When you are the parent of a teenager, you learn to expect the unexpected. As a group, teenagers are unpredictable, moody and sometimes unpleasant. Your teen isn’t a child anymore, but he or she isn’t an adult either. You may have power struggles, and you probably spend a lot of time worrying about whether you’re handling your teen’s rebellious nature the right way.
But if your teen’s behavior seems to be extremely out of character, you may suspect that he has developed some kind of problem, and you may wonder if that problem is drug or alcohol abuse.
Signs of a drug problem may be obvious, or they may be subtle. Here are some of the signs to look for:
- Your teen is neglecting his responsibilities. He may avoid going to school or work, or he may refuse to do his homework. If he is asked to help around the house or yard, he avoids doing what he’s asked to do. He may have a sudden drop in his grades.
- Your teen is neglecting her appearance. Many people who abuse drugs or alcohol begin to neglect their personal hygiene. You may notice your teen doesn’t shower or change clothes every day or doesn’t brush her hair.
- Your teen has abandoned old friends or is surrounding himself with a completely different crowd. It’s not necessarily abnormal for an adolescent to start hanging around with a different crowd. But when he completely turns his back on his closest friends in order to surround himself with new people, it is a possible sign that there is an unhealthy reason he is drawn to his new group.
- Your teen has stopped participating in activities he used to enjoy. Have you noticed that your teen has suddenly given up sports or clubs that he used to look forward to? Does he always make excuses when invited on a camping trip with the family or out to dinner?
- Your teen has dramatic changes in sleeping habits or eating habits. When your teen seems to sleep for days on end, or is restless or agitated and doesn’t want to go to bed, she may be exhibiting signs of addiction. You may also notice that she is losing interest in meals, or she suddenly loses or gains weight.
- You are noticing strange odors or appearance. You may pick up odors you can’t quite identify on your teen’s clothing, body or breath. You may notice that she appears odd-looking, perhaps with hugely dilated pupils or she may look like she can’t focus on what is right in front of her. You may notice burn marks on skin or clothing, or her eyes may be frequently bloodshot. She may have tremors or slurred speech.
- Money is disappearing. Families of drug addicts often experience the unsettling feeling that money is disappearing. Your teen may continually complain that he is broke. You may find that money is missing from your wallet or coat pocket, or that valuable items such as jewelry have disappeared.
- Your teen is suddenly getting into trouble all the time. There may be arrests for DUI, or your child may be getting into accidents or fights. When drugs are involved, these incidents are usually not a one-time occurrence.
- Your teen has a big change in personality. Adolescence is notorious for being a rocky and difficult time. But a teen who is abusing drugs may be extremely irritable or angry. She may have frequent outbursts or she may seem very anxious or paranoid. A usually outgoing teen may suddenly become withdrawn, or a shy teen may become gregarious.
Although many teens experiment with alcohol and drugs during their adolescence, there is a difference between dabbling and getting hooked. If you think your teen may have a drug problem, let him know you are concerned. Offer support without being judgmental. There is a good chance he will deny he has a problem, but if you are concerned, talk to other parents in Al-Anon or discuss your concerns with a doctor. Drug addiction is a problem that isn’t going to go away by being ignored.