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Updated on April 21, 2010




According to research statistics, most substance abusers begin using drugs as teens or preteens. Addiction is often referred to as a developmental disease, because it is so common during the formative years, and interferes with many areas of healthy emotional development in young people. Teens generally do not tell their parents or other well meaning adults, that they are using drugs, but there are tips available to assist you in recognizing the signs.

Early Signs of Substance Abuse

There are several behaviors to look for, if you suspect your teen may be involved in drug use. First of all, a change in friends, dress, or general attitude may be present in young people who begin experiementing with drugs. You may notice that your teen is hanging out with a new group, dressing differently, and complaining more about your attempts to set limits on his or her behavior. While some of these behaviors are common with teens who do not abuse drugs, friends who dress in non comformist styles, have multiple piercings or pieces of gold jewelry, and tend to avoid spending time in your home when you are present, may indicate that your teen is experimenting with controlled substances.

Tangible Evidence of Drug Use

Physical evidence of drug use may include small sandwich or freezer bags (used to store and carry certain drugs), tweezers ( used as roach clips for handling marijuana cigarette butts), drinking staws (used for snorting drugs through the nasal passages), plastic or glass pipes, or other items such as soft drink cans that could be used for the purpose of smoking, or freebasing drugs, aluminum foil (used for wrapping certain drugs, and sometimes for freebasing), and the presence of any unidentified pill, substance or drug in your teen's possession. This list is by no means conclusive; therefore, you must consider any suspicious item as one you need to investigate. Other items such as syringes used for intravenous drug injection are probably not going to be present until you have experienced many other signs that substance abuse is a problem for your teen.

Behavioral Signs of Drug Abuse/ Frequently Abused Drugs

Behavior signs of drug abuse vary, depending on the specific drug being abused, because different classes of drugs produce different behaviors in their users. Since this is true, specific drug type behavioral symptoms are listed below. Classes that produce similar affects are listed together.

Opioids, Barbituates, Painkillers, Central Nervous System Depressants, Alcohol

If your teen is abusing any of the drug types listed above, he or she may demonstrate impaired motor skills (slowness of movement, unsteady balance, etc.), slurred speech, decreased inhibitions, and impaired judgment. He or she may appear confused or in a daze, or may pass out completely and sleep soundly for long periods of time.

Stimulant Drugs, Cocaine, Amphetamines, Methamphetamine

Stimulant drugs produce high energy levels, intense concentration, and little need for sleep while high. If your teen is talking non-stop, staying awake for days at a time, then sleeping for days at a time, chances are he or she is using stimulant drugs. He or she may also be irritable, paranoid delusional, easily angered, and engage in risky sexual behavior. He or she may also lose a large amount of body weight in a very short period of time. Decreased inhibitions are also common for abusers of this drug type, leading to the high risk sexual behavior, mentioned above.

Cannabis, Marijuana, Hashish

If your teen is smoking cannabis, he or she will demonstrate slowed thinking and reaction time, confusion, a cough and frequent respiratory infections, impaired short term memory, and anxiety when the drug is not available.

Other Frequently Abused Drugs

Inhalants (solvents such as paint thinners, gasoline, glues, aerosol sprays) can also be used as drugs of abuse causing loss of inhibition, headaches, nausea, vomiting; slurred speech, and loss of motor coordination, and are often abused by teens. Hallucinogens, causing altered states of perception and feeling; continued perception disorders, and flashbacks while not using, are also commonly abused by teens.


This information is by no means conclusive. If you suspect your teen may be engaging in illegal drug use, get help from a Certified or Licensed Substance Abuse Professional, immediately. Your teen's identify will be protected by Client Confidentiality Rights that restrict the freedom of those consulted to share your report with others, without your written consent allowing them to do so. If you are not quite ready to contact a substance abuse professional, over the counter urine screen tests are available in many drugs stores, and the refusal of your teen to participate in drug testing is a pretty good indication that your suspicians are grounded in fact.

Drinking straws, spoons, syringes, and mirrors are all physical signs of substance use and abuse.
Drinking straws, spoons, syringes, and mirrors are all physical signs of substance use and abuse.


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    • valeriebelew profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Metro Atlanta, GA, USA

      Thanks for your input napetv. I hold that it is best not to drive while usiing any drug, but agree that cannabis users are not the risk that alcohol intoxicated drivers are. Statistically, this is fact.

    • valeriebelew profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Metro Atlanta, GA, USA

      Hello Harry, you might be shocked to learn that I actually agree with you in respect to cannabis and alcohol; however, any drug use by kids is kids learning to deal with social issues and problems through use of a substance instead of through trial and error. I never cease to be amazed at how people assume they know my feelings on a number of issues that are never mentioned in a particular article. Such rantings and accusations are typical of addictive behavior, and cause me to wonder if the ranter is indeed emotionally or otherwise dependent on the drug he or she is so emotionally defending; however, as I said, there is some truth in your rant. thanks for commenting on my site.

      NotPC, you are correct. kids should not be using cannabis OR alcohol because both form habitual methods of dealing with life issues that should be dealt with through trial and error, not through the habitual dulling of the senses as well as the pain of making social blunders and mistakes through use of a drug or drink. Actually alcohol is a drug, though it is a legal one. It is just as deadly, and just as lethal as many illigal drugs, and other than the tar/lung issue also present in the legal drug, nicotine, it is much more lethal than cannabis. More people die of alcohol related accidents and incidents than they do through cannabis related incidents or accidents, statistically speaking. (:v

    • NotPC profile image


      8 years ago

      No matter what, teens should not be using drugs. They mess up your life.

    • Harry Santos profile image

      Harry Santos 

      8 years ago from Metro Manila, Philippines

      I suggest you learn more about drugs first like Marijuana. Many people think that marijuana is so harmful when really alcohol is even more harmful. Be more worried if your teen takes too much alcohol than when he experiments with marijuana. I'm not saying it's a good thing. What I'm saying is that research more about it first before adhering to hearsay or mindless propaganda.

    • valeriebelew profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Metro Atlanta, GA, USA

      Very True, Mentalist acer, and these days, many of the parents are heavy drinkers, illegal or prescription drug abusers, or all three combined. Thanks for commenting on my site. Did you read the hub I published on the topic you requested? It is completed and available now.

    • Mentalist acer profile image

      Mentalist acer 

      8 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

      I suspect when a child sees their parents taking Zanex or drinking and smoking, it tends to blur the lines of limitations on what a safe lifestyle truly means...actions speak louder than words.

    • deestew profile image


      9 years ago from Kentucky

      This is a very good hub. Not one that many parents will want to read because it just makes things seem more real. But its out there and we have to be informed. Thanks.


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