Many parents ask us how to tell if their teen has begun drinking or doing drugs. By taking careful note of your teen’s behavior and paying attention to a few key red flags, you can spot issues with drug use sooner rather than later. While you may not find drug paraphernalia in their room or catch them drinking when they think no one is home, you should always trust your instincts. If you start to take note of some of the warning signs we’ve listed below, we encourage you to take action. Talk to your teen and get help from a professional if needed.
How to Spot Early Warning Signs of Drug or Alcohol Use in Teens
Utilize your sense of smell.
Have a conversation when your teenage child comes home after spending time out with friends. Address them face-to-face and ask if they had a nice time, what they did, or who they were with. If they’ve been using drugs or alcohol, the smell could be lingering on their clothes, hair, or breath.
Make eye contact.
Similar to the tip above, when your teen gets home, be sure to pay attention to their eyes during that face-to-face conversation. If your child has used marijuana – their eyes will be bloodshot, the lids may look droopy, and their pupils small. Drinking leaves pupils dilated and leads to trouble focusing. And, there may be other clues nearby. Is your teen’s face or cheeks flushed? This can also be a sign of drug or alcohol use.
Pay attention to sudden changes in behavior.
If your teen acts one way after school and completely different after a night out with friends, this could be a red flag. Upon their return: Does their volume or vocal register change? Do they crack up for no reason at all? Or, maybe they appear abnormally uncoordinated and you notice they’re bumping into things and knocking things over. Are they acting surly and introverted when they’re usually a chatterbox? Are they sleepy even though it’s early in the evening? Are they complaining of nausea? These could all be clues that they were drinking or using drugs before they came home.
Do they drive?
If your teen drives or has a car make sure to observe this aspect as well. Are they driving less carefully when they come home than when they left? Does their car have dents and dings with no explanation? Check the inside of the car, too. Does it smell? Are there items on the floorboard or in the glovebox that might provide hints that drug or alcohol use is taking place?
Take note of deception and secrets.
Are your teen’s plans starting to sound a little far-fetched? Are they vague about the who, what, when, where, and why? If they went out to a restaurant or to see a band, can they tell you what they ordered or what songs were their favorite? Do they insist a chaperone will be present but can’t produce a contact number? Are they showing up past curfew with a never-ending series of excuses? If you press them on these excuses, do they become erratic and angry? If these scenarios sound familiar, it could be time to act.
If you believe your teen is using drugs, contact our team at Doorways for additional support. We specialize in helping families with teens and young adults ages 13-25. We teach families how to deal with conflict, demonstrate love, improve communication and more. There is help for your family!