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Signs of Teen Drug Addiction

The road to addiction often starts with using and abusing drugs and alcohol. If you suspect that your teen has a problem, watch out for the signs. If they are abusing or addicted to drugs, you may want to consider rehab.


7 min read

What Are Symptoms and Signs of Drug Use In Teens?

A symptom is what the patient feels and describes and a sign is what other people notice. The signs of drug use in teens may be easy to hide in its early stages, but as the habit continues and develops into an addiction, the writings on the wall typically become clearer. If you suspect your loved one has a substance abuse problem, look out for these indicators during your interactions:

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Changes in Appearance

If your teen is using regularly, there’s potential for tremendous irreversible harm to their body. Habitual users will often experience weight loss and/or gain, will lose sleep, and will show general wear and tear. The face is usually what displays the most obvious changes; baggy eyes, dry skin, chapped lips, etc. Addicts will often take less pride in their hygiene and clothing over time, and can appear disheveled or unkempt in their day-to-day routine.

Worsening of Health

If your teen is dealing with substance abuse, they may begin to exhibit additional health issues that require attention.

These physical symptoms of drug use in teens can include:

  • Going in and out of sickness
  • Low energy
  • Hyperactivity
  • Strange eating habits
  • Burns, bruises, or track marks
  • Headaches
  • Injuries
  • Seizures
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweatiness
  • Flushed skin or rashes

If a suffering teen doesn’t get the right help, these symptoms can land them in serious trouble — getting kicked out of school, being placed in handcuffs, or being admitted to the emergency room. These serious risks remain in play every day. It’s crucial, if you notice the warning signs, to speak up and reach out for help. Inaction among loved ones can be a suffering teen’s worst enemy.

Academic Nosedive

When substance abuse takes the wheel, it’s only a matter of time until other obligations are pushed to the side, neglected or forgotten entirely. You may notice your teen start to fail tests and quizzes or get bad grades in classes they’d normally ace. You may get calls about them from teachers and administrators.

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If your teen has a part-time job, that may very well become an afterthought as well. Neglecting work responsibilities and facing the consequences is something that happens often for a young person struggling with substance abuse. Generally speaking, they may appear forgetful, clumsy, distant and unaffected by the world around them.

Suspicious Behavior

“It’s like I don’t even know you anymore.”

As cliché as the line sounds, it reflects a common sentiment among loved ones when a teenager gets wrapped up in their substance habit. Teens dealing with substance abuse can sometimes change drastically.

This becomes worrisome especially when they ditch their trusted circle of old friends for a brand new one — a new group that directly influences and enables their destructive new habits. Then comes the disconnection: lying about whereabouts, shutting loved ones out emotionally and stealing money from friends and family in order to fund their next fix. Otherwise good kids can start to get in trouble with teachers or police officers. Teenagers may be notorious for the occasional bratty attitude, but when their bad attitude becomes impossible to ignore, it may hint at a serious problem.

The Different Signs Of Drug Use In Teens

Sometimes, the most obvious signs are the most often overlooked. It could be something like a smell — alcohol and marijuana in particular stick to clothes and give off strong fumes from the breath. You may discover an empty beer bottle or pipe, which can be hard to confuse, or a crumpled plastic bag, which may be leftover from a drug stash. If you stumble upon hard evidence, hold onto it. This can be invaluable evidence when meeting with a doctor or confronting your teen about their problem.

While the signs of teen drug use don’t necessarily indicate longer-term addiction is occurring in your teen, understanding the warning signs can help you stay involved in their lives when they need you the most.

Signs of Teen Alcoholism

While alcohol use can typically be smelled on a user’s breath, a dependence on alcohol can be more difficult to assess.

The signs and symptoms of alcoholism include, but are not limited to:

  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Trembling
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Headache

Signs of Cannabis Use In Teens

Marijuana and other substances containing cannabis — the plant from which its psychoactive properties are derived —can be used by smoking, inhaling in vapor or by eating in foods.

