On the surface you might think that it is easy to recognize a teenager who abuses drugs.  If you believe only in the stereotype of the drug addict as portrayed on television, you would likely miss many of the symptoms that are common in teenagers.

However, as any adult can tell you, the teenage years can be a challenging time.  Many of the behaviors of drug addiction are also normal adolescent behavior, or could be symptoms of common teenage depression or anxiety.  That is why it is so important to watch your teen for unusual behavior, or sudden changes in behavior. While many teenagers will not admit to an addiction, if you pay attention, understand what to watch for, and keep the lines of communication open with your teenager, you have a much better change of recognizing the signs of addiction early enough to get effective treatment.

If your teen begins to exhibit some of the symptoms discussed below, it is important to talk directly about it.  The last thing you should do is just assume that it is “normal teenage behavior” and ignore what it going on with your teen.

Common Physical Changes

Teenagers who are addicted to drugs will most likely exhibit some physical changes over a period of time.  These could include:

  • Weight loss due to loss of appetite from drug abuse.
  • Red or glassy appearance to their eyes.
  • Excessive exhaustion or complaints of fatigue.
  • Health complaints that are non-specific, but unusual for their normal condition.
  • Marks on the arms from needles.
  • A change in appearance because they are no longer practicing good hygiene habits.

Behavioral Changes to Watch For

The behavioral changes may be noticed even before any of the physical changes have a chance to establish themselves.  It is not unusual for teens to start acting differently once they start using drugs, and these changes can increase as the drug use intensifies.  Changes to make note of include:

  • A change in the friends that your teen spends time with.
  • Mood swings or emotional instability, including aggressive or abusive behavior.
  • Coming home late, ignoring curfew, or not coming home at all.
  • Distancing themselves from the rest of the family physically and emotionally.
  • Hyperactivity or inability to concentrate or focus for any length of time.
  • Lying or stealing.

While all of the signs listed can be symptoms of something other than teen addiction, it should not be assumed that this is the case.  It is very important to trust your gut instincts as a parent, and if something does not seem right with your teenager’s behavior or appearance, you should explore what might be causing the change.  It is better to be overly cautious than to ignore signs, only to discover too late that your teen is addicted.