Answering Questions About the Signs of Drug Use in Teens
Are you familiar with the signs of drug use in teens?
It’s normal for parents to have questions about what drug use looks like within the teen community, how prevalent it is and the major signs of drug misuse you should be aware of. To help parents everywhere better understand these things, we’ve put together this quick FAQ guide answering the most common questions concerning teens and drug and alcohol awareness. Here’s what you should know.
What are the signs of drug use in teens?
A change in behavior is often one of the first signs of drug use in teens. As for what that means (and what parents should be on the lookout for), here’s a look at some of the most common signs that a teen is struggling with substance misuse:
- Sudden changes in mood
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Irritability and/or an increase in arguments
- Cutting classes and/or dropping grades
- Changes in relationships, including sudden departures from old friendships
These signs are not always indicative of drug or alcohol use on their own, however, if you notice any of them it is a good idea to check in, and open up a judgement-free dialogue to see what is going on.
How many teenagers use drugs or alcohol?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s most recent Monitoring the Future study, the prevalence of drug use has remained pretty constant among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders in the past several years. In terms of illicit drug use, 15.6%, 30.4%, and 36.8%, respectively, admit to use in the past year, with slightly higher numbers for alcohol (20.5%, 40.7%, and 55.3%). You can see the full breakdown of data here.
What do you do if you suspect your child is using drugs?
It can be difficult to figure out how to talk to teens about drugs, but there is a right and wrong way to approach the subject.
When first opening up the conversation, don’t approach from a place of judgment as this will only serve to put your child on the defense. Make a plan in advance for what you want to say and how you want to say it, making sure to be calm, open minded, and respectful—all of which will make it more likely for your child to reply honestly.
Set out clear expectations for your teen and tell them what the consequences will be if those expectations aren’t met. It will also be helpful to provide facts about risks, including the long-term risks and the risk of overdose. Do some research in advance so that you’re well prepared to answer any drug use related questions your child may ask.
How does alcohol affect a teenager’s brain and body?
Over-consumption of alcohol can have serious and long-lasting consequences. Teenage brains are still developing, and alcohol can interact with and change just about every one of those developing receptors. Young drinkers are also more likely to experience serious impairment and loss of impulse control when drinking, as well as a slowing down of the central nervous system which can in turn lead to mental health issues like depression and psychosis—even into adulthood.
Should parents educate adolescents about addiction? And if so, how?
Yes, parents should play an active role in educating young teens about the realities of drug and alcohol use. Seek out times to talk when you’re not asking about a specific concern but rather just opening up a dialogue on the topic. A good time to do this would be on a walk or during a car ride, when you’re not constantly making direct eye contact and can converse more naturally.
Try to ask open-ended questions rather than those that will just elicit a “yes” or “no” response, and try again later if it’s clear that your teen doesn’t want to engage.
How is adolescent substance use treated?
For an adolescent, substance abuse treatment may make all of the difference when it comes to addressing a substance misuse problem before it gets any worse.
The type of recommended treatment depends on an individual’s unique needs and situation, with options that include mental health counseling, detox and inpatient care, and family therapy.
Parents have a responsibility to keep an eye out for their teens—and to have tough conversations when warranted. If you are concerned about your child’s drug or alcohol use, we encourage you to learn more about Retreat Family, including our treatment and support resources.