Is Your Teenager on Drugs? How to Look For The Warning Signs



Brian M. Murray, M.S., IMH

A nightmare scenario for a parent can be the day they discover their teenager is using drugs. Upon this discovery the parent will often question themselves as to how this happened and may even begin to question their parenting skills. One of the best things a parent can do is to equip themselves with knowledge of what teen drug use looks like.

If a teen is caught using drugs know that there are several factors involved with them using. Teenage years are often a time of exploration, hormonal changes and what psychologist Erik Erikson in his psychosocial stages of development identifies as identity versus role confusion. They are trying to figure out the world, who they are and their place in it. Drug use is often best resolved if it is treated like an open wound. Find out what they are medicating. What kind of life situational issues are they trying to resolve through the use of drugs? Sometimes it is simply a choice. Like any adult who suffers from addiction or dependency they often like the way it makes them feel or they may believe it gives them a favorable impression among peers.

Teens are often prone to sarcasm and negativity when being questioned or confronted on their behavior. This behavior is an attempt to protect what they are doing or to control their environment. It is usually associated with not wanting to give up what feels good to them, like drugs. Sometimes it can be hard for a parent to refrain from taking discipline to an extreme. It takes a little forethought to know that as a parent it is okay to respond to the teen without giving up ground. When dealing with drug problems, resistance is common. This isn’t about getting into a power struggle; this is about getting to the root of the problem.

Below are some warning signs a parent can look out for if they suspect their teen might be using drugs. This list serves as a guideline that can warrant further investigation of the teen’s behavior.

Signs of Teen Drug Use

·         Sudden change of friends. Questionable character and integrity of new friends. Contacting parents of new friends is always helpful.

·         School grades dropping off or failing.

·         Isolation or avoidance of family

·         Keeps doors locked and being very secretive

·         Lack of motivation, wants to sleep all the time, lethargy

·         Quick temper where there wasn’t one before

·         Unexplained nervousness, paranoid ideation

·         Changes hair color. Black or dark dyes are a common choice. Hair dyes throw off home drug tests that use hair samples.

·         Poor or avoidant eye contact, glassy eyes, dilated pupils, red and squinted appearance

·         Slurred or slow speech, delayed motor movements

·         Smell of substances, smoke or weird perfumes or incense smells in hair, auto or clothing

·         Unusual marks on arms, legs or other body parts referred to as needle tracks or pin sticks

Common Hiding Places

·         Electrical outlets, air vents, musical instruments & amps, hollowed out tampons

·         Buried in clothing in backs of drawers, socks etc., taped to backs of drawers

·         Under corners of carpets, mattresses, look for holes that have been cut out

·         Under the parents nose i.e. the master bedroom or other common areas such as kitchen

·         Pens or other writing instruments, lipstick/gloss, behind wall posters/pictures

·         Pet bedding, under the back of toilet tanks, game consoles, stuffed in candy/gum

·         False bottom containers that have screw bottoms that look like soda or hairspray/hairbrush

·         Anywhere in their car including under the hood. Anywhere in the garage.

This list can seem extensive and it is just the beginning. Watch the teen’s behavior, where they frequent in the house and be vigilant for certain patterns such as suddenly going in and out of the house through the garage, back door etc. The bottom line is drugs can be hidden anywhere and exhausting to look for. On top of this a teenager’s room can be a catastrophic mess and trying to comb through everything may seem almost impossible. However, it doesn’t take much to go into a teen’s room and start cleaning up a few things and at the same time make a few checks around the room.

Almost all teens are protective guardians of their rooms and may get defensive when the parent walks in, especially with a cleaning motive. Teens often feel that their room is their only safe place in the house and the only area they can claim some real estate. A protective teen doesn’t necessarily indicate drug use. Finding drugs in a stash after suspected behavior is what indicates drug use. In other words, get the evidence that the teen is using drugs before calling them out on it.

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