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Know the Warning Signs of Substance Use in Teens this Holiday Season

The signs of substance use in teens can be challenging to spot, especially if it’s an issue you’ve never found yourself facing before. However, while parenting children and teens may come with many unknowns, the more information you can gather, the easier it will be to identify when something isn’t quite right. 

Substance use disorder (SUD) among teens tends to be more common than parents assume. One study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found that 12% of teens surveyed reported six or more symptoms of severe SUD, while 40% reported at least two symptoms. Among the group with severe SUD, 60% continued to exhibit signs into adulthood. 

Not all kids who try substances will develop a SUD. But as a parent or caregiver, you have an essential role in noticing the warning signs of substance use in teens and suggesting external help or support at the first indication of a problem. This is especially true during the holidays when things like seasonal affective disorder, social isolation, and alcohol-driven events can trigger increased use of substances for those of all ages.

Here’s what to know, including the behavioral and physical symptoms of substance use in adolescence

Early Warning Signs of Teen Drug Use

Teen substance use is a serious issue. According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, 46.6% of teens have tried illicit drugs before their senior year of high school, and 11.2% of overdose deaths are among those aged 15 to 24. The most commonly used substance is alcohol, though marijuana, opioids, stimulants, and other drugs are also used. 

So what can you do? You can familiarize yourself with the signs your child is using drugs or other substances so that you can be the first line of support when needed. If you do notice these warning signs, talk to your teen and provide them with access to treatment. The sooner you can get them help, the greater chance they may have of a successful recovery. 

Behavioral Signs of Substance Use Disorder in Teens

  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Withdrawal from friends and/or family, or a sudden dropping of one friend group for another
  • Frequent absences from school or work
  • Suddenly breaking rules
  • Unexplained irritability or aggression
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns
  • Stealing and/or frequently asking for money

Physical Signs of Substance Use in Teens

  • Sudden unexplained weight loss
  • Unexplained red or watery eyes
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Ongoing sniffles or runny nose
  • Slurred speech
  • Tremors or loss of coordination

Remember that none of these signs are clear indicators of SUD, but all of them could be. Likewise, symptoms may differ depending on the substance in question. Your teen may be more at risk of SUD if there is a family history of substance use or if your child has other addictive tendencies.  

Get Your Teen the Help They Need

The best thing you can do to prevent SUD in your child is to talk openly, honestly, and without judgment about substance use and peer pressures they may face among friends and acquaintances. And if your teen does start to show signs of SUD, please know that it is not your fault, and substance misuse cannot always be prevented. 

At Retreat Behavioral Health, we understand that finding the proper treatment for your child can be challenging. With resources, support groups, and specialists eager to offer guidance, Retreat can answer any questions you might have. Please get in touch with us to learn more.