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Recognizing the Signs of Substance Abuse in Teens

Content provided by: Better Medicine from Healthgrades

Teens are not adults, yet they often have to make adult decisions about drugs and alcohol. Try to be aware of the pressures teens face and learn the signs of substance abuse. If your child has a problem with alcohol or drugs, take action. Your doctor can help.

Why Do Teens Abuse Drugs?

Some of the most common reasons kids try drugs include:

  • Peer pressure. Teens often face intense pressure from their friends to try drugs.

  • Social anxiety. Teens may think drug use will help them fit in. Or, they may believe it will make them more relaxed and outgoing.

  • Curiosity. It's normal for teens to want to find out about drugs for themselves.

  • Problems with school, parents, or sex. Teens often assume that getting high will solve all their problems.

What Are the Warning Signs?

It can be hard to spot drug use in teens. That's because their lives are often in turmoil. Also, many signs of drug abuse may be signs of other problems. These may include depression and eating disorders. You should be concerned if your teen:

  • Falls behind in school. A drastic drop in grades may signal a serious problem.

  • Withdraws from family and old friends.

  • Gives up former activities, such as sports or music.

  • Lies or steals.

  • Takes risks.

  • Seems moody or depressed.

  • Is very hostile.

  • Gets in trouble with the law or at school.

To help keep your kids away from drugs:

  • Spend time with your teen. Do something together at least once a week.

  • Don't be afraid to ask questions. Find out where your children are going and who their friends are.

  • Try to be there when your children get home. The peak time for drug abuse is between 4:00 and 6:00 p.m.

  • Don't lecture. Teens need to know they can come to you for help.

  • Be a good listener.

What You Can Do

Talk to your teen about drug use. Try not to react too strongly. Most of all, listen to what your teen has to say. If your teen is in trouble, talk to someone you trust. That might be your health care provider, a school counselor, or local mental health clinic. Many school districts now have drug abuse counselors who can help. Or, contact one of the many groups that deal with drug abuse.

Last Annual Review Date: 2012-03-13 Copyright: 2000-2010 The StayWell Company, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

Reference: Mental Health and Behavior section on Better Medicine

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Did You Know?

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In 2011, 2.7% of 8th graders reported having used over-the-counter cough and cold medicines to get high. For 10th and 12th graders, the number was higher – more than 5%.