Drug and alcohol abuse among teenagers is a worldwide problem that affects thousands of teenagers every year, and the number increases every day as more teens abuse drugs and alcohol – often as a circumstantial coping mechanism, and often for the same reasons that adults would abuse substances.
It’s vital to understand the signs and symptoms of teenage drug and alcohol abuse, as well as realize the fact that it’s on the increase – and for any parent, carer or concerned friend, it’s important to know what the cause is for their need to escape for the condition to be effectively treated for the long-term.
Here’s what you should know about drug and alcohol abuse in teenagers, including signs and symptoms, what to do if you suspect it and important resources for combating abuse and seeking the proper treatment.
Signs & Symptoms of Alcohol and Drug Abuse
The signs of drug or alcohol abuse aren’t always obvious, and many teenagers will successfully manage to hide their addiction for months or years before the first signs become apparent – but there are certain things to look for that can serve as a tip-off to examine the potential of substance abuse further.
Parents more involved with the day-to-day life of their teenagers might be more likely to recognize substance abuse – and will almost certainly be in a better position to spot any changes in behavior.
Ideally, this should be done without appearing to “butt in,” but should be a general warning for people to be more involved with their teens as a whole.
Abuse and Peer Pressure
Substance abuse and peer pressure often go together, and it can be the first thing to look for when it comes to drug and alcohol abuse. The first time teenagers experiment with drugs, it’s most often when prompted by others in a social setting – “Just try it!” – and this can become the start of a bigger problem or addiction.
While there are many teenage gangs who will experiment with drugs and never take another illegal drug for as long as they live, this isn’t the case for many other teenagers who will soon expand the library of substances they’re willing to take, and often take them much more often.
When substances and peer pressure get together, the potential for drug or alcohol abuse increases. Care should be taken to avoid social situations where drinking or drug abuse can spiral out of control according to the Seattle Social Development Project.
Addiction to Cope
Addiction doesn’t always take place due to peer pressure, and this is the same when it comes to adult and teen drug abuse. Sometimes drug and alcohol abuse is treated as means to an end, and usually a way to cope with a deeper underlying emotional condition, or to cope with feeling overwhelmed by circumstances.
When addiction is treated as a way to cope with what’s going on around them, the root cause of the addictive behavior will need to be treated first, or it’s likely that long-term treatment will only make someone more prone to experience a relapse.
Signs of Drug & Alcohol Abuse
The first sign of drug or alcohol abuse can most often be seen in drastic changes in someone’s behavio0r. They become manic where they otherwise weren’t, or they downright seem stoned out of their minds where they were usually clear-headed; sometimes it manifests with episodes of confusion, withdrawal or aggression – and other times not.
Because the signs of drug or alcohol abuse are considered so varied, look for any changes in behavior or mood that would be different from what someone is normally like.
Some signs and symptoms of drug abuse are dependent on the kind of drug, and might include physical symptoms such as changes in pupil reaction, appearing hungover, bloodshot eyes or appearing manic or tired.
Also look for the presence of empty packages or drug paraphernalia, which might pop up among their personal belongings or trash. –
It’s true that many of these signs aren’t always indicative of drug or alcohol abuse, and sometimes it might point to a serious underlying condition like depression or some physical illness. Don’t always assume that the reason is drugs.
Asking About Addiction
Even though the “tough love” advocates of the eighties and nineties would think that rifling through
someone’s trash and trapping them in an intervention might be the best way to deal with addiction, nothing could be further from the truth.
Want to know if someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol? Ask.
There are many times where a teenager might only be doing this as a cry for help or attention: Given the help they need to sort out what’s causing the problem, there’s often much less of a need to chase their addiction in the first place.
In other cases, teens might not realize or want to admit they have a problem, in which case a very open (and private over public) conversation is needed. Sometimes addicts need to be confronted about their behavior to see what it has done to those around them says the Seattle Social Development Project.
When asking about addiction, never force, never push and never shame – that only serves to make the problem worse. Be open and be kind: You’ll achieve more in this way.
