Teens

Teens and Drugs: What Parents Need to Know

January 4th, 2019
Teens and Drugs: What Parents Need to Know

Most parents can’t imagine their son or daughter doing drugs, let alone becoming addicted to them. But data shows that parents may be greatly underestimating the role that drugs play in their teen’s life. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 81 percent of teens say they have had the opportunity to try illicit substances, and over half of them actually did. Due to the increasing potency of drugs, teen drug experimentation is more dangerous than ever. And it is key for parents to recognize the signs of drugs use and learn what they can do to keep their teen safe.

Signs of Teen Drug Use

In the past, many treated teen drug experimentation as a harmless rite of passage or a phase. But with powerful substances such as fentanyl hitting the streets disguised as other drugs, experimenting ⎼ even just once ⎼ can be deadly. Recognizing the signs of drug use early could save a life.

Changes in Physical Health

Drug abuse has both physical and psychological effects on users. Though side effects of drugs vary, common symptoms include: 

  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Impaired coordination and/or unexplained injuries
  • Poor sleep
  • Nosebleeds or runny nose
  • Restlessness
  • Dehydration
  • Shaking
  • Seizures

Changes in Appearance

Often, these changes in physical appearance can be red flags of substance abuse: 

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Constricted or dilated pupils
  • Rapid weight loss/gain
  • Flushed, puffy skin
  • Muscle loss
  • Tooth decay

Changes in Personality and Behavior

With increased use, the effects that drugs have on a teen’s brain become more prominent. In many cases, their personality and behavior drastically change. Common changes include: 

  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Drop in grades and work ethic
  • Secrecy and isolation
  • Forgetfulness
  • Decreased motivation and energy
  • Change in friends
  • Poor hygiene

Hiding Drug Use in Plain Sight

Often when parents discover that their teen is addicted to drugs they ask themselves how they could have missed the signs. And while some signs such as finding needles are obvious red flags, much of drug paraphernalia consists of common household items that can be easily hidden in plain sight without raising suspicion, making it harder for parents to spot drug use. While these items all have legitimate uses, they can also be used for drugs. Finding these items out of place or missing from the home could be evidence of drug use and should not be ignored.

  • Spoons
  • Straws
  • Belts
  • Lighters
  • Pens
  • Tin foil
  • Razor blades
  • Small plastic bags

Common Hiding Places

Much like anyone struggling with substance abuse, teens go to great lengths to keep their drug use a secret, especially from their parents. And whether it’s tips from others on how to hide drugs inside air conditioner ducts or where to purchase items specifically designed to hide items in plain sight, the tools needed for teens to hide their drug use are often just a few easy clicks away.

Makeup and Personal Hygiene Items – Empty lipstick tubes, compacts, makeup bags, deodorant sticks, and hair products are all common hiding places.

Gaming Consoles – Teens often hide drugs in the empty slots found in gaming systems.

Behind Posters – Taping baggies filled with drugs behind posters, paintings, or wall décor is also common. The back of headboards is also a typical hiding spot.

Inside Hollowed Out Items – There are countless hollowed out items available for sale online. Usually designed for individuals to hide money, teens often use these items to hide drugs. Common hollowed out items include books, Pringles cans, soda cans, water bottles with false bottoms, and stuffed animals.

Addressing the Issue

It can be extremely difficult for parents to accept that their son or daughter is using drugs. Feelings of fear, panic, denial, and despair are all normal. However, it is important for parents to take a moment to truly take in what is happening before addressing the issue with their teen. Confronting someone about their drug use is never easy and typically goes best when treated as a conversation rather than a lecture or reprimand.

Discussing concerns and finding a solution together is imperative. When having this important conversation, parents should:

Plan What to Say: While there is no need to write anything down, it is important for parents to know what key points they want to get across during this conversation.

Avoid Fighting: Anger, yelling, and placing blame can cause teens to become defensive or completely shut down.

Prepare for Their Teen’s Reactions: Teens are likely to deny that they are using, minimize the severity of their use, or get angry at being accused. It is important for parents to be prepared for these reactions and not back down.

Allow them to Speak: Simply ordering a teen to stop using drugs won’t work. Honest and open communication is the first step in recovery. As such, parents should allow their teen to speak honestly about their use, how they are feeling, and what they need to get better.

Have a Plan: Parents may not know the full extent of their teen’s drug use, but they should have a general plan in mind on how to get them help. Once they speak with their teen and truly address the severity of their use, they should refine that plan and start implementing it.

Get Professional Help: Some individuals are able to stop using on their own, but most need professional help. Parents should do ample research and speak with addiction professionals who can better determine what type of treatment their teen needs.

Show Love: Drug use is scary, and parents often go into panic mode ⎼ setting out treatment plans and laying down new rules. And while those things are necessary, it is equally as necessary for parents to let their teens know that they can count on their love and support during their recovery journey. 

Seek Support for Themselves: Whether they realize it or not, addiction is a family disease that has affected them as well. Attending support groups such as Nar-Anon can help them understand and empathize with their teen as well as help parents heal themselves. 


If your loved one is struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction, we are here to help. Reach out to Mountainside by calling 888 833 4676.