How can I tell if my teen is using drugs?

teen with drug addiction

By Alicia J. DiGiulio, M.A.

10 Signs Your Teen is Using Drugs

What’s That Smell?

Have a real, face-to-face conversation when your teen comes home after socializing with friends. The smell may be on his or her breath, on clothing, and in hair. The use of products that are intended to make a room smell good or to cover unpleasant odors is another common sign that a teen has a drug problem. The teen will need to have some sort of plan in place to mask the odor of a drug such as marijuana.  This will typically include the burning of incense, use of aerosol cans of air freshener, and the excessive spraying of cologne or perfume around the room.

Frequently Chews Gum, Uses Mouthwash, Uses Breath Mints

Drugs that are administered or consumed orally will often linger on one’s breath. When a teen is trying to keep his or her drug abuse from others, he or she will frequently chew gum or use breath mints.  Additionally, teens will brush their teeth and/or use mouthwash much more than would be expected and much more than they ever had before.

It’s in the Eyes

When your teen gets home after going out with friends, take a close look and pay attention to his or her eyes. The use of certain drugs is known to have an effect on one’s eyes. The most easily identifiable changes include a pronounced redness of the eyes or when the eyes are noticeable and excessively glossy.  It may appear as if the teen is crying. The use of eye drops is known to alleviate many of the effects to the eye and many teens will keep eye drops on hand.

Mood Changes

How does your teen act after a night out with friends? Is he or she loud and obnoxious, or laughing hysterically at nothing? Is he or she unusually clumsy to the point of stumbling into furniture and walls, tripping over their own feet and knocking things over? Do he or she look queasy and stumble into the bathroom? These are all signs your teen is using drugs.  If your teen is jittery in the morning and calmer in the evening, it is possible your teen is using drugs.

Socializing With a Different Group of Friends

When a teen develops a drug problem, he or she usually begins to socialize with an entirely different peer group. The reason for this change is typical because the old friends weren’t drug users while the new friends are fellow drug abusers. By trading sober friends for fellow drug abusers, a teen has accomplices who are able to help with getting the drugs of choice.

The decline in Teen’s Grades

If your teen is using drugs, then this means that your teen’s school performance will likely decline significantly as a result of the frequent drug abuse. In particular, the teen completes less and less homework, spends less and less time studying, and may even begin skipping school to go get high with friends.

Sudden Change in Teen’s Appetite/Eating Habits

Teens with drug abuse problems may exhibit a major change in their appetite. This change in eating habits will inevitably cause either weight loss or weight gain, further differentiating the teen from the person they had been before alcohol and drugs.

Medications in the Home Go Missing

When a teen is unable to get his or her drug of choice, then feelings of desperation will quickly set in. Withdrawal symptoms evoke a sense of panic and will often cause teens to search the home for any substances that they might be able to abuse in order to experience even a small high. If a teen’s family members have been prescribed controlled substances, the teen will likely begin taking those and even certain over-the-counter medications.

Family Members Missing Money or Valuables

Families often report that money frequently goes missing at home. A teen with a drug problem will likely take money from family members anytime the chance presents itself. If the drug problem progresses, this could eventually include having valuables such as jewelry, family heirlooms, expensive tools, collectible items, electronics, etc. go missing.  This occurs when the teen is trading the valuables for the money needed to obtain drugs.

Drug Paraphernalia Found in Teen’s Belongings

A drug user will inevitably make a mistake and leave some type of paraphernalia in a place where a loved one can find it. Some of this paraphernalia includes pipes and bongs (water pipes) that are used for smoking marijuana.  It’s also possible to find small baggies or some type of credit card lying out with a shortened length of the straw. When found, paraphernalia is almost always evidence that a teen is using drugs.


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