According to the Monitoring the Future Study, which has surveyed high-school students continuously since 1975, “The nation’s teenage drug problems are far from disappearing.” Professor Lloyd Johnson, a principal researcher on the project adds: “We continue to see a number of new drugs coming onto the scene, like synthetic marijuana and ‘bath salts.’ Synthetic drugs like these are particularly dangerous, because they have unknown, untested, and ever-changing ingredients that can be unusually powerful, leading to severe consequences. Users really don’t know what they are getting and, as the thousands of calls to the nation’s poison control centers relating to these drugs indicate, they may be in for a very unpleasant surprise.”
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that nearly 45% of high-school seniors have tried illicit substances, including drugs and alcohol. If these numbers don’t scare you as a parent … they should. There’s a good chance that your teenager could be among those who have tried one of these addictive substances. But does that automatically mean they’re addicted? Not necessarily. There are several signs you can look for that can clue you in to possible signs of addiction in your teenager:
1. Are you noticing unusual changes in your teen’s appearance?
To be sure, the teenage years are a time of rapid growth and development. However, there are certain signs that can reveal that a deeper problem may be afoot. Next time you see your teen, observe their eyes: Are they bloodshot? Are the pupils dilated or constricted? One of the first telltale signs that someone is smoking marijuana, for instance, is bloodshot eyes. Bloodshot eyes can also occur as a result of a lack of sleep, which may indicate that your teen has been using stimulants. Pinpoint (or smaller than normal) pupils, on the other hand, are a sign of opiate use and can occur when drugs like heroin, oxycontin, or vicodin are being abused. Dilated pupils can be a sign of hallucinogen or stimulant abuse.
How’s their health? Changes in appetite, weight, sleeping habits, and hygiene can be signs of substance abuse. (They can also be signs of other health issues, though, so be careful about jumping to conclusions.) A decrease in appetite, weight, and time spent sleeping can be signs of stimulant use, such as methamphetamines or cocaine. Stimulants generally suppress appetite, resulting in weight loss, and can cause someone to be fidgety and have a hard time sleeping. Drugs like opiates, on the other hand, are central nervous system depressants and can feelings of tiredness or sedation.
2. Has their performance in school changed uncharacteristically?
Some of the criteria for substance abuse according to the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV include neglecting responsibilities at work, school, or home. Some of the more common signs of this for teenagers are:
- Skipping classes, getting into trouble (fighting, suspensions, arrests, placed on probation, etc.) can also be signs of substance abuse, particularly if your child has never been in trouble before.
- A decline in grades
3. Has your child made recent changes outside of school or switched peer groups?
Almost all teens have an intense desire to fit in with the crowd. This makes them an easy target for drug and alcohol misuse, because if “the in crowd” is doing it, they want to fit in. One of the best ways to keep a check on this is to get to know your child’s friends and what they like to do. You may also want to keep an eye open for these symptoms:
- A loss of interest in hobbies or activities that he or she once enjoyed
- Changes in friends or peer groups
4. Have you noted marked changes in the way your teenager behaves at home?
Again, changes are a normal part of the childhood developmental process. However, certain unusual changes may alert you to a more serious underlying problem, like illicit drug or alcohol use. Is your teen manifesting the following signs:
- Isolation from others
- Demanding more privacy
- Frequent mood swings
- A drastic changed in appearance
- Acting angry and/or depressed
If you have observed any of the above symptoms in your child, one of the best things you can do is sit down with your teen and talk. Above all, your teen needs to know that you love them, and no matter what the situation is, you will support and help them. Even though it may not seem like it, years of psychological research confirm that your child trusts your opinion above all others. Resolve beforehand to react calmly, to hear your teen out, and to assure them that whatever is going on, you are with them to help them get whatever help is needed. Remember, if your teen has slipped into some sort of problem with drug or alcohol addiction, they need your help.
Morningside Recovery Center is a national leader in the latest research-based substance abuse treatment. Should you need someone to turn to, counselors are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at (866) 551-1720. Feel free to call us at any time and we’ll be happy to help.
American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-IV) (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (December 14, 2011). “Marijuana use continues to rise among U.S. teens, while alcohol use hits historic lows.” University of Michigan News Service: Ann Arbor, MI. Retrieved 21 December 2012 from http://www.monitoringthefuture.org.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-41, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 11-4658. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2011. Retrieved 21 December 2012 from http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/NSDUH/2k10NSDUH/2k10Results.htm.