Signs of Long-Term Addiction
While many teenagers might just experiment with drugs or alcohol, for many it becomes a long-term issue that they might successfully hide away for months or years at a time.
In this case, serious health issues and a compromised immunity might be part of the symptoms. Overall secretive behavior is often part of long-term drug addiction, as are general problems with money or the law – and the prevalence of this can increase if and when there’s a movement to more severe drinking or more serious drugs.
Different Types of Alcohol and Drug Abuse
It’s true that not all types of drug and alcohol abuse are the same. Some teenagers first develop their addictive personalities with alcohol in a social setting where it later gets out of control, while others might instead start out by drinking alone to cope with circumstances – although again, it soon becomes an out-of-control addiction.
Alcohol is one of the most common addictive substances, and can be considered more dangerous than many illicit drugs due to the fact that alcohol is more readily available. It’s not hard to get a bottle (or a few) of anything for most teenagers, and this makes it much more prevalent.
According to 2003 statistics, the majority of teenagers surveyed reported that they began drinking as early on as 14. It’s never too early to start considering the symptoms as a possibility.
Crack & Cocaine
Crack and cocaine are considered one of the most common types of abused illegal drugs, usually found either in rock form (“crack”) or powdered. As an upper, it’s known to drastically increase the heart rate, dilate the pupils and cause the instant feeling of “wakefulness.” Soon it can lead to serious side-effects such as an increased frequency to nosebleeds, severe paranoia, bloodshot eyes and an increased heart attack risk.
Methamphetamine is one of the most commonly abused drugs in the United States, and certainly one of the most readily available for teenagers. It can be said that at least one person in every group of friends has “a contact” who can get you things – and sometimes this happens to be meth.
Effects are similar to cocaine because of the drug’s use as an upper, and will also include eventual side-effects such as an increased risk of a heart attack, nosebleeds and over-tiredness or very reckless behavior.
Heroin has long been considered The Hard Drug, and it’s true that it’s one of the most serious drugs that can be abused due to the proneness of developing a physical addiction to the substance. Usually available in a white or brown powdered form (although existing in others), heroin is a “downer” instead of an upper – and is taken for the opposite effect of many upper drugs.
Heroin can be smoked, snorted or injected – and there’s often a sweet, characteristic smell as well as flu-like symptoms once withdrawal symptoms start.
There are many opiate-based medications available over-the-counter, and many of them can provide an effect that’s similar to very weak heroin. From cough syrup to painkillers, opiate-based medications are often the start of a much more serious addiction, and it can do vast amounts of physical damage over time.
Even though marijuana is legal for medical and personal use in many parts of the world, it can still become a problem when someone under the legal age for consuming it allows it to take over their lives. Watch for teenagers who become so absorbed in marijuana culture that they let the rest of their lives slip – yes, it can have the potential for addiction when pushed too far.
Vaping and Cigarettes
Cigarettes (and vapes) are available in more places than you’ll find alcohol, and it’s not hard for any teenager to ask someone for a cigarette. This makes it one of the most commonly abused drugs of all time, and more research supports the fact that tobacco is as serious of an addiction as many of the substances mentioned above.
A Strong Support System
Admitting a problem when it comes to addiction is the first step for a teenager, and treatment for the long-term can only start once someone has made the choice to make the change and move towards a more sober lifestyle.
For this, a strong support system is needed: One that actually supports, and offers help and advice when the addict is in times of need.
While this is worlds away from the “tough love” culture of the eighties and nineties, more research shows that support is a far more effective method for combating drug and alcohol abuse in teens – and change to sobriety is much easier to maintain.
Resources for Combating Drug Abuse
Need more info? Find some resources for combating drug and substance abuse below.
- Teens: DrugAbuse.gov
- Addiction Center: Underage Drinking Statistics
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
About the Author:
After earning her Master’s in Nutritional Science from Cornell University, Vanna Darrow joined the content research team at HealthyMe123. She is excited to share her knowledge of nutrition, health, and fitness in order to encourage a healthier lifestyle for everyone.