a teen going through withdrawal while a needle sits on the table and he learns about teens and drug abuse

Whether we like it or not, alcohol and drugs are a realistic part of our American culture. Teenage culture is no exception. Knowing how to see the signs of drug and alcohol use, abuse and addiction is important for every parent and caregiver to know. Children are highly susceptible to peer pressure and their own curiosity. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because these substances are not in your lifestyle that your children won’t be exposed to them at some point. It is important to know about teens and drug abuse in a time where it seems like it is normalized.

Medical experts who have studied teenage drug use say that experimentation plays the biggest role in teenagers being drawn to drugs and alcohol. Studies also showed that just because a teen has tried drugs or alcohol did not mean they would become addicted. Studies further show that half of all new drug users are under the age of 18 and many adults who struggle with addiction first experimented with drugs and/or alcohol before the age of 21.

Reasons for Abuse

The reasons for teenagers abusing drugs and alcohol can stretch across a broad spectrum, but the most common reasons teens abuse drugs start with peer pressure and curiosity then progress into more serious issues of stress, emotional struggles and a need to escape. Teenagers who try drugs and use them on a regular basis are at a greater risk of developing an addiction when they are adults. It’s important to know that there is a wide difference between drug abuse and addiction. Many teenagers experiment with drugs but do not become addicted.

Preventing Teen Drug Abuse

Parents and caregivers should learn how to recognize drug use and what they can do to prevent drug use in their teenagers. Arming yourself with this information can end an emerging problem before it even starts. Setting a good example and talking with your teenager about drug use are the first and most effective tools a parent has to prevent their teen from falling into substance abuse. cause of the long-term cognitive and behavioral effects that drugs and alcohol have been shown to have on the developing teenager’s brain, it’s important for parents to be able to identify the many signs that a young person is using drugs.

Common signs of teen drug abuse include:

  • Falling grades and lack of interest in studies
  • Having bloodshot eyes and looking tired or sleepy
  • Loss of interest in extra activities i.e. sports, art, music
  • Poor hygiene and lack of interest in personal appearance
  • Frequently being hungry or having the “munchies”
  • The smell of smoke on breath or clothes
  • Secretive behavior and lack of eye contact

Because parents and caregivers are the first lines of contact it’s up to them to initiate a conversation with their teenagers if they suspect drug use. A staggering one in five parents who suspect their teenager is using drugs DO NOT intervene to prevent further drug use. The best way to get a teen to communicate about their drug use is by asking compassionate and understanding questions, not judging or condemning them for their behavior, but by offering solutions and by being there in other ways. Drug abuse is often a sign of deeper, more emotional issues or problems that can stem from home and school pressures, peer influences or self-esteem issues.

Ask Questions

The most effective approach is for parents to ask straightforward questions. When said in the right tone and asking direct questions such as, “Have you been using drugs or alcohol?” or “Has anyone offered you drugs recently?” a teenager can open up and the conversation begins. Responding to a teen’s admittance or denial of drug use in the right away is just as important as asking the right questions. If a teen admits to taking drugs, parents should not overreact. Overreacting or getting angry can prevent a teen from opening up about their experience and getting teens to talk is critical in determining the level of their drug use.

Provide Support

Teens who feel supported and loved are also more likely to stop experimenting with drugs or seek help if they have an addiction. There is just as likely a possibility that a teen may lie about their drug use. Again, being in continual, open conversations with your children will be your best weapon against you knowing the difference. Should a parent suspect that their teen is lying, they should continue to reassure their child that they are concerned and want to help. If a teen continues denying using drugs but the parent still suspects untruthfulness, a home drug test or professional help can uncover a teen drug problem. Therapists, pediatricians and addiction counselors can also be strong advocates in diagnosing and preventing a teen drug problem.

Common drugs abused by teens aren’t much different from those abused by adults. However, the reasons for abuse may be different as teens often abuse a substance based on its availability.


  • Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance by teenagers. Social acceptance of drinking for people of legal drinking age often lead teens to view alcohol as relatively harmless. Further research also suggests that teenagers are more likely to binge drink because their impulse control hasn’t fully developed.
  • Approximately 32% of seniors reported binge drinking in 2015. Nearly 40% had used alcohol in the month prior to the study being done.
  • Binge drinking increases the risk of addiction in people of any age, but studies show that the teenage brain is much more susceptible to addiction. Talking to teens about these risks can curb underage drinking.


Regular marijuana use usually starts during adolescence. As perceptions of marijuana use continue to change, studies show that high school seniors no longer think that smoking marijuana occasionally carries any risk. More than 20% of teens report having used marijuana at least once in the past month.

Prescriptions and Over-the-Counter Medications

Prescription drugs have intoxicating effects and are on the rise among teenage use. Narcotic painkillers like OxyContin and benzodiazepines like Xanax produce pleasurable effects that teenagers are drawn to. These substances have high addictive potential and risk of overdose.

  • Nearly 40% of the teenagers studied who abused prescription medication said that they obtained the drugs from their parents’ medicine cabinet.
  • Teenagers are also likely to abuse over-the-counter medications. The substance dextromethorphan (DXM), a cough suppressing substance, is found in many common cold and flu medicines. DXM can cause intoxicating effects in high doses, and an overdose is a real possibility.

Being a teenager in today’s complex world is not easy, and some teens have a tough time dealing with sadness and other stresses common to adolescence. If a teen thinks that they have no other way to relieve the stress, they can be more easily led to think that having a drink or a little marijuana can offer relief. However, it’s up to the parent to help their child understand that the best way to deal with stress, is to seek emotional support and find someone to talk to.

If a teen is already exhibiting signs of addiction and has tried quitting and/or reducing use and failed, then it’s important to seek out treatment with a qualified drug rehab center as soon as possible. Rehabilitation centers designated for teens target the emotional and social issues that lead to their drug use. Many offer educational support so teens in recovery don’t get behind in school. The earlier you recognize addiction, the easier it is to treat.

Contact Palmetto Center Today

If you are looking for an answer for your teens and drug abuse problem, we can help. Call 318.728.2970 today to learn more about treatment options that we offer for many different substance abuse problems.


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