Signs, Symptoms, & Treatment of Teen Drug Abuse


Signs & Symptoms of Drug Abuse in Teens

Teenagers have a natural curiosity and a desire to explore, including drugs and/or alcohol. Experimenting with drugs does not automatically lead to drug addiction; addiction occurs when your teenager crosses over from occasional use or abuse of a substance to the need to use it, which results in a loss of self-control. Anyone can become addicted to drugs; even the brightest, healthiest teenagers can succumb to the temptation. By educating yourself on the signs and symptoms of drug use, you will be more aware of potential problems with your teen before abuse turns into addiction.

General Signs of Abuse:

Change in Physical Appearance

Teenagers are notorious for their concerns about the way they look. Many teens are specific about the clothing they wear, their makeup and their overall hygiene. Teens who are abusing or addicted to drugs and/or alcohol often focus less on their physical appearance. For example, a teen may begin to shower less frequently than normal, or he may no longer care about the clothes he wears.

Unexplained Need for Money

Although teenagers often need and spend a lot of money, teens who have an addiction problem will frequently ask for money without giving a clear reason as to why they need it. Addicts usually do not ask for large amounts of money; instead, they frequently ask for small amounts. Your teenager may also be secretive about her spending habits. For example, she may claim to need more money for a school function than what she actually needs, so she can keep the extra money.

Change in Friends

Teenagers who have an addiction may change friends and/or their “hang-out.” They may no longer associate with familiar friends, even those they have known since childhood. A change in friends may happen for a couple of different reasons, such as hiding their substance use from their old friends and/or no longer having anything in common. Substance users will typically seek out other users so they can do drugs/alcohol together. Breaking curfew and lying about where they are going is common for teenagers who have an addiction.

Change in Appetite & Sleep

A change in appetite is often one of the first signs of substance abuse. Depending on the type of drug being used, your teen’s appetite may either increase or decrease. For example, if she is frequently smoking marijuana, she may want to eat more frequently or consume larger portions. Alternatively, if she is using stimulants, you may notice a significant decrease in her appetite. Sleep patterns also change depending on the type of drug being used. For example, stimulants may prevent your teenager from sleeping for long periods of time.

Other Changes in Behavior

Teenagers struggle daily with peer pressure, fitting in and trying to please their parents as well as their friends. It is common for teens to be moody and to withdraw from adults, so in many situations, parents do not see the concrete signs of a teen substance abuse. But parents may have a strong feeling that something is wrong. If your teenager is normally very responsible, and you notice a sudden change in behavior, it’s often a sign. Substance abuse usually begins to take precedence over activities, friends and hobbies that were once important, resulting in responsibilities being frequently neglected and your teen becoming more and more irresponsible over time.

Specific Signs of Commonly Abused Drugs

Anyone who has lived with a teenager is familiar with his frequent mood swings. It is normal for teens to get angry, depressed and withdrawn at times, and these changes do not always indicate that your child is addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. But a consistent pattern of unpredictable, moody and emotional behavior may be a sign that your teenager has an addiction problem. Although many of the signs and symptoms of substance use are similar regardless of the drug being used, certain warning signs are drug specific, including:

Substance abuse sometimes can and likely will worsen over time. Fortunately, addiction can be successfully treated to help teens stop abusing drugs and lead a productive life. Intervening early, when you first notice signs of drug use, in your teenager is critical. If you suspect your teenager is addicted to drugs, it is important that you seek help through a treatment center that specializes in providing care for teens with addictions.

Specialized Alcohol or Drug Rehabilitation Programs

When a teenager is addicted to drugs or alcohol, they require a rehabilitation program that is operated by professional counselors. The rehabilitative program for a teenager overcoming an addiction is different from the treatment that is provided to adults. In some cases, an addicted teenager is as young as 13, requiring a knowledgeable counselor and physicians with an understanding of how to care for an adolescent who is in a rapid growth phase with constant changes of their hormones.

Co-Occurring Conditions Require Specialized Treatment

Teenagers seeking detoxification and rehabilitation may also have co-occurring conditions that make treatment more complex. Some of these conditions include:

Not only will a teenager need medications and treatment for their drug addiction while in rehabilitation, but also, they must have counseling, treatment and medications for their co-occurring conditions. When a teenager has a co-occurring disorder, a rehabilitation program will probably need to last longer. Counselors must monitor a teenager’s medications carefully in order to help them overcome an addiction while also treating a mental illness or disorder.

