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A teenager’s brain is still developing. Thus, they risk suffering from long-term behavioral and cognitive effects when they abuse drugs at this age. There are higher chances for teenagers to develop drug addiction in adulthood when they start abusing at that age.

However, future addiction cases can be recognized and stopped if we talk with the teens and set a good example. Moreover, when we need to be able to distinguish between an addiction case and an abuse case to provide appropriate treatment. The difference is important because most teens usually experiment but are not really addicted.

Why do Teens Use Drugs?

As a teenager grows, it is normal when they face a strong urge to experiment something new and test their boundaries. There are multiple reasons why teenagers do drugs. They include:

  • To feel good
  • To relieve boredom
  • To fulfill curiosity
  • To ease pain
  • To gain acceptance from a particular group
  • To relax and forget their problems
  • To prove they are independent

However, teens give these reasons because they are usually exposed to certain risk factors. The more risk factors, the higher the chances the teenager will experiment with drugs and eventually get addicted.

If you can help them minimize these risk factors, they will be able to help them avoid or stop experimenting with drugs. The risk factors are:

  • Failure or achieving low grades in school
  • Low self-esteem
  • Bullying victim. It may be physical or cyberbullying.
  • Permissive parenting
  • If an older sibling or parent abuses drugs or alcohol
  • Perception of little risk in drug abuse
  • No rules or consistent enforcement for the use of tobacco, drugs, and alcohol in school
  • High tolerance for drinking, smoking, and drug abuse by the youth in the community.

You will need to work against these risk factors to eliminate them. For example, if you practice permissive parenting as a guardian, you should try to be around more and try to be the teenager’s role model.

Signs You Can Look for If You Think Your Teenager Is Abusing Drugs

Teenagers can get secretive. You will need to use communication to break down barriers between you two. If you talk to them about drug abuse, it will influence their decision to either stop using drugs or not use them at all.

An image showing four teenagers infront of an SUV, drug abuse among teens, the effects of drug abuse on teens

Parents need to be aware of the signs of drug abuse to be able to get them the appropriate help early enough.

Personal Appearance

Drug abuse makes people will fail to take care of their appearance. You will notice:

  • Poor hygiene
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Poor coordination
  • Clenching teeth
  • Sores, cuts, and bruises (from scratching, bumping into things or falling)
  • Pinpoint pupils and constant scratching indicate the use of Opiate
  • Burn on lips and fingers from smoking joints
  • Unusual odor like alcohol or marijuana smells.
  • Track marks on legs and arms indicate intravenous drug use
  • They will wear long-sleeve clothes to cover the track marks even in the summer.
  • Teeth clenching

Health Problems

Drug abuse gives rise to the following health issues:

  • Sleep disorder
  • Changes in appetite
  • Headaches
  • Sweating frequent illnesses
  • Shakes or tremor
  • Runny nose
  • Constipation
  • Coordination problems
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Excessive thirst from the use of marijuana.
  • Accidents or injuries
  • Seizures without any seizure disorder or epileptic history.
  • Sudden weight gain or loss
  • Nose bleeding. Comes from snorting cocaine

Psychological Changes

Personality, mood, or psychotropic changes are symptoms of drug abuse. It would help if you looked out for:

  • Extreme highs and lows
  • Memory problems
  • Low energy or lethargy
  • Manipulative or deceitful behavior
  • The emotional instability of frequent mood swings
  • Poor concentration
  • Decreased motivation
  • An unusually loud or obnoxious character
  • Laughing for no reason
  • Rapid-fire or slurred speech
  • Paranoia and unwarranted fear
  • Unexplained changes in personality and attitude
  • State of drowsiness followed by a state of high energy

Changes in Behavior

You will note changes in behavior first before other signs.

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Acting secretive
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Change in social circle or friends
  • Missing school
  • Dropping out of extracurricular activities
  • Poor academic performance
  • Decreased interest in hobbies and activities
  • New demand for privacy
  • Increased illegal behavior and activities
  • Defiance, hostility, uncooperative, for example by lashing out or violating curfews
  • No respect for authority
  • Complaints from classmates and teachers
  • Unexplained disappearances

Other General Signs

  • You may find drug remains or residue
  • A strong smell of perfumes or incense
  • You will find drug paraphernalia, for example, zip locks, needles, rolling papers, vials, capsules, pipes, lighters, smoking devices, and more.
  • You will notice cash or other resources missing
  • Hidden stashes of alcohol and drugs
  • Missing alcohol from your cabinet, medication, cigarettes, and more.

Common Drugs that Teens Abuse

These drugs are similar to the ones used by adults. Teenagers have a high chance of excess consumption or use of drugs as they have a shallow perception of the risks and dangers.


Teens abuse alcohol more than any drug. Those who have reached the drinking age have a level of social acceptance, and the teens will want this too. A teenager’s impulse control is yet to develop fully, and as a result, they will see alcohol as harmless and mostly result in binge drinking. Binge drinking increases the chances of addiction to anyone. A teenager’s brain can hardly resist addiction.


Most of those people who use marijuana regularly started using the drug when they were teenagers. Teenagers do not think that the occasional use of marijuana poses any threat. In the past month, over 20% of teenagers reveal that they have used the drug at least once.

