood swings and general rebelliousness can all be signs of something untoward behind the scenes. Once again, any or all of these do not necessarily indicate drug abuse, though should not be ignored.
  3. Health and wellbeing. There is also the possibility that you as a parent will simply notice that your child’s health and wellbeing seem to be taking a turn for the worst. It could be that they are becoming sick more often than they used to, that they’d generally do not seem to be in particularly good health, that they are suffering nose bleeds, that they are losing/gaining weight for no apparent reason and so on. There are of course thousands of reasons why a teenager may be suffering frequent bouts of sickness, but substance abuse is something that should not be ruled out of the equation before being investigated.
  4. Interests. Something else to be on the lookout for is an apparent change in interests – as in the kinds of activities and hobbies your child was previously interested in. It could be that somebody with a passion for sports suddenly has all interest in these kinds of activities entirely. Likewise, a teenager that was once highly social and loved spending time with friends may lose interest in social activities entirely. Where there is a significant change in behaviour and no obvious cause, it is a good idea to discuss what may or may not be happening.
  5. Performance. Last but not least, while it’s perfectly normal for a child’s in-school performance to fluctuate from time to time, any radical changes by way of grades, attendance or general performance in the classroom should be considered carefully. In the vast majority of instances, substance abuse will have absolutely nothing to do with why it is they appear to be under-performing. Nevertheless, it simply makes sense to rule it out of the equation, rather than sweeping it to one side and ignoring the possibility.

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