Raising a child is not something for the faint of heart. Standing by your children as they experience the ups and downs of life is a difficult task, and when it comes to drugs, a parent can only hope that all of the drug awareness education and conversations about the dangers of drug use will be enough to keep them safe from becoming users.

It can be difficult to tell whether your teen’s behavior is the result of hormonal fluctuations, high school melodrama, or a dangerous substance. Because teens are the most likely to question authority and engage in experimental behaviors, a parent’s role in observing these behaviors and becoming aware of common signs that point to drug use will empower guardians to support their teens in making responsible life decisions.

Though some of these signs are not solely due to drug use, be on the lookout for changes in your teen’s behavior which will help you in spotting drug use:

Behavioral Shifts

Moodiness is the epitome of the teenage stereotype. As your teen begins to discover their own personality, it is natural that they will become annoyed if you attempt to put them back in the box of childhood. Change is also a common theme in this season of life, as friendships flourish and/or fizzle out, and romantic relationships start to develop.

When the changes that occur seem to be an unnatural fit for your teen’s personality, there may be outside influences at play. An unexplained change of friends, new forms of dressing and language, and an intentional movement towards becoming isolated from family members are all causes for concern. If your teen no longer seems to enjoy things they once enjoyed, it might be time to have a closer look at the reasons behind these changes.

Other warning signs of drug abuse include low morale, a drop in academic grades and personal productivity, or could even manifest in ways like physically aggressive behaviors and frequent arguments with family and friends.

Missing Money

Few would deny that teenagers are expensive to raise. The demands of of a teenager’s social life, between school events like dances and sports games, trips to the movies, and clothing purchases can add up. If you find your teen is burning through money, and doesn’t have a logical explanation for where the funds are going, they might be using the money to buy illegal substances. Exhibiting behavioral shifts in addition to missing money is a reasonable cause for suspicion.

Physical Signs of Drug Abuse in Teens

Because drug use takes both immediate and long term tolls on the body, physical changes tend to be the most obvious sign that your teen might be using drugs. Keep on the lookout for any seemingly sudden weight gain or loss, unexplained injuries, or bruises on the body.

Also, a nervous, shaky disposition, mild tremors, inflamed acne or frequent nosebleeds are commonly seen among young drug users. If your teen ordinarily takes good care of themselves and has good hygiene habits, then suddenly stops showering or taking care of their personal well-being, this could be evidence of a drug problem.

The eyes also give away many signs of drug use. Drugs cause changes in the eyes, such as dilation and/or unusual redness. Because of this, many who use drugs will begin using eye drops. If your teen has never required eye drops in the past, and seems to have bloodshot eyes regularly (with no history of allergies), the eye drops might mean that they are attempting to conceal their drug use.

Finding Paraphernalia

It can be shocking to have your child come home smelling like marijuana or unknown chemicals. Upon looking closer in their rooms, drawers and small storage containers may contain paraphernalia, which is a pretty obvious sign that drugs are being used.

Remove the paraphernalia immediately and make sure to talk to your teen with an open heart. Tell them what you found. If you aren’t sure what it is, ask them. Try to listen more than attack them, as “getting caught” is a reality check that must be had, but must still be handled in a way that communicates that you, as a parent, are here to support and guide them, even through this.

Talking to Your Teen About Drug Use

If you suspect that you teen is using drugs, it can be difficult to broach the topic with them. You can expect defensive behaviors if the teen feels accused, and this in turn might close the discussion for further dialog. However, keeping the discussion open is crucial to getting your teen’s substance abuse pattern turned around.

The best thing a parent can do for their child is NOT to ignore the signs, or treat them as a temporary phase. Using drugs should never be considered safe or normal, and getting help sooner is always better than later. Teens have different reasons for using drugs regularly – perhaps they care coping with stresses, or trying to escape anxiety or overwhelm. A professional counselor can empower your teen with coping tools for overcoming the pressures of being a teenager. No one ever said growing up was going to be easy, and if your teen has turned to substances for help, they can also be turned on to more healthy alternatives to solve the same problems.

Developing a positive relationship with a counselor could help the teen open up about drug use, and would provide the opportunity for your teen to recover without hospitalization. Admitting that there is a drug problem is the first step. Sometimes it can be just as difficult for a parent to accept that their teen has a drug problem, which is why the process of recovery is so important to begin when they are still a teen, instead of leaving them to deal with their attachment to substances as an adult.

Testing Your Teen for Drug Use

A great way to prevent drug abuse in teens is for parents to have regularly scheduled drug tests. Hair follicle tests do a wonderful job of tracing drugs in the system for the past 90 days. There are also a variety of instant drug tests, such as All-In-One urine cups, that test for major illicit drugs and adulterants, which provide results in as little as five minutes and don’t require sending a sample off to a lab for results.  

While it is possible to do this testing without notifying your teen of what is happening, taking the approach of being fully open about your family’s stance on drug use will send the message to your teen that not only is drug use not allowed, but that the process for ensuring that the home is drug free will not be done in secret. This establishes respect and trust with your teen, which is something that your teen will appreciate.

What to Do if Your Child Needs Help With A Drug Problem

If all of the signs point to a drug problem, and you’ve confirmed that your teen is on drugs, do not hesitate to get them help. For a first offense, perhaps instating a program for regular drug testing is the best way to move forward. If it is a repeated offense after several talks, and your teen continues their suspicious behaviors, it may be time to check your teen into a rehabilitation facility.

While full-on rehabilitation might seem like an extreme, scary, or expensive approach, as a parent, you must ask yourself – Is it worth it to lose your child to addiction? There are many treatment programs for teens that will provide the support they need in order to recover. There is no shame in getting help, and who knows – your teen may become a positive influence, as they can now use their experiences to guide others away from substance abuse.

Any course of action towards getting your teen help is better than NO course of action. Sure, they may feel alienated from their friends for a while, and might be embarrassed for having to take personal responsibility for their drug use. But in the long run, getting help now will give your teen the social and emotional skills to combat drug abuse as an adult, and might even save their life.

There are plenty of community support groups, both in person and online for teens who are recovering from substance abuse. If your teen doesn’t have any hobbies or extracurricular activities, now might be a good time to help them find activities that will not only keep them busy, but expose them to potential new friend groups with more positive behaviors.

A change of environment helps too. Taking a vacation or going on a roadtrip with your teen will allow them the time and space to think over their decisions and come back with a fresh mindset. While spotting drug use in teens is one of the many challenges in raising a family, helping your child overcome their personal challenges in a proactive way will teach them personal responsibility, and lead the way for them as healthy, happy adults.