Substance Abuse

Identifying a problem:

Generally, substance use and abuse may be suspected when adolescents appear intoxicated. Signs of intoxication include

  • Slurred speech
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Loss of coordination
  • Changes in mood and behavior
  • Odor of alcohol, marijuana, or other substances on the person and their clothing

More subtle signs of a problem include:

  • Possessing substance use paraphernalia (e.g., pipes/bongs, rolling papers, roach clips, lighters, syringes)
  • Possessing actual substances (e.g., cigarettes, baggies filled with white powder, marijuana cigarettes/joints, alcoholic beverages)
  • Finding empty alcoholic beverage containers
  • Chapped or burned lips
  • Smelling substances in and around the person (e.g., smell of smoke in room, car, etc.)
  • Changes in behavior (e.g., more secretive, increase in conflicts with adults and other authority figures, ignoring personal hygiene, declining grades)
  • Changes in mood (more withdrawn, depressed, anxious, restless)
  • Stealing and lying (e.g., money missing from family members, prized possessions disappearing from home)

In some cases, adolescents exhibit more extreme signs, which may include:

  • Suicidal thoughts and behavior (sometimes people who are struggling with substance use become desperate and in that desperation become actively suicidal)
  • Increased conflicts and extreme aggressiveness (chemical changes occurring within the brain as a result of substance use may be responsible)
  • Sudden health crises (e.g., seizures, convulsions, vomiting, sweating, paranoia, and psychotic episodes)
  • Arrests, fights, sexual assaults


Resources :

  • Check either your state or county department of mental (or behavioral) health website for the locations and contact information of licensed treatment facilities. Usually, programs catering specifically to adolescents and their families are identified.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) maintains an online list of all the treatment providers in the United States. Their link is They may also be reached at 1-800-662-HELP.
  • The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) offers lots of free information about drugs, abuse, and treatment. Their link is  Follow the link for “parents and teachers” to get specific information that may help dealing with a teenager.