How to Know if Your Teen is Using Drugs (Signs and Symptoms of Illicit Drug Use)

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Despite the education that parents, schools and communities often provide concerning drug use, teens may feel the need to experiment. Peer pressure or curiosity combined with the mistaken belief that they are invincible can lead to drug abuse and possible addiction. Parents might stay watchful of various telltale indications that suggest teens are headed for trouble.

Physical Signs

Parents might notice unusual odors on a teen's clothing, on their breath or body. Strange smells might emanate from their rooms. When trying to mask the odor of marijuana or another smoked substance, teens might use incense, an abundance of air fresheners, perfume or cologne. If a teen has recently used drugs, their eyes may appear bloodshot. The pupils look larger or smaller than normal. Watch for strange changes in appetite, sleep patterns, unexplained weight gain or loss. While under the influence of a substance, teens might suffer accidents that leave abrasions or bruises. When asked about their injuries, they are unwilling to explain. They might also claim that they do not know how the accident happened. A lack of physical coordination, confusion or impaired speech might be indicators that they are high. Teens having frequent nosebleeds may habitually snort or inhale drugs. Drug users may leave cigarette papers, small pieces of foil, baggies, pen casings, spoons or pipes laying around in their room. A combination of these signs could indicate drug use.

Behavioral Changes

Teens who become enmeshed in the drug culture often exhibit multiple changes in behavior. They may act irritable and demand more privacy. They often develop an obsession for posters, TV shows, movies or music related to alcohol or drug use. Their style of clothing changes, and they may neglect personal hygiene. Activities that teens once found joy in are no longer interesting. They also often lose interest in school or work and make excuses for skipping out. Parents might hear complaints or concerns from classmates, co-workers, teachers or employers. Drug using teens often avoid spending time with family members or old friends in lieu of hanging out with new people or becoming isolated. Family beliefs and values are now seen as archaic. If not continually asking for money, family members may notice that money, medications or other valuables come up missing. Teens might also find themselves in trouble with the law over fights, thefts or other illegal activities.

Psychological Indications

Teens under the influence of drugs or who have become addicted to substances commonly exhibit psychological problems. Parents should become concerned when teens display unusual aggression, anger or irritability for no apparent reason. They might become hyperactive or laugh inappropriately. Teens may become withdrawn, unfocused, unmotivated, unusually fatigued or mentally out of it. Some drugs make teens anxious, fearful and paranoid.

Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "How to Know if Your Teen is Using Drugs (Signs and Symptoms of Illicit Drug Use)," in, February 9, 2016, (accessed August 17, 2022).