It can sometimes be difficult to discern whether or not alcoholism and drug dependence are a problem with a child, especially during the teenage years. There can be certain warning signs, but some of them could also be chalked up to just being a teenager as well. Every child and situation will be different, so there is no overarching surefire method to determine drug use or alcohol addiction beyond direct admission or being caught red-handed. However, there are some specific signs of drug use and risk factors to look out for that can assist parents in determining the truth of their situation.
Poor Hygiene and Physical Condition
Many times, when an individual starts abusing drugs or alcohol, they make the drugs or alcohol their first and only priority. Because of this, they tend to forego taking care of their hygiene and physical appearance. Their hygiene will worsen due to a lack of care for their outward appearance. A few common signs that you may notice include:
- Decrease in showers
- Wearing dirty clothes
- Body odor
- Hair loss
- Dry eyes
- Skin infections
- Yellow or dirty teeth
Lethargic or Manic Behavior
You’ll often notice that your child might flip-flop between periods of hypomania (lethargy, excessive sleeping, loss of appetite) and hypermania characterized by erratic behavior, insomnia, and extreme energy.
Change in Complexion
Frequent drug use can cause a change in one’s complexion such as paleness, acne, and in some cases jaundice. Furthermore, scars, burns, or suspicious marks on their bodies might also be a sign that they are using drugs.
One of the most apparent signs of drug abuse that can be covered up as sickness is drug and alcohol withdrawal. After a prolonged period of substance use, drug users become dependent. Without their drug of choice, they will experience withdrawal symptoms that range from flu-like symptoms to insomnia and seizures in extreme cases. When experiencing withdrawal, individuals need to consider medical detox
Drastic Changes in Mood or Outlook
While changes in worldview and attitude toward others are a somewhat typical part of being a teenager, drugs, and alcohol can have a dramatic effect on the way that adolescents see their lives and the world around them. Most commonly, depression is associated with addiction and can be a key factor in continuing to misuse drugs. Different drugs will have different mental effects, so it can be helpful to be wary of overcautiousness looking for depression but ignoring constant euphoria. Additionally, individuals struggling with substance use disorder may have frequent mood swings. One moment they will be happy or energetic and then quickly shift to a depressed mood.
Sudden Changes in Friends
Oftentimes, teens will find new groups of friends that share the affinity for drug abuse while leaving behind previous friends who may not be as interested in drugs and the activities that go along with them. If a parent notices that their child has a totally new group of friends seemingly out of nowhere, and the child is adamantly opposed to their parents meeting these new friends, it could be a sign that this new group is enabling drug abuse.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but if a child is repeatedly being caught in dishonesty, they are probably getting away with at least one or more other lies that parents may not know about yet. Lies can start relatively small, but they can grow exponentially. If parents are not equipped to handle dishonesty effectively, it can get out of control and become a child’s favorite way to get past the rules and boundaries set for them.
Items or Money Disappearing Randomly
If drug abuse or addiction is a part of a child’s life, they will need to fund their habit somehow. If this is not done through an allowance or a job of their own, many adolescents will easily resort to stealing valuables, money, or even just random items from around the house to gain the cash they need to get their fix. It may start with small things that a child thinks will not be noticed when they are gone such as DVDs or things from their room with any perceived value, but it can progress quickly to jewelry, cash, and credit cards.
Stealing Drugs or Alcohol
One of the easiest and most common ways teens can get their hands on drugs and alcohol is often right at home. Teens who are using drugs or alcohol may be stealing from their parent’s supplies. One of the most common ways teens can steal alcohol from their parents while avoiding detection is by taking small amounts over an extended period. Teens may take prescription drugs or marijuana found in the home. Prescription drug abuse is on the rise and teens are often unaware of the dangers associated with prescription drugs and often hold the false belief that they are safer than other illicit drugs. It is up to parents to discard any unused, expired, or unwanted prescription drugs. It is recommended that parents keep all prescription drugs in a safe and keep alcohol in an area of the home that teens do not have access to. While it may be difficult to prevent a child from accessing and obtaining drugs outside of the home, it is possible to make sure that a child isn’t accessing drugs under your roof.
Blatant Defiance and Anger
Most addicts and teenagers alike will react with anger when boundaries are set that they don’t like. When a teenager is an addict, the amplitude of this anger can get very nasty very quickly. An addicted child will not like the decisions made by their parents who just want to help them. They can lash out with irrational and extreme behavior when faced with situations they don’t care for, and they tend to flat-out ignore these boundaries at times as well.
Failing Grades or Skipping Class
It is very common for someone with substance abuse problems to either skip or start to fail their classes. Their academic performance takes a toll when their priorities start to shift from school to getting and using drugs. Substance abuse affects short-term and long-term cognition, causes difficulty in processing information, deteriorates the ability to understand simple thoughts, and hinders overall brain development. This makes it difficult for a student to succeed in school.
