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Teen Drug Abuse

Close-up of the hands of two drug addicted young men sharing a joint

Published: August 15, 2023

When it comes to teens using drugs, it is important to know the difference between drug abuse and addiction. Teens who abuse drugs may have a greater risk of developing an addition when they are adults.

Teenagers and Drug Use

Even though teens experiment with drugs, it doesn’t mean they are addicted. Since the teenage brain is still developing, teen drug abuse can have long-term cognitive and behavioral effects on them. Recognizing and preventing your teen’s drug use can end an emerging problem before it even starts.


Half of all new drug users are under the age of 18. Experimenting plays the biggest role in teenage drug use. However, experimentation is a fact of life. Just because your teen has tried drugs or alcohol, it doesn’t mean they will become an addict. Here are some reasons why teens will experiment with drugs or alcohol:

  • Curiosity
  • Peer pressure
  • Stress
  • Emotional struggles
  • A desire to escape

Unfortunately, the majority of adults with addiction first experimented with drugs before they were 21. However, the good news is that the rate of teenage drug abuse has been steadily declining.


The best way to get a teen to communicate about their drug use is by asking non-threatening questions. Parents should ask straightforward questions in a calm tone. The way you respond to your teen’s admittance or denial of drug use is just as important as asking the right questions.

You need to take the conversation seriously and talk openly. Try not to use harsh words or judgment during this time. Be as supportive as you can be.

Common Signs of Abuse

Here are many signs that your teen may be abusing drugs or alcohol. Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between a normal teenage lifestyle and drug abuse. However, parents can be proactive in talking to their teens to find out what is going on.

It is up to the parents to intervene if they feel like something is going on. Here are some common signs of teen drug abuse:

  • Bad grades
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Laughing for no reason
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Poor hygiene
  • Diminished personal appearance
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Frequent huger or “munchies”
  • The smell of smoke on breath or clothes
  • Secretive behavior
  • Unusual tiredness
  • Missing curfew

Common Drugs Teens Abuse

There are some common drugs that teens abuse, and they aren’t that different from the ones abused by adults. However, the reasons teens are using drugs are most likely because of how easy it is to get their hands on them. In addition, teens are much more likely to take excessive amounts of alcohol or drugs because they don’t fully perceive the risks and dangers associated with them.


Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance by teens. The social acceptance of drinking among people of a legal drinking age leads teens to view alcohol as relatively harmless. Research has shown that teens are more likely to binge drink since their impulse control hasn’t fully developed.

A recent study showed that 20% of 12th graders reported drinking in 2014. Nearly 40% had used alcohol in the past month. Binge drinking increases the risk of alcohol addiction in people of any age, but the teenage brain is more susceptible to addiction.


Marijuana is also a commonly abused drug amongst teenagers. Regular marijuana users most often started smoking in their adolescence. Unfortunately, the perception of marijuana has changed over time to make teens think that smoking marijuana doesn’t carry any risks.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, approximately 21% of high school seniors reported using marijuana in the past month. This increase has the potential to lead to more teenagers forming an addiction to marijuana.

Prescription Drugs

Most teens are fully aware of the intoxicating effects that prescription drugs provide. Many teens take prescription drugs because they feel it is a safer choice than using illicit drugs. Narcotics such as OxyContin and benzodiazepines such as Xanax produce pleasurable effects that teens tend to seek out. These prescriptions carry a great risk of forming a prescription drug addiction, as well as an increased risk of overdose.

Shockingly, according to research, nearly 40% of teens admit to abusing prescription drugs taken right from their parents’ medicine cabinets. In addition, teens may also abuse easily accessible over-the-counter medication, such as cough syrup. This can cause intoxicating effects and overdosing is a real possibility. According to the Center for Disease Control, 1 in 5 teens have abused prescription medication.

Be Involved

Being overly involved in your teen’s life isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Keeping an eye on their behavior or physical appearance can be a huge help when deciding if they have a problem or not. Here are some physical signs to look for if you are concerned your teen may be abusing drugs:

  • Nosebleeds
  • Runny nose, not caused by allergies or a cold
  • Frequent sickness
  • Sores, spots around the mouth
  • Queasy and nauseous
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Wetting lips or excessive thirst (also known as cottonmouth)
  • Sudden or dramatic weight loss or gain
  • Skin abrasion/bruises
  • Accident or injuries
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Sweatiness

Consequences of Abuse

Teen drug abuse can lead to serious problems such as poor schoolwork, loss of friends, problems at home, and lasting legal problems. Alcohol and drug abuse is the leading cause of teen death or injury related to car crashes, suicide, violence, and drowning.

Substance abuse can also increase the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. It is important for teens to understand that even occasional alcohol or drug abuse can increase their risk for future alcohol or drug problems.

Ways to Prevent Abuse

Substance abuse can certainly be prevented. Here are a few ways in which to achieve this:

  • Talk to your teen early on about what you expect in his or her behavior toward alcohol and drugs. If your teen thinks you will allow substance abuse, they will be much more likely to try it.
  • Keep your kids busy with meaningful activities such as sports, church programs, or other groups.
  • Expect your teen to follow the household rules. Set reasonable consequences for behavior that needs to change, and make sure you consistently carry out these consequences.
  • Keep talking with your teen. Make sure you praise them for even the little things that he or she does well.
  • Know your teen’s friends. Having friends who avoid cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs may be your teen’s best protection from substance abuse.

A Parent’s Role

Parents and families in today’s world face one of the most difficult battles – which is raising drug-free children. As mentioned above, communication is key. It is one of the most powerful tools you have.

However, it often seems like communication is feared and seldom used. Parents and families need to talk to kids continually about the dangers of drugs and alcohol and be active participants in their daily lives.

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