Authored by Revere Health

Signs of Substance Abuse in Teens

May 23, 2019 | Family Medicine

As teens struggle with complicated emotions, stress, peer pressure and facing the future, they may turn to drugs and alcohol to cope instead of learning how to deal with them appropriately. Through the help of family, friends, teachers and other people who love your teen, it is possible to overcome substance abuse in teenagers.

Who Is at Risk of Addiction?

Both genetic and environmental factors make some teens more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol than others. Some of these risk factors include the following:

  • Age: The earlier teens consume drugs and alcohol, the more likely they are to develop a drug or alcohol addiction. Younger brains are also more sensitive to drugs and alcohol than adult brains, which means they may be able to “learn” addiction.
  • Family: If extended family, siblings or parents have a history of substance abuse, the child or teenager may be predisposed to addiction.
  • Environment: Teens who are exposed to drugs or alcohol on a regular basis, whether at home or in their social groups, are vulnerable to addiction.
  • Mental health conditions: Teens with a mental disorder such as depression, ADHD, anxiety or PTSD have an increased risk of developing a drug or alcohol problem.

Adults, friends, teachers and parents are crucial when it comes to identifying the signs of substance abuse. If not caught early, casual use can turn into abuse in some people.

Signs of Substance Abuse

Teens may use drugs or alcohol for a variety of reasons. For example, peer pressure or other social influences, pop culture, boredom, lack of coping mechanisms, misinformation, rebellion and self-esteem are all factors that may lead teens to turn toward drugs and alcohol. Signs that they are using include:

Changes in behavior:

  • Missing extracurricular activities or school
  • Changes in social circles or friends
  • Poor academic performance
  • Lack of respect for parents, teachers and other authority figures
  • New demands for privacy
  • Unexplained disappearances
  • Isolation
  • illegal behavior or activities
  • Trouble or conflicts at school

Psychological changes:

  • Extreme mood swings
  • Low energy or lethargy
  • Memory problems
  • Decreased motivation
  • Poor concentration
  • Deceitful or manipulative behavior
  • Rapid-fire or slurred speech
  • Paranoia or fearfulness
  • Changes in personality or attitude

Health problems:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Changes in appetite
  • Excessive sweating
  • Frequent illness
  • Headaches, vomiting and nausea,
  • Sudden weight gain or loss,
  • Nosebleeds or frequent runny nose
  • Tremors, shakes or seizures
  • Constipation
  • Coordination problems
  • Unexplained injuries or accidents

Changes in personal appearance:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Poor hygiene
  • Track marks
  • Burns on lips or fingers
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Unusual odors
  • Teeth clenching
  • Constant scratching and sores
  • Cuts and bruises

If you find any type of drug residue, remains or paraphernalia, you may want to speak to your teen. Other common signs include missing cash, medication, cigarettes or alcohol and strong perfumes or incense (to mask the odors of drugs and alcohol). 

If you have noticed several of these signs and are concerned about your teen’s possible substance abuse, don’t be afraid to talk to your teen and ask for help. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids offers great resources for parents.

Revere Health Orem Family Medicine is devoted to comprehensive healthcare for patients of all ages and providing thorough and timely healthcare for the entire family throughout all stages of life.



“Teen Drug Abuse: The Warning Signs.”, by American Addiction Centers.

“Early Warning Signs of Teen Substance Abuse.” Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.

“Preventing Teen Drug Use: Risk Factors & Why Teens Use.” Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.

The Live Better Team


The Live Better Team

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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.