Signs Your Teen Has a Substance Abuse Problem

Signs-Your-Teen-Has-a-Substance-Abuse-Problem - pretty young lady in hoodie grafitti wall background

Although it may be hard to admit, your adolescent son or daughter, or another teenage loved one, may have a substance abuse problem.

Typical Teen or Trouble?

It’s important to know the difference between indicators of drug or alcohol use and typical teen behavior. Early detection and intervention are two critical tools to helping young people before addiction patterns set in.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports:

  • Approximately 70 percent of high school students will try alcohol by the time they’re in 12th grade.
  • More than half will use an illegal drug before the end of high school.

The Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan conducts an annual study called Monitoring the Future (MTF) with 8th, 10th, and 12th graders. Nearly 45,000 students in approximately 380 private and public schools in the U.S. participate.

The good news from the 2017 findings is:

  • Heroin and opioid use remains low with adolescents, and didn’t increase in 2017.
  • There were no significant increases in regular alcohol use, binge drinking, or excessive binge drinking among teenagers since peak problems in the mid-1990s. However, underage drinking is still a problem.

The not-so-good news:

  • Inhalant abuse increased among 8th graders, including substances such as glues, sprays, and gases—nearly 2 percent higher in 2017 than 2016.
  • Illicit drug use, including inhalants, among 8th graders also increased in 2017 compared to 2016—roughly 2.7 percent higher.
  • Marijuana use jumped as well among all three grades combined in 2017—at 3 percent higher, MTF considers it the “first significant increase in seven years.”

The 2017 MTF study was the first to examine marijuana vaping as well. It reports 10 percent of 12th grade students vaped marijuana last year. Numbers are slightly less for 10th grade students at 8 percent; and 8th grade students at 3 percent.

Pay Attention to the Subtleties

It’s a known fact that at certain times during puberty, your teen may seem almost like a stranger to you. As children grow, they start to establish communication styles and thoughts that are different from their parents and perhaps more reflective of their peer group and other influences. This might create a disconnect between you and the once adorable 10-year-old who never stopped sharing every thought.

It’s important to become a reflective listener. This means you’re not only actively listening to your teen, but also understanding her and offering what was said back to her. In this way, you’ll pick up on certain cues, misdirects, and other aspects of communication that may provide clues to the behavioral and psychological changes associated with substance abuse.

Environmental influences can also spark drug or alcohol use. What you seem to cope with fine as an adult may be more serious for your child. The compulsivity for adolescents to abuse substances is often based on risk factors such as:

  • Undiagnosed physical or mental health conditions
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Early childhood trauma
  • Grief
  • Violence in the home
  • Lack of parental supervision
  • Peer group pressure

Understand Slang Related to Substance Abuse

Every teen generation has unique lingo, and drug and alcohol terms evolve rapidly because of viral sharing. As you catch snippets of conversation your teen has in texts or while talking with friends, certain words may pop up out of context. For example, a popular term for the attention deficit disorder medication Ritalin is “kibbles and bits.” If you hear your child talk about getting kibbles and bits for the dog—and you don’t have a dog—it might be time for a conversation.

Unfortunately, the list of substance slang is extensive. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency usually issues an annual report to help law enforcement and other entities understand the latest code words. Don’t be intimidated by its length—scan it to familiarize yourself with the possibilities.

Signs Your Teen May Be Using

There are certain physical, psychological, and behavioral changes your teen may present that are indicators of substance abuse. Unfortunately, by the time you notice some of these symptoms, the problem may be more advanced and require professional help.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence cautions you to watch for these signs:


  • Changes in sleep
  • Sudden weight gain or loss with changes in appetite
  • Lack of interest in hygiene and other aspects of personal grooming
  • Unusual breath, body, or clothing odor
  • Slurred or incoherent speech
  • Tremors or shakes
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Bloodshot eyes or changes in pupil size


  • Unexplained change in attitude or personality
  • Extreme or sudden mood shifts
  • Unusual agitation or hyperactivity for periods of time
  • Inability to focus
  • Lacking motivation
  • Seeming anxious, fearful, or paranoid


  • School trouble, including failing grades and attendance problems
  • Lack of interest in work, hobbies, sports, exercise, and extracurricular activities
  • Losing, stealing, or borrowing money or valuables
  • Clashing with family members and authority figures more than usual
  • Increased arguments
  • Aggressiveness, fights, or accidents
  • Shifts in social networks, friends, activities, and hangouts
  • Demonstrating suspicious or secretive behavior
  • Demanding more privacy
  • Lacking interest in social situations
  • Seeming more inhibited or withdrawn than usual

Willingway’s Commitment to Your Family

If you suspect your teen may be struggling with alcohol or drugs, we urge you to contact us right away.

Willingway’s adolescent addiction treatment program is designed to help youth who face challenges due to emotional difficulties, substance use, or simply the trials of growing up. We provide integrated techniques to help start the healing process in a safe, comfortable environment.

To find out more about services offered by Willingway, addiction rehab in Georgia, contact us 24 hours a day at 912-207-7227, and let us help you get started on the road to recovery.Willingway - Addiction Treatment Experts