Helping a loved one deal with addiction is terrifying. It’s even more terrifying if it’s your child, who you held as a baby and nurtured through their earliest days of life.
But teen drug addiction isn’t something you can ignore. In 2015, 4,235 young people between the ages of 15 and 24 died of an overdose. In addition, addiction costs the US economy $740 billion in health care costs, lost labor, and crime.
More than that, you want your child to have the best life you can give them. With this in mind, here’s how to tell if your child is using drugs.
How to Tell if Your Child is Using Drugs
Drug addiction is a complex phenomenon. It affects almost every aspect of a person’s life, from their sleeping habits to their mood to their hygiene habits.
So keep in mind that the symptoms of addiction can go well beyond what you would consider “obvious” signs of addiction.
Changes in Behavior
Let’s start with one of the seemingly obvious changes: a change in behavior.
Behavioral shifts are often one of the earliest signs of drug abuse, though it may not always surface in ways you expect.
For example, your teen may act hostile, disrespect rules, violate curfew, or lash out. However, they may also become secretive. This can include behaviors ranging from an increased demand for privacy to subtler signs like avoiding eye contact.
Another common example is missing school or extracurriculars. These are obvious signs. But you should also watch for gaps in their time that they cannot account for.
You may also see certain psychological changes in your teenager. These changes may vary based on their drug of choice, and where they are in the craving-abuse-withdrawal cycle, but there are a few common factors.
It may include obvious behavioral problems like manipulative behavior, irritability, mood swings, or memory loss. However, it may also include things you wouldn’t immediately associate with drugs, like laughing for no reason.
Does your child have preexisting conditions, like depression or ADD/ADHD? Keep an eye on these conditions to see if you see any new or worsening symptoms.
If, for example, your child has ADD and was previously on medication, look for any new or unusual concentration issues, especially if your child has previously managed their ADD successfully. This may be a sign that other drugs are interfering with their medication and ability to self-regulate.
Changes in Normal Habits
Along similar lines, you should also look for changes in their normal habits and routines.
Unfortunately, many of these problems may be brushed off in the beginning because you initially believe that they’re isolated events.
For example, if they were previously a morning person, you may find that they’ve suddenly become a night owl, or they’re having sleeping problems where they used to sleep like the dead.
There may also be changes in their eating habits, including an increased appetite or sudden, inexplicable decrease in appetite, or changes in food preferences that cannot be readily explained away.
You may also receive complaints from teachers about their behavior, or complaints that have a different flavor than those you’ve received previously.
Certain Health Problems
Of course, where drug abuse is concerned, changes in your child’s health are often not limited to psychological shifts.
You may find that your child is experiencing certain health problems that you can’t explain away easily. For example, they may suddenly get frequent nosebleeds (which can result from snorting drugs).
They may also get sick far more easily than they used to, or never quite seem to get better from an illness that should be easy to fight off. You may also see flu-like symptoms, like a runny nose or frequent headaches, even when your child isn’t sick.
Because of appetite changes, there may be concurrent changes in your child’s weight. They may also experience frequent nausea or vomiting, which can be a sign of withdrawal.
You should also be on the lookout for shakes or tremors, or, at a more worrying level, seizures (especially if your child doesn’t have any history of seizures or seizure disorders).
A Shift in Home Life
We already discussed a few changes in your home life, like a sudden combativeness, secrecy, insistence on privacy, or flouting the rules. And there are some obvious red flags that are too serious to ignore, like finding a stash of drugs or alcohol in your child’s possession.
However, some changes in home life are subtler.
For example, you may be finding containers or wrappers in the house or in the trash that you don’t recognize, or dents and scratches in the car that cannot be adequately explained.
You should also keep an eye on any medicine or alcohol that you keep in the house. If you’re finding that you run out of prescription pills, over-the-counter medicines, or alcohol, or that these things disappear without explanation, that’s a serious warning sign.
Changes Physical Appearance
Finally, if your teen is abusing drugs, you may see some physical changes that cannot be easily explained away.
There are obvious signs, like weight changes, changes in personal hygiene, bloodshot eyes, and dilated pupils.
However, there are other signs that you may not initially attribute to drug abuse.
A few examples include teeth clenching, constant scratching (a common sign of opiate abuse), bruises, cuts, and sores that cannot be explained away by clumsiness, and wearing long sleeves in warm weather to cover track marks and injuries.
If Your Child is Doing Drugs
If you’ve looked at this list of how to tell if your child is using drugs and you’re seeing a worrying picture of your child, don’t worry. We’re here to help.
We offer a variety of rehab and treatment programs, including residential, outpatient, and family treatment programs. If you need somewhere to get started, read this article on the non-addict’s guide to the recovery process and this post on what to do if someone relapses.
If you have questions, check out our FAQ section. Or, if you need to get your child into treatment, click here to get started. You can speak confidentially with an admissions counselor about how our process works and how we can help your child live a happy, healthy, sober life.