Almost all adult addicts report that they began using drugs or alcohol during their teenage years, when the risk for addiction is higher. Many people think that experimentation with substances is an unavoidable, harmless part of adolescence, but the risks associated with drug and alcohol use during this time are higher than at any other time in life. Parents who learn to recognize the signs of teen drug use and what to do when these signs are present, can help their children to navigate adolescence free from these negative consequences.

How to Talk About It

The single most important thing you can do as a parent to help prevent substance abuse with your kids is to talk to them about it. Children who have an open dialogue with their parents about underage drug and alcohol use are more likely to have an unfavorable view of these activities. They’re also less likely to become curious about drugs and alcohol. Start having conversations about drugs and alcohol with your kids at a young age and keep it up throughout their entire childhood. Ask them frequently about their opinions on the topic and be open to answering any of their questions.

What to Watch For

Adolescence is an emotionally complicated time, so parents expect some surliness and distance coming from their kids. These types of behaviors can also be evidence of drug use though, along with many other symptoms. Some of the most common signs include:

  • Drastic changes in personality and/or behavior
  • Increased sense of privacy or elusive behavior
  • Changes in appetite, sleep patterns, or weight
  • Blood shot eyes, or static pupils
  • Frequent bloody noses
  • Trouble at school, skipping class, declining grades
  • Missing money, valuables or prescription drugs
  • Mood swings, irritability, angry outbursts
  • Trouble focusing, lethargy, lack of motivation
  • Hyperactivity and agitation
  • Impaired coordination, shakes, tremors

If you notice any of these symptoms in your teenager, the best thing you can do is ask them about it openly. The best way to learn about your teenager’s life is to communicate with them calmly and freely.

Solving the Problem

If your teen is using drugs or alcohol, you need to do your best to encourage them to stop. First, explain to them how these substances can impair brain development, have other negative side effects, and can lead to addiction. Set boundaries regarding drug and alcohol use in the following ways:

  • Setting Rules: Be clear with your teen about what you expect from them in terms of substance use. Lay out consequences for breaking the rules and be sure to follow through with them if you need to.
  • Get Involved: Monitor your teen’s activities and don’t shy away from being involved in their life. Check their room, check their backpack, and check up on them frequently. If they complain about the lack of privacy, remind them that their substance abuse makes it necessary.
  • Encourage Healthy Activities: You can only ground your teen for so long and eventually they will have to re-engage in their own life again. Encourage them to participate in productive social activities and interests.
  • Get in Touch With Their Issues: Oftentimes, substance abuse is a result of deeper issues for teens. Resist the urge to handle substance abuse with anger, and try to find out if your teen is dealing with a bigger problem.