Teen Drug Abuse

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Drug abuse is a pressing issue among today’s teens. About 1 out of 7 high school seniors have abused prescription drugs, and some teens even abuse illicit drugs, from marijuana to meth to heroin.

Drug abuse can have serious consequences for teens, including dropping out of school, getting STIs, getting into legal trouble, and even experiencing a fatal overdose. Here you will learn the signs and symptoms of teen drug abuse as well as how to find treatment.

The Truth About Teen Drug Abuse

The truth is that most teens do not abuse drugs. However, the potential for abuse is worrisome for many parents, and there are worse effects that can occur if a person begins abusing drugs as an adolescent. People are more likely to become addicted to marijuana if they started “using it when they were teenagers.”

Other important facts about teen drug abuse are:

Prevention and honesty are key elements in helping to keep teens off drugs. If you suspect that your child may already be using, look for the signs and symptoms of teen drug abuse.

Signs of Teen Drug Abuse

A teenager who is abusing drugs will exhibit specific signs that connect to their drug abuse. Some might be physical, some might be behavioral, but they will be noticeable if you know what you are looking for. Here are some general signs of drug abuse to watch for.

These are just the common signs that occur with nearly any type of drug abuse. Someone who is abusing prescription drugs, illicit drugs, or inhalants will likely exhibit many of these physical and behavioral signs. Knowing what to look for can help you decide whether your child is abusing drugs or dealing with another issue.

Signs of Specific Drugs of Abuse

If you do believe that your child is abusing drugs, it might be helpful for you to know exactly which drugs cause certain effects. Different drugs can cause specific effects and each abuse syndrome may be a little bit different. Here are the syndromes for some of the drugs most commonly abused by teens (excluding alcohol and tobacco).

Certain drugs have symptoms that are similar to others. For example, stimulants (often called uppers) like Adderall, meth, and cocaine can cause “rapid, explosive speech,” confusion, and behavioral issues as well as problems with the heart (NLM). Depressants like Xanax and Ambien can cause drowsiness, slurred speech, and extreme apathy and depression. Opioids, whether prescription drugs like hydrocodone (Vicodin) or illicit ones like heroin, can cause drowsiness, pain relief, and dry mouth.

It will help to know the class of drugs your teen may be taking. If you are concerned, see if their behaviors and physical signs fit into one of these categories. Then pay attention to symptoms as well.

Symptoms of Teen Drug Abuse

When a teen experiences symptoms of abuse, they will not be obvious to the casual observer. Often, this makes it much harder to pinpoint symptoms in order to be sure that the person is abusing drugs. Still, if the individual complains of

they may be abusing drugs and could potentially need help. Many teens do not realize the side effects of their abuse, or they try to ignore them or treat them in another way so that they don’t have to give up the drug. If your teen complains of issues that you cannot find a cause for, there may be a possibility that they are caused by drug abuse. Symptoms can be difficult to be sure of though, and one should only take them into account when enough signs are present that point to drug abuse.


Other signs of drug abuse are

Alcohol abuse is another common sign that can also point to drug abuse. Many teens who abuse drugs do so with alcohol to heighten the effects of both substances. Alcohol abuse in a person’s younger years can make them more likely to start abusing other substances as well, so it is important to look for the signs of alcohol abuse.

Why Do Teens Abuse Drugs?

There are many factors that can make a teen more likely to abuse drugs. Some of which were discussed before, such as genetics, environment, and the amount of their daily stresses.

Many teens take drugs hoping to “feel good,” “to fit in,” or “to experiment.” Others may do it in an attempt to self-medicate, especially if they do not realize that they have a physiological disorder or are denying an issue that they do not want to think about. Some teens even take drugs to try and do better in school; taking prescription stimulants as study drugs to keep them awake and focused is a common practice, especially for those in college.

Teens may take drugs for all kinds of reasons, ones which you as their parent may not understand. This does occur, and the most important thing you can do is to try and help your child without judgment or blame and to help them get treated for their drug abuse problem.

Drug Abuse Treatment for Teens

“Because no single treatment is appropriate for every adolescent, treatments must be tailored for the individual” (NIDA 2). This is true of both treatment for adults and for teens. In fact, the treatment process for both is quite similar. But every individual needs their own specific treatment plan which should be modified whenever necessary for them to get the best treatment possible.

When you are certain that your child has been abusing drugs and needs help, find a treatment facility that will be fitting for their needs. There are several ways you can find a possible facility, including:

There are two types of formal addiction treatment facilities.

Either way you choose, the facility should be the best one for your child, somewhere they feel comfortable attending. If they are able to weigh in on the decision, they should. Both types of facilities, however, use the same basic types of treatment when it comes to drug addiction.


“Counseling––individual and/or group––and other behavioral therapies are the most commonly used forms of drug abuse treatment” to help teens move on from their drug abuse habits and addictions. In fact, there are many different kinds of therapy utilized in formal drug abuse and addiction treatment. Some work better for other drug abuse syndromes while some may just be better tolerated by the the patient.


Medication is the other type of treatment most commonly used for teen drug abuse, but more of the emphasis is placed on behavioral therapy. Relying on drugs to treat addiction or abuse syndromes is not as viable as giving the individual the tools to change their behavior and a new perspective on their abuse.

Still, medication is often necessary to curb withdrawal symptoms, help fight cravings, and stabilize the patient for the ability to attend therapy sessions. Medication and behavioral therapy, especially when combined, are important elements of an overall therapeutic process that often begins with detoxification, followed by relapse prevention.”

What Should I Do?

Ideally, all parents want to shield their children from drug abuse and the physical and psychological issues that can be caused by it. Make sure you discuss drug abuse and what the possible consequences are in order to help prevent it in your child. If you are concerned that your child is already abusing drugs, do the following: