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Teenage Attitude or Something Worse? Early Signs of Drug Use in Teens You Should Know

Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD By May 31, 2019
effects of drug addiction on family members/signs of drug use in teens

Studies confirm that teenagers are biologically wired for risky behavior. And while that may not come as a shock to some parents, it may help others understand why their teenage children make confounding life choices. 

But as much as any good parent would hate to find out that their teen has been using drugs, sometimes it’s difficult to even know. It’s crucial that you’re able to spot the signs of drug use in teens so that you know whether or not your child is lying or hiding it from you. 

Today, we’re going to go over some of these telltale signs so you know whether or not your child needs professional help. 

Changes in Teen’s Outward Appearance

There are many signs of drug abuse in a teenager that you can look for, but one of the easiest to spot is their appearance. If you need a place to start, then it could help to look at these outward signs. 

Poor Hygiene

“Kids are kids,” is something that gets tossed around a lot. And yes, children may have a tendency to play, get dirty, and not care so much about keeping up with good hygiene. 

With that being said, excessively poor hygiene might be a sign to look out for. 

Scratch Marks

If a teenager is using opiates, one sign to look for is excessive scratch marks or the constant act of scratching. Some opiates cause the body to release histamine, similar to an allergic reaction, which can cause scratching symptoms to manifest. 

Track Marks

Track marks are unhealed puncture wounds that may be one of the signs of teenage drug use. Some drugs are taken intravenously with needles and are usually found on the forearm.

Rather than puncture wounds, they may also bruise or scab over. 

Bloodshot Eyes

A child may have bloodshot eyes for a number of different reasons, but it’s still a good outward sign to look out for. Bloodshot eyes (which appear reddish), may be a sign of marijuana use. 

Other drugs can cause other observable changes in your child’s eyes, though. For example, cocaine abuse and various hallucinogens like LSD may cause a user’s pupils to dilate. Heroin, on the other hand, may cause pupils to reduce in size. 

Changes in Teen’s Behavior

Just looking at your teen may tell a big part of the story, but you also need to pay attention to the way they act. Behavior changes can be a big indicator that your child could be secretly hiding an addiction from you. 

Failing Grade

Let’s be honest, school isn’t always easy for children. There could be a number of reasons why a student may be falling behind in the grades department. 

Still, failing grades and overall poor academics might tell you that something is taking away from their priorities and concentration at school. 

Avoiding Eye Contact

According to Mark Bouton, a former FBI agent, there are many ways to identify someone who’s lying. Avoiding eye contact is a sure sign that someone is hiding something from you. 

Now, why your child is hiding something or what it is exactly is another story. Sometimes, it helps to know that something is being hidden from you in the first place, though. 

Hostile Reactions

If your teenager reacts and lashes out in hostile ways, it might indicate that they are subconsciously being defensive. This could be another sign of teen drug abuse since they might be harboring a secret that affects them. 

Demands for Privacy 

It’s no secret that most teenagers want privacy. They are slowly growing into adults, and they desire that sense of independence. 

That being said, sudden and extreme demands for privacy might be a red flag to look out for. It could mean that they have something – physically or otherwise – that they are trying to hide, such as drug paraphernalia. 

Change of Friend Groups

People change and that might include changing friend groups. Sometimes, your interests change significantly enough that you may lose some friends and gain others. 

But a sudden change in your teenager’s social life is still a sign to look out for. Their new friend group may be for purposes other than just socializing. 

Significant Mood Swings

Does your teen go from extreme highs to extreme lows in seemingly no time at all? 

There could be many reasons for that, including psychological issues, but it might also be a reaction from prolonged drug use. Some drugs may cause significant mood swings, or the mood swings may be a sign of defensive behavior from harboring the secret addiction.

Other Indicators

Sometimes, you need to look beyond your teenage child’s appearance and behavior for indicators of drug use. It’s important to observe events happening around your house, too. 

Missing Medication

If you have your own prescribed medications and find that they are mysteriously missing, it could be a sign that your child is stealing them. Statistically, the use of opioids in highschoolers is actually down, but many still agree that they are easy to acquire. 

Masking Scents

Some drug use creates obvious smells, and your teen may use various things to mask that scent. This could include:

  • Cologne/perfume
  • Incense burners
  • Vaporizers
  • Scented candles

While these things individually may not indicate teen drug use, it’s still a useful behavior to take note of. 

Drug Accessories

While you may not catch your teen redhanded with drugs, there are still accessories to drug use that you may find. These include:

  • Needles
  • Ziploc bags
  • Aluminum foil
  • Balloons
  • Spoons 
  • Lighters
  • Aerosol cans
  • Rolling paper or cheap cigars

Again, some of these items on their own may not conclusively prove teen drug abuse, but they important clues. 

Look Out for Signs of Drug Use in Teens

No parent wants to find out that their child is using drugs or keeping dangerous secrets from them. But the reality is that some teenagers get away with drug abuse for a long time and may never be confronted about it. 

As a loving caregiver, you should pay attention as early as possible to the signs of drug use in teens that might tip you off to any potential problems. If you suspect that your child is abusing substances, feel free to contact us right away to discuss options for addiction rehabilitation. 

Resources:

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/teens-brains-are-wired-for-risky-behavior-study/
https://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-tell-someones-lying-by-watching-their-face-2016-1
https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/monitoring-future-survey-high-school-youth-trends

Article Reviewed by Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD

Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MDDr. Jeffrey Berman is a psychiatrist in Teaneck, New Jersey and is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. He received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He also speaks multiple languages, including French and Hebrew.

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