When your kids were little, you probably knew about everything that was going on in their lives. At that point, it most likely consisted of cars, blocks, naptime, and diaper changes.
But for better or worse, as kids grow older, we often know less and less about what it is going on in their world.
Unfortunately, once kids become teenagers, their choices are mostly out of your control—and largely shaped by those around them. They can get into some dangerous and reckless behaviors, one of which is drug and alcohol abuse.
While you may not know for sure what’s happening with them, you can pick up on a few telltale signs that they might be having a substance problem.
#1: Their Grades Are Dropping
If you’ve noticed a steady decrease in their grades, accompanied by less-than-savory discussions at parent-teacher conferences, something may be afoot. It may not necessarily be drugs—it could be depression or tempestuous teenage romance—but poor academic performance can indicate consistent drug or alcohol usage.
#2: Their Behavior Has Gotten a Little Stranger Than Strange
As kids enter the teen years, their behavior will naturally begin to get a little funky as they test the waters of their increasing independence. But if they are beginning to have inexplicable problems and arguments with family members, disappearing for long periods of time, engaging in reckless behaviors, and frequently asking for money, these behavioral shifts can indicate something amiss.
#3: Their Mood Has Started changing… A Lot
Moodiness is a normal teenage state of being, much like Picasso and his “blue period”…but that’s just it: mood changes should be temporary. If your teen is frequently withdrawn, restless, or angry, drugs could be affecting them and creating a hormonal imbalance.
#4: You Find Paraphernalia
This is a tell-tale sign that someone is using drugs in your home. It could be a friend, but chances are your teen is somehow involved with drugs if you find pipes, papers, tin boxes, burnt spoons, or needles. Your best bet here is to tactfully avoid confronting them with the evidence, or even mentioning it, because that will come across as a serious violation of trust, and probably push them farther away.
#5: You Can’t Pinpoint That Smell
If you recognize the smell of marijuana in your teen’s clothes, room, or belongings, this could be a good indicator that they are using drugs. If there is a smell you can’t recognize at all, ask them about it and see what they say. If they are also making an attempt to cover up smells with more effort than usual (with deodorant, mints, spray cans, and air fresheners for the car) these could be signs that they’re attempting to cover up substance use.
#6: There’s Been a Changing of the Guard
Friends come and go in life, especially as kids enter new phases and change schools. But if your teen has dropped
#7: Things Around the Home are Missing
If cash, collectibles, or personal belongings have seemed to walk away of their own accord, with no plans to come back, it could be they’ve been consecrated to the cause of procuring some drugs or alcohol. Missing prescription drugs like oxycodone are even more of a red flag, as are missing bottles of beer. Watered down spirits may indicate that your teen has pulled a reverse miracle and turned wine into water…or it could indicate that they’ve been drinking it and replacing it with something on tap (water).
#8: Their Health Is Changing
Teenage bodies are going through a lot of hormonal changes, but watch out for ones that seem out of the norm. If your teen has lately developed a significant memory problem, it could be that drugs are involved. Some drugs suppress the immune system and are bad for the lungs, so respiratory issues like frequent coughing, or frequent illness could indicate smoking. Weight Loss could indicate that lunch money is going toward drugs, and weight gain could also result from the havoc drugs create on a person’s bodily health.
It’s important to keep in mind that none of these signs should be taken as concrete evidence that your teen is using drugs or alcohol, although some are more indicative than others. The teenage years are inherently a time of emotional and physical change, and any of these behaviors could be totally normal.
But if you see several of these behaviors concurrently, or even just one of them again and again, there may be drug and/or alcohol abuse going on.
It’s important to develop a successful strategy around confronting your teen about these issues, because done the wrong way, your words could actually push them farther away and increase risky behaviors.