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How Can I Tell if My Child Is Using Drugs

A withdrawn teen standing on a roof top overlooking the cityscape, looking at phoneNo one wants to believe that their child is using drugs. But in our experience working with people suffering addiction problems, drug use starts young – a lot younger than most parents think.

Kids who are exposed to drugs or alcohol before adolescence are much more likely to continue using into adulthood. Therefore, it’s important to catch early warning signs that your son or daughter might be abusing substances.

Keep reading to learn the signs that your child might be using drugs or alcohol, and find out what you can do to help them.

Adolescent Drug Use Trends

Parents should have an idea of which kinds of drugs their child might abuse based on their age and drug trends. For example, when looking at the drug habits of younger adolescents (8th graders) and older teens (12th graders), older teens are more likely to abuse prescription pills like Vicodin or Adderall, while younger kids are more likely to experiment with inhalants.

Check out this useful resource from the National Institute on Drug Abuse for more information about high school and youth drug use trends.

Behavioral Signs of Teen Drug Use

Now that you have an idea of which drugs to look out for, let’s look at some of the behaviors your child might exhibit if they are using drugs:

  • Problems at school (getting into trouble, skipping class, getting bad grades, etc.)
  • Borrowing or stealing money
  • Acting secretive or withdrawn
  • Abrupt changes in friends, hobbies, relationships and style of dress
  • Use of items to mask drug use, such as incense to cover up drug-related odors and eye drops to cover up red eyes
  • Argumentative or aggressive behavior at home
  • Decreased motivation to do typical activities

Physical and Psychological Symptoms of Adolescent Drug Abuse

Physical symptoms of teen drug use depend on the type of drug used. For example, a child using sedatives will be sleepier while a stimulant user might be up all night. Look for the following:

  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils
  • Seizures without history of epilepsy
  • Frequent nosebleeds (if snorting drugs)
  • Deterioration in physical appearance or grooming
  • Slurred or rapid speech, or other obvious signs of intoxication
  • Mood swings or personality changes
  • Appearing fearful, anxious or agitated for no apparent reason

What to Do if You Suspect Your Child Is on Drugs

Here are some actions you can take if you suspect your child may be using drugs:

  1. Ask them what’s going on. has a good resource with videos about how and when to ask your child about drug use.
  2. Check their room, car, purse, phone, etc. for signs of drugs. You may not want to invade your teen’s privacy, but if you strongly suspect your child of drug use and they won’t admit to it, this step may be necessary.
  1. Make them take a random drug test. Threaten to take away electronics or privileges if they won’t take it.
  2. Look into drug or alcohol rehabilitation treatment for teens. If a drug problem is confirmed, detox and drug rehab may be the next necessary step.

For additional information, read 3 Signs a Loved One Needs Inpatient Drug Rehab and learn about our substance abuse treatment center in Utah.