Prescriptions and Over-the-counter Medications

Teens will seek out pleasurable effects from prescription drugs like OxyContin and benzodiazepines such as Xanax. Most teens know of the intoxicating effects of prescription drugs.

An image showing a group of four male teenagers spending time together, drug abuse among teens, teen drug abuse

The potential for addiction to these drugs is high and thus increases the chances of an overdose.  Almost 40% of teenagers who abuse prescription drugs get them from the medicine cabinet at home.

Over-the-counter medications carry the same risks. A good example is Dextromethorphan (DMX), which is the flu and cold medicine that is highly addictive.

Teen Drug Abuse Statistics

  • The Center for Disease Control notes that1 in 5 teens abuse prescription medication. 12th graders are the ones who have highly abused prescription medication as the study shows that 23% of them have used them without a prescription.
  • The National Institute for Drug Abuse uncovered that in the past month, 21% of 12th graders had abused marijuana. 1 in 16 high school seniors uses marijuana daily. Surprisingly, 66.7% of seniors disapprove of daily use of marijuana.
  • The most influential factor in preventing drug abuse parental involvement. However, 1 in every three parents feels they have little power to prevent drug abuse among teenagers.
  • In 2018, the National Institute for Drug Abuse discovered that 12th graders’ increased their perception of the risks of binge drinking. Moreover, compared to the peak years, the number of high school teenagers who use alcohol dropped by 58%.

Prescription drugs

You will be surprised to learn that cocaine, heroin and the likes are not the fastest-growing drug problem. Prescription drugs are.  People think that they are safer than the other drugs and this is a misconception. Each medication presents long-term and short-term effects.

  • Stimulants

Their side effects are similar to those of cocaine. These are high body temperatures at a risky level, an irregular heartbeat, and paranoia.

  • Opioids

Opioids and heroin target the same brain parts. They tend to cause nausea, drowsiness, constipation, and slowed breathing. These symptoms depend on the amount consumed.

  • Depressants

These tend to cause fatigue, shallow breathing, slurred speech, lack of coordination, disorientation, and if you withdraw from chronic use, seizures may appear.

Ways You Can Make a Difference

a. If a Teen Admits to Taking Drugs:

You should not overreact. If you lash out or overreact, the teenager will most likely retreat and fail to share about the experience. When the teen decides to open up, you will be able to know if it is a problem at hand or if it was a one-time thing.

It would help if you expressed how you care about them and their future as well. If the teen feels loved and supported, they will agree to get help, and if they are experimenting, they will most likely stop.

b. If a Teen Denies Drug Use:

Naturally, teens could lie about abusing drugs. You should try and reassure your child that you have a genuine concern, and you want to help. There are cases where they will persist in lying. If you suspect they are still lying, you can do a home drug test to find out or call a professional to help you out.

Some of the professionals you can rely on to diagnose the drug problem include therapists, addiction specialists, and pediatricians.

Addiction Treatment for Teens

Once you have uncovered an addiction problem, it is time to seek addiction treatment for your son or daughter.  A detox facility will provide counseling on top of medical treatment. The detox center will focus on helping the teen build their confidence and self-esteem.

 Getting Professional Help: Ascendant New York Drug and Alcohol Detox

Advantages of getting professional help for teen addiction treatment include:

  • The teen will have a safe environment to recover from their addiction. They will not have any exposure to drugs within the premises.
  • The teenagers will be able to work with others battling similar issues. They will be exposed to individual and group therapy.
  • As an alcohol and drug-specific detox center, we can provide academic programs that are fully accredited. This will help teens who may have fallen behind in school and those who need academic assistance.
  • The teenagers will undergo Cognitive behavior therapy. This helps them to identify triggers in the environment, the social and personal space that influence them to abuse substances.
  • They will also participate in family therapy to help them renew bonds with family and understand each other’s point of view better.
  • They will receive education on the various substances and their effects.


Drugs are a menace to teens today. This is especially true of 12th graders who are well off into adulthood. As a parent, guardian, or caretaker you should be extremely vigilant. Teens have many triggers that may lead them to substance abuse, and these may vary from teenager to teenager. The first step in trying to curb this problem is to create a safe environment for your child by being a role model and being present both physically and emotionally. By doing this you open communication avenues for your teens, so when they encounter problems they can talk it out with you.

Sometimes, however, this is not enough, and so you should look out for any significant changes in your child. These changes can manifest either physically or psychologically. You should not dismiss these changes as teenagers being teenagers; instead, you should probe further.

Once you investigate and start to suspect your child of drug abuse, you should get the conversation on drugs started. When having this conversation, you should approach your child in a way that assures them of your love and support. Only then can your child start to open up to you on their drug use. In some cases if the child is not in too deep and they may stop using the drugs altogether. However, some teenagers are not ready to trust their parents fully because they are afraid. Therefore, if you have tried reaching out to your child and they have only shut you out.The next step is to seek out professional help from a licensed detox facility.

After the professional identifies your child as a drug addict, you should then seek professional help. Depending on your child’s needs there are different detox programs available at Ascendant New York Drug and Alcohol Detox .

If your child is struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, and you are seeking addiction services in Connecticut or New York, reach out to Ascendant today.

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