The signs and symptoms of marijuana use include, but are not limited to:

  • Red, bloodshot eyes
  • Constant wet cough
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Dry mouth (also known as cottonmouth)
  • Clumsiness or poor coordination
  • Delayed reaction time
  • Difficulty keeping thoughts together
  • Poor short-term memory
  • Extreme, unusual hunger patterns — usually involving sweets or snacks
  • Acting unusually giggly
  • Acting dazed or confused
  • Lack of motivation, enthusiasm
  • Disjointed storytelling and conversation
  • Paranoia

Signs of Stimulant Use In Adolescents

young boy laying on couch with alcohol

Teens turn to stimulants for a variety of reasons, including getting high, improving mental sharpness at school or to control appetite. Stimulants include cocaine, meth, and amphetamines.

The signs and symptoms of stimulant use include, but are not limited to:

  • Increased heart rate and breathing
  • Heightened sensitivity to sight, sound and touch
  • Extreme talkativeness
  • Increased energy
  • Increased mental acuity
  • Weight loss, due to constant lack of appetite
  • Strange, unpredictable and violent behavior
  • Panic attacks or losing touch with reality
  • Constant restlessness
  • Nosebleeds
  • Dilated pupils
  • Persistent sickness
  • Emotional detachment from friends and family
  • Depression when off the drug

Signs of Teen Depressant Use

Central nervous system depressants leave the user feeling relaxed and enable them to “escape.” Drugs in this category can include barbiturates (e.g. phenobarbital, secobarbital, etc.) and benzodiazepines (e.g. Valium, Xanax, Ativan, etc.)

The signs and symptoms of depressant use include, but are not limited to:

  • Reduced inhibitions
  • Decreased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Slowed breathing
  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Lack of coordination
  • Euphoria
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Involuntary eye movement
  • Dizziness
  • Depression

Signs of Club Drug Use

Teens will find club drugs frequently at concerts and parties. There are a variety of different drugs that fit in this category, including ecstasy (also called Molly) and Rohypnol (also called roofies). These drugs dramatically reduce inhibitions.

The signs and symptoms of club drug use include, but are not limited to:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Heightened or distorted sense of sight, sound and taste
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Tremors
  • Chills and sweating
  • Wild, aggressive behavior
  • Muscle cramps
  • Involuntary teeth clenching
  • Decreased coordination
  • Poor judgment
  • Memory loss
  • Rapid changes in heart rate and blood pressure

Signs of Teen Hallucinogen Use

sad teenage boy on floor

Hallucinogens dramatically alter the user’s sense of perception and reality. They include LSD and PCP.

The signs and symptoms of hallucinogen use include, but are not limited to:

  • Hallucinations
  • Misinterpreting input from one sense as input from another
  • Unexplainable, impulsive behavior
  • Wild changes in emotion
  • Increased heart rate and high blood pressure
  • Tremors
  • Flashbacks
  • Feeling detachment from the body and environment
  • Decreased coordination
  • Involuntary eye movement
  • Numbness to sensation
  • Memory loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Intolerance to loud noise
  • Seizures

Signs of Synthetic Drug Use In Teenagers

Synthetic drugs are illegal in most states. The high yielded by synthetic cannabinoids (also known as K2 or Spice) is similar to that of marijuana. Substituted cathinones (also known as bath salts) can cause side effects similar to stimulants and cocaine. The chemical makeup of these drugs is often altered during the manufacturing process, so their effects are often wildly unpredictable.

The signs and symptoms of synthetic drug use include, but are not limited to:

  • Euphoria
  • Relaxation
  • An altered sense of sight, sound and taste
  • Hallucinations
  • Extreme agitation
  • Increased talkativeness
  • Increased sex drive
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Paranoia
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Chest pain
  • Panic attacks
  • Unpredictable and violent behavior

Withdrawal Symptoms

Once a teen is addicted to a drug or substance, getting or staying off can lead to strong and noticeable signs and symptoms. These can vary, depending on the kind of drug or alcohol the user is pulling back from.

The signs and symptoms of withdrawal can include:

  • Worry
  • Nausea
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Feeling tense
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Phantom pains
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

Is Rehab The Next Step?

Now that you know the signs of teen addiction and can recognize that your teen may be battling substance abuse, understand that you need to take action, perhaps first by talking with your teen. Underneath the surface, a teen struggling with addiction is crying out for your help.

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Teen Rehab Center provides resources on the different substance abuse options available for your teen and has a committed staff of recovery specialists ready to speak with you about those options, including facilities that are capable of catering specifically to your teen’s needs. Reach out and find out how we can help your teen get on the road to recovery.


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