How to recognize substance abuse in teenagers

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October 25, 2021 by HCDE Communications

If you are the parent of a teenager or “tweenager,” you are aware of the roller coaster of emotions they go through due to hormonal changes, peer pressure, and the struggle for independence. Being the parent of a teenager can be challenging, but that challenge becomes even greater when alcohol or drugs are involved.

The reality is that many teens try drugs or alcohol at some point. Research from the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics shows:

  • Drug use among eighth-graders increased 61% between 2016 and 2020.
  • By twelfth grade, 62% of teenagers have abused alcohol.
  • 50% of teenagers have misused a drug at least once.
  • 43% of college students use illicit drugs.
  • 86% of teenagers know someone who smokes, drinks, or uses drugs during the school day.

Parents need to know that substance misuse can happen in any family, and the best course of action is early detection and being proactive. Remember to use your senses if you suspect that your tween or teen is using drugs or alcohol:

  • Use your sense of smell. If your tween or teen has been drinking or smoking, you can smell it on their breath, hair, or clothes.
  • Use your eyes. Look for red, heavy-lidded eyes with small pupils. This may be a sign of drug use. Large pupils can be a sign of alcohol use.
  • Observe behavior. Look for behavior that is not typical for your child. Changes in mood and personality, such as your teen acting withdrawn, depressed, silent, hostile, angry, or secretive regularly. They may seem unusually unfocused, uninhibited, or hyperactive. 
    • Look for changes in normal behavior, especially loss of interest in their normal activities or friends or secrecy about where they go and what they are doing. They might lose interest in classes and grades, begin skipping class, or even begin getting into trouble at school. You may notice extended periods of sleeplessness followed by high energy before long periods of catch-up sleep, unusual clumsiness, or silliness. 
    • Other signs include changes in personal appearance and hygiene, such as being unusually messy, forgetting to shower, wearing unwashed clothes, or wearing the same clothes repeatedly.  
    • You may also see changes in physical health, such as fatigue, nausea, a sudden or dramatic change in weight, or slurred speech.

All of these signs can point to drug or alcohol use. However, they also may indicate other issues, so it is best to take your child to see a medical professional to find out the root cause or confirm your suspicions. Make notes of any behaviors or signs you’ve observed and bring them with you to the appointment. For questions about your child’s suspected substance abuse, contact a physician.

Fortis Academy Principal Travita Godfrey, September 20, 2021

For questions about Harris County’s first public high school for students recovering from alcohol and drug abuse addiction, contact Fortis Academy Principal Travita Godfrey.

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