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Drug & Alcohol Use Warning Signs

Experimentation with drugs and alcohol is common, the abuse of drugs and alcohol by teenagers continues to increase. This article will review how to detect drug and alcohol use warning signs and some of the risk factors for teenage alcohol and drug abuse.


It is common among teenagers to experiment with alcohol and drugs. While many of them experiment and stop, or use occasionally, there are some teens who develop a dependency upon alcohol and drugs. While experimentation for a short time may not result in long-term harmful effects (although it can result in short-term effects like overdose and death), prolonged use of alcohol and drugs in teenagers can lead to significant problems down the road. Knowing the signs of teenage alcohol and drug abuse can help parents find the problem early and work to prevent further problems.

Risk factors for teenage alcohol and drug abuse

Just being in high school is a risk factor for teens when it comes to alcohol and drug use. Alcohol consumption and marijuana use are the two most common drugs in high school, and studies indicate that nearly every teen has tried these at least once. The average age for trying alcohol is 12, while the average age for trying marijuana is 14. Prescription drugs and over the counter medications are also becoming popular teen drugs, as they are easier and less expensive to obtain than illicit drugs. However, among teens, the use of illegal drugs is increasing. The most popular illegal drugs include cocaine, PCP and ecstasy. Ecstasy is an especially popular party drug, used at raves. Risk factors that can lead to a serious teenage alcohol or drug problem include: 

  • Depression 
  • Low self-esteem 
  • History of substance abuse in the family 
  • Feeling like an outsider

Warning signs of teenage drug and alcohol abuse

There are various warning signs of teenage drug and alcohol abuse. Watching for these signs can help you identify a problem with a teenager that you may know. It is important, however, to recognize that some of the signs associated with teen alcohol and drug use are also associated with other conditions, such as depression. A proper diagnosis by a doctor can be helpful.

Emotional signs of teen alcohol and drug abuse: sudden mood swings, irresponsible behavior, lack of interest in activities of former interest, personality differences, low self-esteem, irritability

Physical signs of teen alcohol and drug abuse: repeated health problems, lingering cough, fatigue, frequent headaches, red and glazed eyes

Social indications of teenage drug and alcohol abuse: changes in friends and preferred activities, changes in style of dress, less attention to personal appearance, run-ins with the law, taking money or valuables from the home

School problems associated with teenage alcohol and drug abuse: dropping grades, discipline problems (frequent trips to the principal), decreased interest in school activities and extracurricular activities, truancy, increased tardiness, negative attitude

Family problems associated with teen drug and alcohol abuse: withdrawing deliberately from the family, violent outbursts, starting arguments, breaking curfew or sneaking out at night, braking family rules

Treatment of teen alcohol and drug abuse usually includes in or out patient treatment for withdrawal symptoms and counseling for psychological dependency. Support of friends and family is vital while a teenager is recovering from alcohol and drug abuse.

Drugs and Alcohol Warning Signs Main source material:

  • "Teens: Alcohol And Other Drugs," Facts for Families. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. [Online.]

Related Article: Risky Teen Behavior >>

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