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Teen Drug Addiction-- Know the Signs

Updated on November 19, 2010
Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom is a keen observer of life. She shares her personal experiences and opinions in helpful and often amusing ways.

Confronting the Demon of Drugs


As the parent of a teenager, you may struggle with knowing whether your child's behavior is within the "normal" range. For many teens, experimenting with drugs and drinking is the norm -- just as it was when we were teens.

Sure, I remember some "stoner" kids who hung out on the bleachers at school. I also remember keg parties and nickel bags of pot. What I don't remember from my own teen years is anyone getting into any serious trouble with drinking or drugs. Sadly, today is a very different and more dangerous era. I know not one, not two, but ldozens of teens (well under legal drinking age) whose use became problemmatic, landing them in either rehab, the court system, or both.

The descent into alcohol or drug dependence is usually gradual -- but not always. It can take decades, or it can take months. The signs are (at first) subtle. But as time goes on, they become unmistakable. There is simply no denying that your child is not just experimenting or even recreationally using. Coming home smashed a couple of weekends is one thing. I'm talking about kids who are drinking or getting high every day of their high school (or even junior high -- even as early as middle school) lives.

So how do you know for sure if your child is chemically dependent? Here are some of the signs we noticed. Individually we could dismiss them -- until eventually we could no longer deny the truth. By the way, is an excellent resource....

Mighty Mom's Three Phases of Teen Use and Parental Intervention:

Phase 1: The teen exhibits increasing secrecy, irritability; sleeping habits change (awake in the night, not able to get up for school, claiming to be sick a lot);eating habits change, either eating more or not eating; loss of interest in positive activities (including quitting sports teams, job, etc.); withdrawal from family activities, no longer associating with old friends; new friends who mysteriously only have a first name, along with refusal to let you meet or talk to the friends or their parents; change of dress, including decreasing interest in hygiene; insistence on keeping a backpack with him/her at all times; cell phone calls/texts to numbers you don't recognize. Vehement denial of any of the above.

Phase 2: You discover evidence such as glass pipes, bags of weed or residue, pills, alcohol bottles or cans in their room or backpack. Expect one or more of these classic responses from your teen: "It's not mine, I'm just holding it for a friend." Or, "It was my first time. I didn't like it. I promise I'll stop." Around about this time you start to notice the grades starting to slip. This may include some astute teachers or counselors calling you in. The teen promises to stop, makes sporadic attempts at keeping up with schoolwork. There is surface compliance, but this masks what's really going on. Like a swimming duck, the surface looks calm, but underneath those little feet are paddling madly. Only in the teen's case, it's all back peddling.

Phase 3: Your teen has crossed that imaginary line from use into to abuse/dependence. All pretenses and bets are off, along with the gloves. Any periods of calm cease to exist, replaced by increasing tension in the house. Prior attempts to "be good" or "bring the grades up" go by the wayside. Extreme irritability or outright hostility, combined with an attitude of "I just don't care" descends. You start to notice money missing from your purse/wallet. Possibly things go missing from the house -- the teen may sell his/her or YOUR possessions to finance the habit. Alternatively, if your teen addict is entrepreneurial, he/she may take to selling drugs to keep his/her supply coming. Interactions with your teen may become increasingly physical, possibly requiring you to restrain him/her. If you're lucky, you avoid police or court involvement in your lives at this point.

If you are dealing with an addict, the only thing you can believe is that everything your child tells you is a lie.

If you have any compunction about violating your teen's privacy and looking in his/her backpack, pockets, closet, drawers, etc., GET OVER IT. Your teen is now in a downward spiral that will not stop unless you intervene. Chances are very good that your teen is unhappy with life under the current conditions. Mom and Dad are constantly "On my back" and school is just a place to go get high. But like any addict at this stage, quitting is simply not an option. It's impossible to imagine life without drugs, even if life on drugs is miserable.

