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Signs of Teenage Drug/Alcohol Abuse

Warning Signs of Teenage Drug/Alcohol Abuse

Please note that the following disclaimer on this section regarding the warning signs of teenage drug/alcohol abuse. Just because your son/daughter/ward has exhibited one or more of these signs, it is not a given that they are using substances. They could be experiencing normal teenage changes (e.g., the sign of spending a lot of time in their room), or it could also be indicative of other mental health related problems (e.g., "unhappy or depressed" and "sudden increase or decrease in appetite" are both signs of a depressive disorder).

If you see enough of these signs in your child/ward, it may be best to have an evaluation performed to see if treatment is indicated at this time.
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Warning Signs in the Home
  • verbally or physically abusive
  • loss of interest in family activities
  • disrespect for family rules
  • withdrawal from responsibilities
  • sudden increase or decrease in appetite
  • disappearance of valuable items or money
  • not coming home on time
  • not telling you where they are going
  • constant excuses for behaviour
  • spending a lot of time in their rooms
  • lies about activities
  • finding the following: cigarette rolling papers, pipes, roach clips, small glass vials, plastic baggies, remnants of drugs (seeds, etc.)
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Warning Signs in School
  • sudden drop in grades
  • loss of interest in learning
  • sleeping in class, or lack of attention in class
  • poor work performance
  • not doing homework
  • defiant of school authority figures
  • poor attitude towards sports or other competative extracurricular activities
  • poor short-term memory
  • not informing you of teacher meetings, open houses, changes in schedule, etc.
  • truancy
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Emotional/Behavioral Warning Signs
  • changes friends
  • unexplainable mood swings and behavior
  • negative, argumentative, paranoid or confused, destructive, anxious
  • over-reacts to criticism acts rebellious
  • sharing few if any of their personal problems
  • doesn't seem as happy as they used to be
  • unhappy and depressed
  • lies, cheats, steals
  • has scrapes with the legal system
  • always needs money, or has excessive amounts of money
  • sloppiness in appearance, or has drastically changed appearance
  • use of incense or other deodorizers
  • use of eyedrops
  • clothing, posters, jewelry, etc., promoting drug use
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Physical Warning Signs
  • smell of alcohol or marijuana on breath or body
  • overly tired or hyperactive
  • drastic weight loss or gain
  • persistent fatigue
  • repeated health complaints
  • steady cough (with smokeable drugs)
  • red and/or dull eyes (different drugs have different impact on eyes. For example marijuana will produce red eyes, LSD will produce greatly dialated pupils)
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Summary and Recommendations

Many adolescents (some studies report upwards of 75% of all adolescents) will experiment with alcohol and/or other drugs. Experimentation often leads to regular use, which can then lead to adolescents who meet the criteria for substance abuse or dependence. Depression and other psychological concerns can accompany drug and alcohol misuse and abuse. These issues should be properly assessed, and if deemed necessary, addressed in an appropriate clinical treatment environment.
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Information from this article was gathered from the followings sources:

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Hunterdon Drug Awareness Program, Inc.
8 Main Street, Suite 7
Flemington, NJ 08822
Phone: 1-908-788-1900
Fax: 1-908-788-3836
Glenn Duncan, Executive Director