As a counselor who works with teens and parents, this is one of the most common questions I am asked. Parents often struggle with this issue because the natural mood swings and personality changes that are a part of the teen years can make it difficult to determine if their child is acting normal or needs help. They are also hesitant to ask difficult questions because they don’t want to damage their relationship with their teen by accusing them of taking drugs. Maintaining a relationship built on trust can be an important part of successfully navigating the teenage years and it only takes one misstep to demolish the foundation of that trust. Parents may be hesitant to approach their teens when they are concerned because they don’t want to alienate them or push them further away.
In order to know when to be concerned, when to ask questions, and when to intervene, you need to know the facts. Here are the common signs of teenage drug use.
1. Changes in Social Circles
One sign that parents should be watching for is a significant change in their child’s friends or social circles. If your teenager has been friends with the same kids since elementary school and suddenly shifts to an entirely different set of friends, this may be cause for concern. First, look for other factors like joining a new club, or playing on a sports team that may explain an influx of new friends. Changes in social circles or standing by themselves are not always indicative of drug use, but parents should pay attention to these types of changes as they can point toward several teenage problems.
2. Changes in School Participation
Another thing to watch for is the development of a negative attitude about school in general. This includes spending less time and effort on school work and home work, skipping classes, and grades that are going down.
3. Changes in Personality
When teenagers begin using drugs, they often become more secretive and are touchier about privacy and having their own space. Signs of these behavior changes include getting angry if you are in their room, unwillingness to let you borrow their cell phone, refusing to leave their backpacks or school bags where others could access them, or offering vague answers about where they are going and who they are spending their time with.
4. Changes in Aromatic Usage
If your teen suddenly develops the need to burn incense or use room deodorizer on a regular basis, but doesn’t seem more concerned with cleaning their room, they may be trying to hide the smell of smoke or other odors. Intensified use of body spray or perfume is also a sign that something may be amiss.
5. Changes in Financial Needs
One indication that your teen may be using drugs is an increased need for money. This may be evident because of an increase in their requests to borrow money, offers to work around the house for cash, or money disappearing from purses and wallets. Teens that become suddenly invested in selling or pawning things like video games and other electronics may also have a problem that needs parental attention.
Parents and their involvement in their teenager’s lives are still the best deterrent to drug use. Providing a supportive environment with clear expectations helps set the stage for drug-free teen years. But it is equally important to know the signs that your teen is in trouble and how to help them through whatever problems they are facing.
by Jan Hamilton, MS, PMHNP-BC
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner