Teen Drug Abuse: Signs, Effects, Management, And Prevention

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According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people are most likely to begin substance abuse, including tobacco, alcohol, and illegal or prescription drugs, during adolescence and young adulthood.

Drug abuse can have long-lasting and adverse effects on a teen’s emotional, physical, and mental health and disrupt the family environment. It can also lead to negative outcomes in education, employment, housing, and relationships.

Read this post to learn about the signs, effects, prevention, and more about teen drug abuse.

Signs Of Teen Drug Abuse

The signs and symptoms of drug abuse may vary in different teenagers. However, the following are some common warning signs that indicate drug abuse in teenagers. A child may show some or most of these signs.

1. Physical signs

  • Lethargy
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Frequent health complains
  • Red or bloodshot eyes and dilated pupils
  • Long-lasting cough
  • Excessive usage of mouth fresheners to cover scents
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Unexplained burns

2. Emotional signs

  • Personality change
  • Frequent and extreme mood swings
  • Crankiness
  • Irresponsible behavior
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor judgment
  • Depression
  • Suicidal tendencies
  • Stealing money from friends and family
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
  • Getting defensive regarding actions and activities
  • Implausible explanations on the source of money
  • Losing or missing major possessions

3. Family

  • Breaking rules
  • Starting arguments
  • Increased absence from home
  • Frequent lying
  • Providing unrealistic explanations
  • Withdrawing from the family
  • Reluctant to introduce their friends to the family

4. School

  • Reduced interest in studies
  • Negative attitude
  • A drop in grades
  • Problems with maintaining discipline
  • Frequent absence from school
  • Sleeping in class
  • Reduced interest in extracurricular activities

5. Social

  • Making friends with teens who are less interested in home and school activities
  • Secret calls and visits from friends
  • Finding problems in following the laws
  • Sudden changes in dressing and music choices

These signs of drug use may at times point to some other issues. If you suspect your child of drug abuse, talk to a healthcare provider to rule out any underlying physical conditions.

Why Do Teens Abuse Drugs?

Various factors may lead teens to abuse drugs. The following are some of them.

  • Immature thinking, such as considering drugs as cool
  • Domestic violence
  • Abuse at home
  • Mental illness
  • Drug use in the household
  • Inherited genetic vulnerability
  • Poor impulse control
  • High need for excitement
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • ADHD
  • Availability of drugs in the neighborhood, community, and school
  • Peer pressure
  • Fear of not fitting in

Common Drugs That Teens Abuse

Teenagers abuse various drugs-legally available drugs as well as illegally available drugs. Legally available drugs include alcohol, prescription drugs, inhalants (fumes from glues, aerosols, and solvents), over-the-counter cough, cold, sleep, and diet medicines. In contrast, illegally available drugs include marijuana, cocaine, crack, speed, LSD, PCP, opiates, such as heroin, opioid pain killers, and designer drugs, such as ecstasy.

Common Drugs That Teens Abuse

Source: SAMHSA

Effects Of Drug Use On Teens

Drug use has detrimental effects on people of all age groups. However, in teens, some long-lasting repercussions of drug abuse are often seen. According to the US National Library of Medicine, the brains of young children develop until their mid-20s.

Drug consumption can affect how a person’s brain develops, especially that of the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that is responsible for decision-making. It might alter the way the child differentiates the good from the bad. It might also make them more prone to making wrong choices and lead to rash driving, unsafe sex, etc.

The sooner a teen starts drug consumption, the higher their chances of continuing to use them for a longer time and ultimately getting addicted to them. In addition, young people consuming drugs are at a greater risk of developing severe health problems in adulthood.

The following are the possible short-term effects of drug abuse on teens:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Wakefulness
  • Changes in heart rate
  • Altered blood pressure
  • Alterations in mood
  • Violence
  • Injury
  • Risk for trauma
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Psychosis
  • Overdose
  • Death

The possible long-term effects include

  • Heart or lung disease
  • Cancer
  • Mental illness
  • Hepatitis

For some teens, drug abuse can alter the way their brains function. The following signs are seen if there is any impact on the brain’s thought processing abilities.

  • It interferes with how they experience normal pleasures of life, such as food and sex.
  • Inability to manage their stress levels
  • Poor judgment skills
  • Difficulty learning and remembering things

These changes can make it more difficult for teens to quit the habit even when they acknowledge that it is detrimental to their health.

Role Of Parents In Preventing Drug Use In Teens

Drug abuse prevention starts from the parents, states the American Academy of Pediatrics. The following steps can help you prevent your teens from abusing drugs.

  • Have meaningful conversations with your child—talk and listen to them.
  • Identify the right age when you should talk to them about drugs and their side effects.
  • Help them make good choices.
  • Explain to them the importance of making good friends.
  • Teach your teen the ways to stay firm and say “No.”
  • Provide them with guidance.
  • Spend quality time with them.
  • Lead by example—do not use drugs and other substances
  • Be consistent, firm, and positive about your family
  • Correct your child’s wrong beliefs and teach them not to follow the crowd.
  • Avoid watching movies and shows that glamorize or normalize drug abuse.
  • Explain to them the importance of being responsible.
  • Keep them busy with engaging activities
  • Encourage them to take part in church or group programs

Managing Drug Abuse In Teens

The University of Michigan Health suggests the following protocols to manage drug abuse in teens.

  • If you come to know of drug abuse in your teens, the first and foremost thing you must do is talk to the teen about the problem.
  • Sit them down, talk to them, and explain why they should not be using drugs.
  • Do not use derogatory, disrespectful, or judgmental words.
  • Be supportive and assure them that you will help them through the quitting process.
  • A hostile environment and an unpleasant conversation might drive the teen away from you. So, keep those in check.
  • If you aren’t comfortable discussing this sensitive topic with your teen, do not hesitate to seek help from healthcare professionals, psychologists, or psychiatrists.
  • Understand that the type of treatment for drug abuse depends on the level of addiction.
  • If the teen has only occasionally tried drugs, a frank, heartfelt conversation with them can help. Ask if something or someone is forcing them to make the wrong decision of trying drugs.
  • If the teen has substance use disorder, they need to be seen by a doctor, a counselor, or both.
  • If the teen is physically dependent on the drug, they need detoxification treatment or therapy that would use a safe medicine to replace it.

Combining drug therapy with one-on-one or family counseling helps get better results. It is not uncommon for teens to return to using the substance. You must not judge your teen if that happens and be supportive. Be prepared for these setbacks, as it is not easy to leave the addiction.

Drug addiction is a vice that can poison the entire society. Begin reinforcing the importance of staying away from drugs right from your child’s pre-teen years. If the teen falls into a habit of drug abuse, try to nip the habit in the bud, and do not hesitate to seek professional help if necessary. You may also consider family therapy, where the entire family seeks guidance on managing the situation better.


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Dr. Ritika Shah

Dr. Ritika Shah is a dental surgeon with more than seven years of clinical experience across various cities in India. During her clinical practice, pediatric dentistry was her particular area of interest, and she constantly thrived to inculcate the latest advancements in the field of dentistry into her practice. Dr. Shah's deep interest in the well-being of babies and children... more