Recognizing the Signs of Substance Abuse in Teens

Teens are not adults. But they often have to make adult decisions about drugs and alcohol. Try to be aware of the pressures teens face and learn the signs of substance abuse. If your child has a problem with alcohol or drugs, take action. Your healthcare provider can help.

Teenagers drinking at a house party.

Why do teens abuse drugs?

Some of the most common reasons kids try drugs include:

  • Peer pressure. Teens often face intense pressure from their friends to try drugs.

  • Social anxiety. Teens may think drug use will help them fit in. Or they may believe it will make them more relaxed and outgoing.

  • Curiosity. It's normal for teens to want to find out about drugs for themselves.

  • Problems with school, parents, or sex. Teens often think that getting high will solve all their problems.

What are the warning signs?

It can be hard to spot drug use in teens. That's because their lives are often in turmoil. Also, many signs of drug abuse may be signs of other problems. These may include depression and eating disorders. You should be concerned if your teen:

  • Falls behind in school. A drastic drop in grades may signal a serious problem.

  • Withdraws from family and old friends

  • Gives up doing things they used to enjoy, such as playing sports or music

  • Lies or steals

  • Takes risks

  • Seems moody or depressed

  • Is very hostile

  • Gets in trouble with the law or at school

What you can do

Talk to your teen about drug use. Try not to react too strongly. Most of all, listen to what your teen has to say. If your teen is in trouble, talk with someone you trust. That might be your healthcare provider, a school counselor, or local mental health clinic. Many school districts now have drug abuse counselors who can help. Or contact one of the many groups that deal with drug abuse.

To help keep your kids away from drugs

Here are some ways to be involved:

  • Spend time with your teen. Do something together at least once a week.

  • Don't be afraid to ask questions. Find out where your children are going and who their friends are.

  • Try to be there when your children get home. The peak time for drug abuse is between 4 pm and 6 pm.

  • Don't lecture. Teens need to know they can come to you for help.

  • Be a good listener.


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (crisis hotline)

800-273-8255 (TALK)