It's also possible that despite the complete anarchy your teen has caused in your home and relationship, he/she still enjoys getting high and has no intention of stopping. In other words, your perception of how bad things have become is much, much worse than their perception. Begging, bribing,negotiating, threatening, grounding, taking away privileges -- none of these tactics will work if your teen doesn't want to stop -- or if he/she CAN'T stop.

In the end, the best test is this: Non-addicts adjust their drinking/drug use to their lives, while addicts adjust their lives around their drinking/using. If you feel that drugs or alcohol have become the most important thing in your child's life, to the exclusion of school, family, goals -- and with blatant disregard to the negative consequences of using -- then it's time to face facts. You're dealing with a demon. I wish you strength, faith and luck as you set about slaying it.


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    • Mighty Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Reid 

      7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      I can see the recovery in your writing, Luxmi.

      You don't mention it, but I do hope your son survived HIS addiction, too.

      Sounds like you've done a lot of healing and growing.

      Awareness of the dysfunction of our families (cuz we know addiction is a FAMILY DISEASE) is a far cry from accepting what is and our part and doing the work to heal our own brand of addictive behavior.

      Codependence has all the negatives of addiction-- without the blissful escape.

      Thanks so much for commenting. You have a lovely way with words, my dear! MM

    • LuxmiH profile image

      Luxmih Eve-Lyn Forbes 

      7 years ago from Fort Pierce, Florida

      Oh yes, been there, done that... have the denial scars to prove it. Voted up and useful.

      Discovering that one of my sons had become an addict, (28 years ago), was without a doubt the worst/best event of my life.

      Worst because once I finally came out from underneath the blanket of denial, nothing would ever be the same again. The cookie jar of blindness was broken and all attempts to glue it back to blissful ignorance was futile.

      Best because I was able to learn about the dis-ease and accept my own insidious role as a co-dependent. It stripped me of many disfunctional coping skills and provided a path of awareness with constructive skills. The process increased my awareness about my insecurities that resulted in the need to be a control freak.

      Bottom line I found freedom from past delbilitating conditioning. I learned to embrace my spirituality like the flower of a water lily rising out of the swampy depths to turn its petals to the sun.

    • Mighty Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Reid 

      8 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Hi electric knight. Lucky for you your family is immune to the insidiousness of addiction. Congrats on raising 5 healthy kids who are in turn raising healthy kids.

      Thank you for commenting. MM

    • electric knight profile image

      electric knight 

      8 years ago from florida, usa

      Good hub. Very on point. With 5 grown kids and 15 toddler to teenage g'kids (so far, so good. no addicts) I know how much vigalance it takes to keep them from getting in over their heads, and you gave some very good tips!

    • Mighty Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Reid 

      9 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Hello DeBorrah, it always makes me feel happy to read about adults who have close relationships with teens. I think that makes a big difference in how the teens perceive themselves. I'll be praying for you all that your grandson keeps on the positive side of life and never goes down the dark path of drug use/addiction. Also that if he notices any of his friends changing in personality he can recognize the signs. Kids can spot which of them is headed for trouble!

      Keep me posted if there's anything I can ever do for you. MM

    • DeBorrah K. Ogans profile image

      DeBorrah K Ogans 

      9 years ago

      Mighty Mom,

      This was very informative. My grandson has just started high school. So far so good. I am thankful that we have a great relationship with him. We keep the lines of communication open. I think this will be a good hub for him to read when he visits as well.

      Thank you for sharing


    • Mighty Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Reid 

      9 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Hi Shannon,

      I've been down the road before you, so feel free to lean on my experience. I hope it goes well for you and the demon gets tamed before claiming too much of your family's sanity. Peace. MM

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Thank you for the reminder that this is a demon I'm facing.

    • Mighty Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Reid 

      9 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Thanks, EJB. I sincerely hope you are not facing this problem. But if you are, I've been there and can offer supportive shoulders, at least. Peace. MM

    • ejb profile image


      9 years ago from Kent

      This is very interesting, well done.


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