Raising a child is no easy feat, but it becomes that much more challenging once puberty hits. Once children become teenagers, everything changes; their brains, their bodies, and their perception of the world around them. So, it can be tricky for parents to determine which changes are normal and which are signs of a problem: teen addiction.

Teen Addiction in the United States

In recent years, teen addiction and drug abuse trends have been on the decline. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported in their 2017 Monitoring the Future survey that rates of overall teen drug abuse have dwindled.

Still, it’s impossible to tell if this downward trend will continue. With the rise of the ongoing opioid crisis, more and more teenagers are abusing easily accessible opioid prescriptions. This, in turn, could potentially lead to further experimentation with other drugs and alcohol.

Telling Signs of Teen Addiction

Countless signs could indicate teen drug abuse. Unfortunately, a lot of these signs are written off as normal teenaged behavior. In fact, one in five parents who fear that their teenaged child might be abusing drugs does not do anything to confirm or disprove their suspicions. While it can be tough, it’s important to not only look for the warning signs but also to take action when you find them.

If you suspect that your teenaged child might be abusing drugs or struggling with a developing addiction, then be sure to look for these signs:

a depressed teenager in a street corner

Changes in Personality

Significant changes in personality are an early sign of potential drug abuse. At the very least, they are a sign that something is wrong. Changes in personality that indicate teen addiction might include:

  • surprising instances of poor self-control
  • decreased levels of productivity at home or school
  • an unexpected (negative) shift in moral code or ethics

The cause of these warning signs can sometimes be hard to distinguish. After all, not every teenager that acts out of the ordinary is abusing drugs. Still, it’s important not to ignore these sorts of changes in personality— especially if they are sudden.

person sitting on a piece of concrete

Changes in Behavior

Similar to changes in personality, sudden shifts in behavior are a sign of potential drug abuse or addiction. According to a variety of medical professionals, including those behind the Innovations In Clinical Neuroscience monthly journal, changes in behavioral patterns and mannerisms are some of the biggest red flags of drug use and addiction among teens.

Some of the more notable changes in behavior that may indicate teen addiction include:

  • self-isolation from friends and family
  • the habit of frequently skipping school
  • a sudden shift in friends or social circles
  • unexpected conflicts at home or school
  • atypical dishonest or manipulative behavior
  • “lashing out” (i.e., disobedience, hostility, etc.)
  • a newfound and desperate demand for privacy
  • “sneaking out” (i.e., unexplained disappearances)
  • an uncharacteristic lack of respect for authority figures
  • a sudden indifference to beloved extracurricular activities
  • changes in speech patterns (i.e., faster or slower than usual)
  • an unusual decline in academic performance, like poor grades
  • secretive actions or behaviors where there were previously none
  • complaints about behavior from teachers, classmates, neighbors, etc.


a young girl sad


Changes in Mood and Mental Health

Mood swings are a staple of teenage life. Every parent of a teenager should expect to face mood swings at some point. However, if you have noticed that your child has seemingly lost all sense of mood stability, then it’s worth it to ask questions. Like changes in personality and behavior, changes in mood could hint at a secret substance use problem.

Changes in mood that point to possible teen addiction typically include:

  • poor concentration
  • forgetfulness or memory issues
  • unexplained bouts of fear or paranoia
  • uncharacteristically high or low energy
  • decreased motivation or sense of purpose


Changes in Physical Health

When it comes to teen addiction, any strange changes in physical health are a lot harder to hide. Some of the most telling signs of drug abuse and dependence among teens include:

  • pupil dilation
  • constant fatigue
  • extreme sweating
  • frequent headaches
  • itching and scratching
  • bloodshot or teary eyes
  • unexplained nosebleeds
  • unusual changes in appetite
  • bouts of shakiness or tremors
  • extreme fluctuations in weight
  • sleep disturbances (e.g., insomnia)
  • sudden problems with coordination
  • excessive bouts of nausea or vomiting
  • bruises, cuts, sores or other unexplained injuries

young person with a skateboard gloomy

Changes in Grooming and Personal Appearance

In more cases than not, those who struggle with addiction tend to “let themselves go.” In other words, their focus is so invested in feeding their cravings for drugs or alcohol that they neglect (or forget) their appearance. The same applies to teenagers.

If you suspect that your teen is struggling with addiction, you may notice changes in physical appearance like:

  • unfamiliar bad smells or odors
  • uncharacteristically poor hygiene
  • unexplained bandages (i.e., hiding injuries)
  • wearing long sleeves more often, even in hot weather
  • marks on arms or legs, which is a sign of intravenous drug use

Take Action Against Teen Addiction and Drug Abuse

It’s important to recognize that drug use and addiction are two very different things. Not all cases of drug use lead to addiction. Still, teenagers who abuse substances like illicit drugs, prescriptions, or alcohol are statistically more likely to develop an addiction as an adult. Moreover, several surveys from different sources indicate that the vast majority of adults who struggle with addiction began experimenting with substances as teenagers.

So, if you have noticed that your teenaged child is exhibiting any of these signs of drug abuse or addiction, then the best thing you can do is talk to them. Approach the situation from a place of love and concern. Then, enlist the help of addiction treatment professionals for an assessment and, if needed, treatment.