Teen drug use is a serious issue that impacts many teens. In fact, 13% of adolescents ages 12 and older used drugs monthly in 2019. Recognizing the early warning signs of teen drug use could save lives.
In 2022, half of American high school seniors reported using alcohol, and 30% reported cannabis use.
There are many behavioral, physical, and psychological changes that can indicate that your teen is using drugs.
Engaging your child in discussions and modeling good behavior can be valuable prevention strategies.
Early intervention is key to prevent long-term problems from developing.
Teen drug use can happen to anyone. There are many factors that impact whether a teen will use drugs. Knowing the signs of teen drug use is vital to prevention and treatment.
How many teens use drugs?
Teen drug use happens to adolescents around the world. Teen drug use involves the use of alcohol and illicit substance by individuals ages 12 and older. The table below summarizes teen drug use reported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
|Substance||Percentage teen drug use statistics in 2022|
|Alcohol||51.9% of high school seniors reported alcohol use.|
|Cannabis||19.5% of 10th graders and 30.7% of high school seniors used cannabis.|
|Vaping nicotine||12% of 8th graders, 20.5% of 10th graders, and 27.3% of seniors reported using nicotine vaping products.|
|Other illicit drugs||5.7% of 10th graders and 8.0% of high school seniors used illicit drugs other than cannabis.|
- Teens using alcohol is something that happens every year. It’s ingrained into our pop culture. We see countless examples of teens sneaking alcohol when parents are not around on television shows and movies.
- Teens using cannabis (weed) is another common occurrence. It is also shown in films, TV shows, and music, which tends to normalize it.
- The use of nicotine vaping has become popular among teens. Although many teens are aware of the side effects of using nicotine, they continue to use it.
- Teens using illicit drugs other than cannabis is a serious concern. While the numbers of teens reporting use is not as high as alcohol or cannabis use, it is still alarming.
Signs your teen is using drugs
Teen drug use comes with different warning signs. This won’t be an exhaustive list, but will help you understand what to look out for.
Signs your teen might be using drugs include behavior, health, hygiene/physical appearance, and psychological changes.
Not all teens will experience the same warning signs for teen drug use. But many of them will exhibit behavioral changes. Some behavioral changes include:
- Decline in school performance
- Spending time with a new group of friends
- Lack of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Lack of respect for parents or rules
- Disappearing for extended periods
- Trouble with the law (ex., stealing)
Teens experience many changes during adolescence. But when drug use is involved, it can lead to significant health issues. Signs of health changes in teens using drugs include:
- Decreased or increased appetite
- Causing or experiencing accidents or injuries
- Trouble with coordination
- Decrease or increase in sleeping
- Weight gain or loss
- Repeated illness
Hygiene and physical appearance
Many teens struggle with hygiene issues. They are learning how to maintain a body with hormonal surges and the appearance of body hair. But adding drug use to this stage of life can make things more challenging.
Some hygiene changes of teens using drugs include:
- Bad body odor
- Smelling like alcohol or drugs
- Needle marks on the arms, legs, or between toes
- Burns on fingers or lips
- Repeated flushed or red cheeks
- Wearing long sleeves even during hot weather
The psychological changes of teens using drugs can be challenging, but not impossible, to notice.
The psychological signs that your teen is using drugs include:
- Lack of motivation
- Decreased concentration
- Loud or obnoxious behavior
- Memory loss
- Feeling extremely high or low
The changes in teens using drugs can impact their family and friends. This is why it is vital to recognize the signs as soon as possible.
However, prevention is essential as well. If you can prevent a teen from using alcohol or drugs, many problems can be avoided.
How to prevent teen drug use
Alcohol and drug prevention for teens is crucial. It needs to begin in the middle school years or earlier. If you live in an area with alcohol and drug issues, prevention should start sooner.
To prevent teens from engaging in risky behavior like drinking alcohol or using drugs, you need to be consistent.
Starting a conversation with your teen about why they shouldn’t use drugs doesn’t need to be a lecture. You can bring up the topic and ask their thoughts about it, and you can also give ways to handle peer pressure.
Speaking with teens isn’t the only way to prevent drug use. Knowing where your teen is hanging out when they aren’t in school is important. Monitor their extracurricular activities and sports events.
Meet your teen’s friends and their parents. If they want to spend time at a friend’s house, ensure there will be parental supervision.
Parents and caregivers should also provide support to their teens. Encourage their achievements and build them up when disappointment occurs. You can set a good example by drinking in moderation and not using drugs.
While these are not the only ways to prevent teen drug use, they are helpful.
How to help teens who are using drugs
When you suspect a teen is using drugs, it can be a challenging situation. Many factors will play into how to help teens using drugs.
Starting a conversation to discuss drug use is vital. Parents need to learn whether their teen is drinking or using drugs casually. If so, this is an important time for intervening.
Stopping a teen from casual usage can prevent an addiction from developing. It can also prevent accidents, injuries, and legal troubles.
Let your teen know they have your support by spending time with them. But if you feel seeking professional help is necessary, schedule an appointment. There are counselors and doctors who can speak with your teen.
It’s never too early to take action if your teen is drinking alcohol or using drugs. Taking early action may end up saving lives.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Illicit Drug Use.
- DrugAbuse.com. Teen Drug Abuse: The Warning Signs.
- Mayo Clinic. Teen Drug Abuse: The Warning Signs.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. Most reported substance use among adolescents held steady in 2022.
- Partnership to End Addiction. Signs of drug use in teens.