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Teen Drug and Alcohol Abuse – 5 Signs

Written by Seth Fletcher on April 2, 2015
Last update: February 9, 2023
Teen drug and alcohol abuse is a dangerous arena, whether you admit it or not. Stories of teens abusing drugs and alcohol are common. Perhaps you’ve even thought, “My child wouldn’t do that!” You might even feel that dabbling with drugs and alcohol as a teen is “normal” behaviour that is simply unavoidable. After all, you survived, right?

Summer 2016 is fast approaching, along with all the music festivals and recreational activities teens like to participate in. It pays to know what signs to look for.

It’s important to stay involved in your teen’s life so you can easily spot changes in behaviour or attitude. While some signs of teen drug use can be obvious to parents, many parents are taken by surprise.[Updated April 15, 2016]: We published an infographic talking about the drugs in Canada. Take a look.

5 Early Signs of Teen Drug and Alcohol Abuse

  1. Sudden change of friends or social groups
  2. Declining interest in school or extracurricular activities
  3. Bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils
  4. Noticeable weight loss or gain
  5. Change in attitude, mood or personality
  6. Secretive behaviour (growing trend in 2016)
  7. Missing items (money, valuables) from home (growing trend in 2016)
Diagnosing drug abuse in teens is tricky because many of the signs are just normal teen behaviors. Keep communication lines open with your child by talking to them regularly and keeping tabs on where they go, who they’re with and what they do.

Types of Drugs and Effects on Teens

  • Marijuana: Red, irritated eyes. Giggling or inappropriate/uncontrollable laughter. Sleepiness and lack of motivation or interest. Weight gain or loss.
  • Stimulants (cocaine, crystal meth, amphetamines): Periods of high energy and euphoria followed by a “crash” with excessive sleeping, drastic mood change and loss of appetite. Dry mouth and nose.
  • Depressants (GHB, Xanax, Valium): Slurred speech and clumsy behaviour as if drunk. Contracted pupils. Sleepiness, lack of motivation and difficulty concentrating.
  • Inhalants (glue, aerosol): Headache, nausea, runny nose, rash around nose and mouth. Drunk-like behaviour, impaired vision and coordination. Irritability and anxiety.
  • Hallucinogens (MDMA, LSD, PCP): Large pupils. Paranoia or bizarre behaviour. Fixation on an object or person with disregard to reality. Irrational speech or confusion.
  • Heroin: Changes in sleep patterns. Needle marks on arms. Excessive sweating, sleeping, coughing, vomiting or twitching. Loss of appetite.
You know your kid. If you feel like something is going on in his or her life, you’re likely right. It might be something simple like breaking up with a girlfriend over silly things, but it could be a bigger problem. Instead of ruling out drug abuse, open your eyes and ears to the possibility.You could save your child’s life. If you suspect your teen or other teens abusing drugs and alcohol, stay calm and take action - do not over-react. With help from the professionals, you can help your teen overcome this obstacle.
Certified Addiction Counsellor

Seth brings many years of professional experience working the front lines of addiction in both the government and privatized sectors.

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