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Signs and Prevention of Adolescent Substance Use

Teen boy

Raising an adolescent can be challenging; both for parents and the developing youth. Recognizing the dangers that could present and talking about them is one way of "battling" through this tough time. Substance use is one concern many parents have and by increasing your knowledge about this trend and identifying signs and symptoms, as the parents, you can be better equipped to manage these concerns. The following is a list of general signs of drug use in adolescents, which are considered beyond the norm of regular adolescent development.

This information is included in our Guide to Harmful Behaviors. Click here to see the rest of the guide.

Signs of drug use:

  • Drastic change in mood with no rhythm or reason to it
  • Abnormal sustained fatigue or bursts of energy 
  • Change in sleep or appetite patterns 
  • Decline in personal hygiene 
  • Withdrawal from family activities or decline in adherence to family rules
  • Change in friends or loss of interest in typical activities 
  • Decline in school performance and/or attendance 
  • Loss of job or irresponsibility during work that is pointed out 
  • Aggressive behavior 
  • Unaccounted for blocks of time 
  • Being caught in lies about whereabouts or events 
  • Unexplained loss of money or possessions 
  • Finding drug paraphernalia or noticing a lot of material with drug references 
  • Legal involvement

Parenting Tips and Tools for Prevention:

  • Get involved and stay involved with your adolescent
  • Know what your adolescent is doing 
  • Know their friends and the friends parents and don't be afraid to check in with them 
  • Tell your adolescent what you expect 
  • Set the rules and enforce them consistently and fairly 
  • Be the parent, not just a pal 
  • Talk about risky situations and the best ways to handle them 
  • Stay informed 
  • Show your adolescent you care by:
    • Saying "I love you" 
    • Being careful not to be too critical 
    • Teaching what and why not to use 
  • Listening without interrupting and with your full attention

Provide Alternatives:

Adolescents verbalize ​their reasons for turning to drugs include: trying to fit in, doing what other kids are doing, peer pressure, escaping pain, boredom, curiosity, the thrill of taking a risk, and being unaware of the true effects. Talking with your child about alternative means of dealing with such challenges or difficulties not only opens the lines of communication but allows for the adolescent to problem solve ways of handling arising situations and gaining confidence in their self-worth. If you feel your child or adolescent needs help with their substance use or your concerns elevate about the potential for increased problems, please contact the Boys Town​ National Hotline at 1-800-448-300 where you can be referred to the appropriate professional.