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Identifying Substance Use in Teens

Substance abuse among teenagers can be a daunting and sensitive topic for parents. With popular culture often glamorizing risky behaviors, it can be challenging to sway your teen from experimenting. Teenage years are fraught with pressures that make them particularly vulnerable to the allure of substances. While it's tempting to suppose our children are immune to these influences, the statistics are clear; according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), substance abuse often begins in adolescence and can continue into adulthood. Acknowledging the prevalence of this issue is the first step in protecting our teens and timely intervention is paramount.

Early Warning Signs

Recognizing the early signs is critical. It is important to be honest with yourself and your child if you suspect they are using any substance.

Behavioral Changes

Substance use can lead to noticeable shifts in behavior. Your teen might become more secretive, lethargic, overly hyper, or unusually confrontational. Keep an eye out for these concerning changes:

  • Sudden decline in academic performance

  • A shift in social groups or loss of interest in usual friends or activities

  • Erratic changes in moods without an apparent cause

  • Increase in asking for money

  • Paranoia

Physical Signs

Physical symptoms can be more difficult to attribute to substance use, especially when many are typical of adolescence. Nevertheless, some signs should prompt a closer examination:

  • Unexplained Weight Loss or Gain

  • Frequent Nosebleeds

  • Fatigue

  • Poor Hygiene

School and Family Impact

Substance use invariably affects a teen’s daily life. Be on the lookout for notable changes in family dynamics and schooling:

  • Increased conflict at home

  • Skipped classes or a sudden disinterest in school attendance or performance

  • A disregarded curfew or sneaking out at night

Changes in Activities and Interests

A sudden lack of interest in hobbies can be a subtle yet telling sign. When a usually engaged teen becomes disinterested or diverges to secretive activities, investigate further:

  • Dropping out of sports teams or clubs

  • Excessive need for privacy

  • Engagement in secretive or suspicious activities

Communication as the Cornerstone

Engaging in open and non-confrontational dialogue with your teen is essential. It must be built on trust and understanding. Creating an environment where your child feels supported is crucial for when these tough conversations need to happen.

Being Honest

It can be difficult to confront your teen about your suspicion, you may already be walking on eggshells with their behavior, or you can be close to your teen and not want to accuse them. Either way, honesty with yourself and your teen is the best policy. If you are unsure of how to broach the subject, get help from a professional. A counselor or therapist can provide you tips and feedback on how to navigate this area of parenting. The best approach for getting more information or starting the conversation includes:

·      Make eye contact with your teen

·      Schedule a dinner or lunch with just the two of you

·      Ask questions about their friends and group

·      Gauge their knowledge on the topic of substance use and get their perspective on the topic


Keep the Conversation Ongoing

Conversations with your teen about substance use should be ongoing and not just a one-time 'talk.' Consistent communication without judgment will establish a closer relationship and make it easier to approach difficult topics.

Seeking Help

When the signs are undeniable, seeking professional help becomes imperative. Knowing how and where to seek appropriate assistance can make the process smoother for both the teen and their family.

School Counselors and Health Professionals

The school is an excellent resource for guidance. School counselors can provide necessary advice and, if needed, refer you to local health professionals who specialize in adolescent addiction.

Getting yourself therapy can help you navigate the complexity of the conversation about substance use in teens.

Support Groups

There are numerous support groups and community services specifically designed to assist teenagers who are dealing with substance abuse. These can provide a crucial support system for both the teen and their family.

Therapeutic Interventions

In cases where the problem is severe, therapeutic interventions such as outpatient or inpatient programs might be necessary. These programs offer a structured environment for teens to address their substance use. It is important that the therapy not only address the substance use but the motivation to use the substances in the first place and address an

Moving Forward

Once your teen is receiving appropriate care and guidance, it’s time to focus on the future. This is a time for persistent support and understanding, as the recovery process is rarely linear.

Developing Coping Mechanisms

Encourage your teen to develop healthy coping mechanisms to replace their previous substances use. Engaging in sports, art, or simply taking up a new hobby can provide positive outlets for emotions and energy.

Staying Connected

Stay involved in your teen’s life without being overbearing. Knowing their friends and engaging in their daily activities can provide a sense of normalcy and support as they work through their challenges with substances.

Celebrating Milestones

Acknowledge every positive step your teen takes on their recovery journey. Celebrating milestones, no matter how small, can bolster their confidence and commitment to a substance-free lifestyle.


Identifying and addressing substance use in teens is an incredibly challenging but crucial task. By understanding the warning signs, fostering open communication, and seeking appropriate help, parents can play a significant role in their child’s recovery. It’s a process that requires patience, understanding, and a commitment to a healthier, substance-free future for their teenager. Remember, you are not alone – there is a wide network of support available to guide both you and your teen through this challenging phase. With dedication and the right approach, every teen stands a chance for redemption and a future free from the chains of substance abuse.


Are you or a loved one struggling with a substance use disorder? Please reach out to schedule a free consultation with one of our professionals. The problem will not go away on its own. 818-741-1119 or


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