If you’re a parent, sibling, or friend a troubled teenager, there is plenty of reason for you to be concerned about your loved one’s well-being. There are unlimited difficulties that young people experience as teens, such as social pressure, body image issues, academic challenges, and general insecurities that are all too common at that age. But unfortunately, it’s also common for teens to turn to illegal substances to numb the pain they’re experiencing or help them fit in with their peers.
Perhaps due to the media, a lot of people tend to think that teenage drug abusers have a certain “look” that makes them easily identifiable. Maybe they dress a bit goth, regularly get into trouble in school, hang out with the “wrong crowd”, or have a dysfunctional home life. While all of these are possible indicators, there are dozens of others that can easily slip under the radar and go unnoticed.
If you’re concerned that someone you love is abusing drugs or alcohol, here are some signs to look out for that you might have not considered before:
Physical signs of drug or alcohol abuse
- Their eyes are bloodshot or their pupils are smaller or larger than usual.
- They have a sudden change in appetite or sleeping habits, which can be paired with rapid weight loss or gain.
- They become less attentive with their personal grooming (showering less, wearing dirty clothes, etc.)
- They might have sudden seizures even if they have no history of epilepsy
- They’re experiencing regular nose bleeds.
- Their skin, hair or clothes smell differently.
- They suddenly have bruises or other minor bodily injuries that they refuse to tell you about.
- They suddenly lack bodily coordination and experience tremors.
Behavioral signs of drug or alcohol abuse
- As mentioned above, they could be performing poorly in school, skipping class, and getting into trouble with faculty (suspension, expulsion, etc.)
- They might lose interest in their extra-curricular activities, whether it’s a part-time job, a sports team, or a social club with friends.
- You, as a parent, might receive complaints about them from teachers, coaches, supervisors, or even their concerned peers.
- You might find that there is missing money or valuables in your home that were taken to purchase drugs. Finding missing perscription drugs is also common.
- They might act unengaged with speaking with you and withdraw from sharing any personal information. Isolation is very common.
- They might instigate conflict within a family setting, typically focused on family values or religious beliefs.
- They engage with popular trends in media—whether it’s music, clothing styles, or TV shows—that seem to value drug and alcohol habits.
- They might seek out private time as much as possible and avoid any confrontation, even in the form of eye contact.
- They might suddenly switch friend groups or adopt new hobbies that you never knew they had an interest in.
- They might be having a lot of conflict with peers, friends, and loved ones over small and seemingly insignificant disagreements.
- They might suddenly begin using a lot of perfume, incense, or other strong odors to cover the smell of drugs or alcohol.
- You might find eye drops in their room or in their belongings that they’re using to mask signs of drug usage in their eyes.
Psychological signs of drugs or alcohol abuse
- They might suddenly have a change in personality or attitude that’s seemingly unexplained.
- They experience intense mood swings, become increasingly irritable, and have extreme emotional outbursts.
- They go through periods of extreme changes in behavior, whether it’s sudden mania or depression.
- They’re suddenly unable to focus or complete a task, and seem to be in their “own world.”
- They seem to have heightened anxiety, fear, and paranoia with no apparent explanation,
If you’re concerned that a loved one is abusing drugs or alcohol, there is no need to panic right away. Suddenly panicking and confronting the teenager abruptly can only lead to more damage, so it’s crucial that you approach the situation delicately. When deciding to speak to the teenager, approach them calmly and openly, and make it clear that you’re not there to judge them. You are on their side and want to do everything you can to make sure they’re happy and healthy.
Taking a nurturing approach instead of an attacking approach will keep the teen from blocking you out. Try to understand where they’re coming from, ask questions in a respectful way, and try to find solutions together. If necessary, seek outside support from a recovery center or school therapist.