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Because impulsive teenagers can progress quickly from recreational substance use to problematic substance abuse (or addiction) parents need to be on the lookout for warning signs that might indicate a drug or alcohol problem.

Although the teenage years are a period of experimentation, very sudden or worrisome changes in behavior can indicate drug or alcohol abuse. Although none of the following warning signs proves drug abuse, the more signs you observe, the more concerned you should be.

Teen Substance Abuse Warning Signs

  • A sudden change in friends (longstanding friends are discarded in favor of a new peer group)
  • A loss of interest in personal appearance or hygiene
  • A constant need for money, without having much to show for money spent
  • A sudden need for secrecy – spending an inordinate amount of time away from family or hidden in the bedroom
  • Use of air fresheners or incense (can be used to cover up drug smells)
  • A change in sleeping or eating habits
  • Slurred speech, un-coordination or other signs of intoxication
  • A sudden decline in school performance
  • Bloodshot or watery eyes
  • A newly confrontational attitude (breaking rules at home and school)
  • Suddenly dropping activities that used to be enjoyed, often not replacing these sports or hobbies with anything other than ‘hanging out’
  • Strange mood changes or aggressive behavior
  • A lack of focus, concentration or memory
  • Seeming unhappy or depressed

Eating Dinner with Your Teen

According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, keeping your teen children drug and alcohol free is as easy as sitting down to dinner together as a family 5 or more times per week. Teens that eat dinner together with their parents more rarely are:

  • Twice as likely to use marijuana
  • Twice as likely to smoke cigarettes
  • 150% more likely to drink alcohol
  • Do more poorly in school
  • Have worse relationships with parents 1
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Page last updated Aug 05, 2010

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