Co-occurring disorders was previously termed as “dual diagnosis

Polysubstance Dependence

Before a teenager enters a residential rehabilitation program, they are evaluated to determine the best treatment for them. During detoxification, counselors will determine the types of drugs that a teenager is addicted to in order to plan an individualized course of treatment. Teenagers are often addicted to more than one drug or use a drug in combination with alcohol. This means that counselors must create a poly-substance dependence treatment plan.

Each teenage client in a rehabilitation facility is treated as an individual with a written treatment plan that includes specialized care for dual diagnosis and co-occurring conditions.

Steps to A Typical Substance Rehabilitation Programs

Teens are especially vulnerable to the dangers of drugs because their bodies are still growing and their brain functions are developing. Addicts in treatment go through particular steps to overcome their addiction.

Primary Types of Counseling Offered

Counseling sessions for teenagers are held in both group and one-on-one settings. Eventually, parents, siblings and friends also attend counseling sessions to help a teenager adjust to returning home or to school. A teenager will undergo several types of counseling therapies in order to change their mental attitude about drugs, alcohol and addiction. Some of the therapies include:

For mild or short-term addictive behavior, outpatient treatment is effective, but most teenage addicts require an inpatient residential program that lasts from 30 to 90 days.

Guiding Teens to Seek Out Rehab

Teenagers seldom seek professional help on their own because they do not have enough life experience to understand the danger they are in from an addiction to alcohol or drugs. The teens entering a residential or outpatient program are often in the facility because of an arrest, accidental overdose or parents bringing them to the facility.

Useful Factors in Choosing a Teen Rehab Center / Program

While the legal system or parents can force a teenager to begin a rehabilitation program, the best outcome from treatment will occur when the teen cooperates with counselors.

As a parent, one of the most difficult, emotional and heartfelt thing you may have to do is admit your teenager to a rehab center. Teenagers are notorious for experimenting with drugs and/or alcohol; unfortunately, even a single experiment may lead to substance abuse and addiction. If you notice signs that your teenager may have an addiction problem, it is essential that the problem is addressed as soon as possible, before it develops into a much bigger problem, one that may be potentially fatal. There are thousands of treatment centers in the United States; unfortunately, only a small amount of them specialize in treating teens with addictions. When choosing a treatment center for your teen, there are a number of factors you will need to consider including the following.

Does Your Insurance Cover Addiction Treatment?

Many rehabilitation centers accept insurance, but some insurance policies will not cover the cost of addiction treatment. It is important to first speak with your insurance provider to determine if your child’s treatment will be covered. If so, ask what portion of the treatment is covered by your insurance provider. Once you have determined if your child will qualify for insurance coverage, the next step is to find a rehabilitation center that accepts your insurance. If you do not have insurance or your policy will not cover the treatment, most rehab centers offer a sliding fee which means the cost of treatment is based on income. Another important consideration when it comes to insurance is whether your policy will cover out-of-state treatment or in-state only.

How Far Away Should the Treatment Center Be?

Deciding on whether or not to admit your teen to a rehab center that is near you or out-of-state depends on several factors. For example, if the insurance provider will not cover out-of-state treatment, the only option may be to admit your child into a local treatment center. Other factors to consider are the access you will have to your teen while they are in treatment. For example, most treatment centers allow visitations after the teen has been inpatient for a specified amount of time. Support is critical in treatment and recovery, so if possible, it may be in the best interest of you and your child to choose a center nearby.

However, interviews with several treatment centers and patients have revealed that an out-of-state facility tends to benefit patients in a lower chance of leaving the facility, and reducing peer-pressure, a powerful factor in dependency. The decision is a personal decision, one that you feel would be in the best interest your child.

What Types of Things Should You Look For in a Facility?

Unfortunately, there are treatment centers that will not have the best interest of your teen in mind; instead, they are simply out to make a profit. It is critical for the safety and well-being of your teen that you look for certain characteristics in potential rehab centers, including:

The most important factor when choosing a rehab center for your teen is knowing that the center chosen will effectively provide the services necessary for a successful rehabilitation. It is important to attend any scheduled visitations, and while in the facility, take note of how your child appears. For example, does your teen seem comfortable and do they appear to feel safe.

