Signs and Symptoms of Drug Use in Adolescents

Part two of this four-part series will provide you with the information you need to determine whether your child is using drugs—including alcohol—and what to do about it. Read part one, Drug and Alcohol Abuse, Addiction and Dependence.

As parents, we often jump to conclusions out of fear. Symptoms of drug use in teens are frightening, and teens can be notoriously secretive about their lives, making it difficult to have a conversation about it. Determining whether your child is using drugs may end up being a matter of looking for common symptoms of drug use and listening to your parental instincts.

How Substance Abuse, Addiction and Dependence Are Diagnosed

Substance abuse, addiction and dependence are diagnosed under the umbrella of “substance use disorder,” using the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Eleven criteria are used to determine whether an SUD is mild, moderate or severe. Meeting two or three criteria denotes a mild SUD, while meeting four or five indicates a moderate disorder. Meeting six to seven criteria indicates a severe SUD.

The criteria are:

  1. Using larger amounts of drugs and for a longer period of time than intended
  2. Wanting to quit or cut down but finding you’re unable to do so
  3. Spending significant time seeking, using and recovering from using drugs
  4. Experiencing cravings for the drug
  5. Being repeatedly unable to meet expectations at home, work or school
  6. Continuing to use drugs despite problems caused or made worse by the drugs
  7. Losing interest in activities that were once important and enjoyable
  8. Engaging in risky behaviors when seeking or using drugs
  9. Continuing to use drugs even though they’re affecting your health
  10. Developing a tolerance, necessitating larger doses to get the same effects
  11. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking the drug

Other Symptoms of Drug Use

In addition to the criteria for diagnosing a substance use disorder, your child may exhibit other symptoms of drug use. These include:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in behavior, such as mood swings or acting withdrawn
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Changes in friends
  • Declining academic performance
  • Getting into trouble at home, school or with the law
  • Deteriorating relationships with family and friends
  • The presence of drugs or drug paraphernalia, such as pipes, lighters or baggies
  • Enlarged or pinpoint pupils
  • Acting disoriented, paranoid or hostile
  • Slurred speech
  • Frequent headaches or other illnesses
  • Exhibiting uncharacteristically high or low energy
  • Becoming angry or defensive when confronted with evidence of drug use

If your child is displaying symptoms of drug use, consider making a doctor’s appointment for him. Let the doctor know your concerns ahead of time, and ask them to screen your child for substance abuse.

How Substance Use Disorders Are Treated

Once an addiction develops, willpower and good intentions are not enough to end it for the long-term.1 Addiction almost always has underlying causes, and professional help is almost always needed. Addiction also leads to skewed thinking patterns and unhealthy behaviors that can grow more dysfunctional with time.

High-quality addiction treatment takes a holistic approach to rehab that addresses issues of body, mind and spirit. This whole-person approach will help your child:

  • Identify harmful thought and behavior patterns and practice healthier ways of thinking and behaving
  • Develop a toolkit of skills and strategies to cope with cravings, peer pressure, high-risk situations, stress and other relapse triggers
  • Improve self-awareness, self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Develop a non-user identity
  • Identify an ideal future and set actionable goals to achieve it
  • Identify purpose and meaning in a life without drugs
  • Learn to relax and have fun without drugs
  • Repair damaged relationships with friends and family members

Family therapy is central to successful recovery for teens. Family therapy helps to improve communication among family members and restore function to the household. High-quality addiction treatment will include additional programming for family members, such as workshops and support groups.


  1. httpss://

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *