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Parents often wonder what their kids are getting into when it comes to early experimentation with drugs and alcohol. For those who have experimented themselves, it may be easier to tell when their teen comes home high after smoking marijuana with their friends.

For parents who have less experience themselves, or who fear the drug being used is outside of their prior experience wheelhouse, this brief guide may help you know where to start.


Signs Your Teen May Be Using Drugs

Before you figure out what your teen may be using, you’ll probably notice some behaviors that make you question what is going on. Here are a few telltale signs that your adolescent is probably using drugs or alcohol:

  • Change in Friend Group:
    • If you notice that your teen is isolating from their friend group or has abandoned long-time friends for a new group, there is a good chance that drugs or alcohol are involved. Especially if the new friends aren’t connected to a certain club or activity that you have previously endorsed, or they don’t come around to hang out as much as the old friends did, you have reason to be suspicious.
  • Drop in School performance:
    • If your teen’s grades start to dip, it’s worth looking into further, especially if you also notice some other signs noted on this list.
  • Sneaky behavior:
    • Teens are known for breaking rules and pushing boundaries, so they may be acting sneaky and giving you evasive answers for any number of reasons. Teens (and many adults) will go to great lengths to cover up their drug or alcohol use. They may start wearing baggy clothes to cover up bruising and track marks.
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Clues as to What Drug your Teen is using:

The only way to know for sure is to get a drug test or an admission, but short of that, there are some hints that can help you piece together which drugs your teen is using.

  • Possession: if you find a baggie of marijuana or a bottle of vodka in your teen’s room, that’s a pretty good giveaway.
  • Pills: There are so many prescriptions and over the counter medications out there, but this website can help you identify pills and will tell you what they do and their effects.
  • Learn to recognize drug paraphernalia, such as small spoons with soot marks (usually heroin), needles, pipes, etc.
  • Smell: alcohol and marijuana have strong odors that stay on the breath or on clothes. When other drugs are smoked, they can release strange odors as well, but they are less distinct and don’t hang around as long.
  • Air fresheners, mouthwash, and eye drops are often used to cover up for drug use (most common in the case of marijuana).
  • Heroic feats of homework are often accomplished by taking “study drugs” like Adderall or Ritalin.
  • Pupillary Response: Generally, people don’t notice each other’s pupils, but when they don’t respond to light the way they normally would, it can be striking
    • Smaller: If you notice that your teen’s pupils are constricted, opioids could be involved. There are some antidepressants and antipychotic medications that have a similar effect.
    • Bigger: Generally speaking, dilated pupils are caused by stimulants such as amphetamines (Adderall, cocaine, meth).

How to React when you Suspect your Teen is Using

Parents often have strong reactions when they find out their son or daughter is using drugs. Coming in with your own emotions at high voltage can make the situation worse. Try to connect with your teen with genuine curiosity and from a loving and supportive place.

Do they like the feeling of getting high or drunk? What do they like or dislike about it? Try to understand their perspective. If you are not able to connect, it will be much harder to get them the help they need if an addiction is developing or there is underlying depression or anxiety.

Once they feel understood, make it very clear that you do not condone their behavior and what the consequences are. Take away any car privileges as a high percentage of accidents are connected to substance use.

Setting firm boundaries on adolescent drug use without alienating your teen to the point where they hide a substance use disorder from you can be challenging.

If you are struggling to find that balance, come to one of Sandstone Care’s free Parent Support groups, where parents can learn from each other what works best and connect over the challenges of supporting a teen who is using drugs and alcohol.


Substance Abuse Treatment

Dealing with your teen can be overwhelming, especially when they are struggling with substance abuse and co-occurring mental health issues. Finding a competent program to support your loved one provides relief and support that you deserve.

Sandstone Care is an outpatient treatment program working with adolescents and their families to inspire and empower change. Check out our video to get a sense for our approach. If we’re not the right program for your family, we will try our best to put you in touch with other options. Call today to start your journey.

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