Another one of the general signs that your child is using is an increase in secretive behavior. As your child starts to struggle with drugs and alcohol, you may notice that they lock doors behind them, constantly leave the room to take phone calls, or even use the backdoor to leave or come home.
Withdrawn Around Loved Ones
Being around friends and family members is terrifying for people with substance use disorders because loved ones will know something’s wrong more intuitively. Because of fear, the fear that they might be caught or the fear they the high will wear off, addicts will avoid long social outings and activities. These are the same activities that they used to have no problem partaking in, but now all of a sudden they’re a burden and a source of frustration.
Hiding Household Items Associated with Drug Use in their Room
One of the more obvious signs that your child is using is hiding household items that are normally associated with drug use in their room. These items may include:
- Razor blades
- Pen cases
- Small spoons
- Eye drops
- Aerosol cans
Teen drug and alcohol use can be relatively easy to hide, especially if parents don’t know what to look for. A child that is using drugs or alcohol will go to great lengths to hide their drug usage. It is not uncommon for teens and young adults to hide drugs and alcohol right at home. Teens can be exceptionally clever when it comes to this. Excessive secrecy and demand for privacy is often an indicator of possible drug or alcohol use. Not only do teens hide drugs and alcohol in their rooms, but they also hide them in their bathrooms and car. Unfortunately, the hiding places are limitless. Here are some of the most common places teens hide drugs:
Empty soda cans: These can be homemade or purchased. Teens often unscrew the top of the can and stash drugs and drug paraphernalia inside. If you see a soda can that seems to constantly be present, you may want to investigate.
Personal hygiene items and makeup: Teens often hide drugs inside lipstick tubes, makeup compacts, deodorant sticks, and any other item that can be hollowed out. Shampoo bottles, hair product bottles, and other similar items are popular ways for teens to hide and store alcohol.
Vehicles: Cars are one of the most common places teens hide drugs. Teens often place drugs in a bag and tape them behind the dashboard, under the seat, and/or under the hood. It is recommended that parents frequently and randomly check their teen’s vehicle.
Bathroom toilets and vents: A popular place for teens to hide drugs is under the toilet tank lid and in bathroom vents. Vents can easily be removed and replaced while avoiding parental detection. The bathroom is a popular spot for teens to hide drugs because most bathroom doors can be locked. This makes it easier for teens to both hide and access drugs.
Books: Teens can cut out pages within a book, creating the perfect place to hide drugs and drug paraphernalia. Teens with a large number of books in their room often prefer this hiding location.
Mattresses and toys: Teens can cut holes into mattresses and stuffed toys to create a secret compartment to hide drugs and alcohol. If your child insists on changing their sheets or traveling with the stuffed animal – this may be a warning sign and warrant further inspection.
Failure to Launch
At times, drug misuse may go unnoticed for a long period of time and the destructive behaviors can continue into young adulthood. It is very common for young adults struggling with addiction to develop something called failure-to-launch syndrome. Essentially, this is a dilemma that involves an inability to live independently and succeed on one’s own. Parents may find themselves in the middle and torn between continuing to allow their loved ones to live in the home or having an intervention and offering support in the form of treatment.
Decline in Mental Health
A substance use disorder often co-occurs or exacerbates an existing mental health disorder. In many cases, drug or alcohol addiction is an unhealthy coping mechanism for mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, or trauma. When seeking out addiction treatment options, it is important to consider those who have a strong focus on addressing the underlying conditions that may have caused the alcohol or drug addiction in the first place because if not, the likelihood of relapse is high. Treating a mental health disorder and substance use simultaneously provides an opportunity to overcome both conditions.
When It’s Time to Seek Help for Substance Abuse
The crucial component when confronting your child about the signs of drug use is having a plan in place to remove your child from their current environment. Understanding that your child has a problem and won’t stop until good and ready is significant. No one regardless of age can stop until they concede to their innermost selves that they need help. Still, to impede the escalation of drug and alcohol abuse, it is imperative to put a roadblock up whenever possible where young people are concerned.
There is so much shame attached to drug addiction, and living in a long-term family-centered recovery community is a safe place to come to terms with it and make significant behavioral changes. Being in an environment where peers are on the same path, and supporting each other sets your child up to achieve long-term sobriety, emotional health, and a productive life.
When parents look at the warning signs and realize that their child has a problem with drugs and alcohol, it can feel helpless and terrifying. As scary as it may be, there are many great resources for parents and their children to get help with addiction. Sober living facilities like New Life House provide resources, education, and community for residents and family members.
If you believe that your child is an addict and you don’t know what steps to take, call New Life House to learn more about our sober living for men in Los Angeles. We would love to answer any questions you have and help you make the right decision for your family to begin recovering.
Last Updated on December 28, 2023