Key College Alcohol Study Publications

Studying College Alcohol Use: Widening the Lens, Sharpening the Focus

Epidemiology of alcohol and other drug use among American college students.
Patrick M O’Malley
Journal of Studies on Alcohol, Supplement, (s14), 23–39 (2002).

Alcohol-Related Sexual Assault: A Common Problem among College Students
Antonia Abbey, PH.D
Journal of Studies on Alcohol, Supplement, (s14), 118–128 (2002).

Surveying the damage: a review of research on consequences of alcohol misuse in college populations.
H Wesley Perkins
Journal of Studies on Alcohol, Supplement, (s14), 91–100 (2002).

Drinking motives predict alcohol-related problems in college students.
Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 58(1), 100–105 (1997).
Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 58(1), 100–105 (1997).

Underage College Students’ Drinking Behavior, Access to Alcohol, and the Influence of Deterrence Policies: Findings from the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study
Henry Wechsler PhD, Jae Eun Lee DrPH, Toben F. Nelson MS & Meichun Kuo ScD
pages 223-236
Journal of American College Health

Magnitude of Alcohol-Related Mortality and Morbidity among U.S. College Students Ages 18-24
Journal of Studies on Alcohol & Drugs

The Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study surveyed students at a nationally representative sample of 4-year colleges in the United States four times between 1993 and 2001. More than 50,000 students at 120 colleges took part in the study.

What We Have Learned From the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study: Focusing Attention on College Student Alcohol Consumption and the Environmental Conditions That Promote It
Wechsler H, Nelson TF.
Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 2008; 69(4): 481-490.

The state sets the rate: The relationship of college binge drinking to state binge drinking rates and selected state alcohol control policies.
Nelson TF, Naimi TS, Brewer RD, Wechsler H.
American Journal of Public Health. 2005, 95(3):441-446.

Magnitude of alcohol-related mortality and morbidity among U.S. college students ages 18-24: Changes from 1998 to 2001.
Hingson R, Heeren T, Winter M, Wechsler H.
Annual Review of Public Health. 2005, 26:259-279.

College student binge drinking and the “prevention paradox”: Implications for prevention and harm reduction
Weitzman ER, Nelson TF
Journal of Drug Education. 2004;34(3):247-266.

Reducing drinking and related harms in college: Evaluation of the “A Matter of Degree” program
Weitzman ER, Nelson TF, Lee H, Wechsler H.
American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2004;27(3).

US College Students’ Exposure to Tobacco Promotions: Prevalence and Association With Tobacco Use
Rigotti NA, Moran SE, Wechsler H
American Journal of Public Health. 2004; 94(12).

Colleges Respond to Student Binge Drinking: Reducing Student Demand or Limiting Access
Wechsler H, Seibring M, Liu IC, Ahl M.
Journal of American College Health. 2004; 52(4): 159-168.

Taking up Binge Drinking in College: The Influences of Person, Social Group, and Environment
Weitzman ER, Nelson TF, Wechsler H.
Journal of Adolescent Health. 2003; 32(1): 26-35.

Secondhand Effects of Student Alcohol Use Reported by Neighbors of Colleges: The Role of Alcohol Outlets
Wechsler H, Lee JE, Hall J, Wagenaar AC, Lee H.
Social Science & Medicine. 2002; 55(3): 425-435.

Studying College Alcohol Use: Widening the Lens, Sharpening the Focus
Dowdall GW, Wechsler H.
Journal of Studies on Alcohol. 2002; 14(3): 14-22.

Trends in College Binge Drinking During a Period of Increased Prevention Efforts: Findings From 4 Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study Surveys: 1993-2001
Wechsler H, Lee JE, Kuo M, Seibring M, Nelson TF, Lee H.
Journal of American College Health. 2002; 50(5): 203-217.

The Adverse Impact of Heavy Episodic Drinkers on Other College Students
Wechsler H, Moeykens B, Davenport A, Castillo S, Hansen J.
Journal of Studies on Alcohol.1995; 56: 628-634.

Correlates of College Student Binge Drinking
Wechsler H, Dowdall GW, Davenport A, Castillo S.
American Journal of Public Health. 1995; 85: 921-926.

Health and Behavioral Consequences of Binge Drinking in College: A National Survey of Students at 140 Campuses
Wechsler H, Davenport A, Dowdall GW, Moeykens B, Castillo S.
Journal of the American Medical Association.1994;272:1672-1677.

An Update on College Drinking Research